A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.
How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.
Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.
We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”
There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.
Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.
Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.
Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.
I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.
A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.
In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.
New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.
December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.
Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.
The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.
No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.
Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.
Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.
The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.
Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.
Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.
It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.
It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
My Column Archive from The StarPhoenix
Of the 15,400 people in federal prisons last year, 610 of them were women. This number has grown about 40 per cent in the last five years and the number of aboriginal women in prison has increased by 80 per cent during the last decade.
These are just some of more interesting numbers that the federal Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers makes in this 2012 annual report. Perhaps the most shocking stories are about how women with mental health are treated while in prison.
A little more than a third of women in prison have been found to have mental health issues. The report says prisoners diagnosed with a mental illness are typically afflicted by more than one disorder and often a substance abuse problem on top of that. These are people who need a lot of mental health assistance.
At conferences during the years I have heard speakers say that some function at a childlike level. Not only do they have no concept of their crimes, but they can’t function at even a basic level in society. For their inability to survive in society, we toss them in prison.
Many imprisoned women have behavioural problems and according to Corrections Canada’s inspector, they are being treated as security problems rather than humans struggling with mental health issues.
The report lays out offenders who hurt themselves typically are isolated, have pepper spray used against them and are moved to more secure parts of the prison. In the case of our own regional psychiatric facility, Corrections Canada put them into Canada’s first padded jail cell when what they really need is treatment.
It is hard not to make a connection between poor mental health care in prison and the rate of suicide in prisons. The report states that in the last five years, the amount of self harm – including suicide attempts – have more than doubled. Women offenders have a very high proportion of attempted suicides.
The report found that when a person tried to commit suicide, that person was punished rather than given needed help. This, of course, creates more suicide attempts, which brings about even more sanctions. It’s a ridiculous cycle.
After reading the report, one is left with the conclusion that mental health issues in prison are still treated as behavioural issues, rather than illnesses. A prisoner who breaks his or her leg or develops cancer is treated. If the prisoner is schizophrenic and suffers from depression, it is a behaviour issue and punishment is handed out.
The numbers show that the system is failing women with mental health issues and we are using prisons as the institution of last resort. One could draw a comparison to the insane asylums of years gone by where many of those who had mental health problems were locked up and forgotten.
Outside of the ethical issues of why we continue to treat people this way, there is another reason to get this fixed now. Those struggling inside of the jail will eventually get out and move back into our communities. We want them to get the best treatment they can inside of prisons so that can reintegrate back into society when they are released.
That doesn’t always happen. Protocols are ignored, medication isn’t released with the offender and if that person had psychiatric help inside the prison, he or she is released with no treatment plan. When the warrants expire, all help (if any was received) is terminated. It’s a recipe for failure.
We forget that failing to help offenders hurts us all.
Canadians don’t pay a lot of attention toward corrections at either the federal or provincial level, but we should. An 80 per cent increase in the numbers of aboriginal women entering our prisons says that something has gone wrong in the last decade. The fact that 69 per cent of the women entering our federal correctional system have mental health problems says that we are failing them.
The Harper government loves to talk about being tough on crime. I am not going to take them seriously until they start improving the conditions of those they put behind bars. Prison should be a place where we start to rehabilitate those who are behind bars, not release them in worse shape than they entered.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
I sat down with Gerald Bauman on the Brent Loucks Show and we talked about 2nd Avenue and 22nd Street, poverty, and crime in Saskatoon
Saskatoon has been in an uproar over the suggestion the city spend $40,000 to remove the benches in the vicinity of the McDonald’s restaurant on Second Avenue and 22nd Street because people are loitering there all day.
Police officers and business owners with whom I have spoken have real concerns about the street corner. I have seen a couple of drug deals take place there, and there have been reports of violence and harassment of passersby.
Both the police and the Community Support Officers have done some good work to try to manage the problem. Over many lunch hours I have seen a police officer standing there. When the McDonald’s on Second Avenue becomes a police beat, it may be time to do something.
The problem with removing the benches is that it doesn’t accomplish what it is intended to do. I have gone into that McDonald’s over many lunches (Don’t tell my wife. She sent me to work with a salad). The staff is courteous and polite, and McDonald’s provides free coffee refills and sells a lot of soda for $1.
The combination of a friendly staff, free coffee, cheap soda and a centralized location where people can come to meet their friends have turned the restaurant into a downtown drop-in centre. I know people who come from miles away to meet their friends there daily. I am pretty sure that is not the business plan McDonald’s intended.
When you toss in the low fence in the neighbouring parking lot, the location lends itself to loitering. The solution isn’t to remove the benches, or to legislate behaviour. Other cities have learned it doesn’t work. Toronto has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines to the poor and homeless. Numerous American cities have banned people from sitting on the sidewalks. Denver has made it illegal to be homeless by banning urban camping.
It’s the wrong approach. When you have nothing, what is the deterrent effect of a fine? Toronto’s inability to collect any of those fines shows that its policy is a huge failure.
The solution is to deal with the real issue. There are people in Saskatoon who are so far below the poverty line that to them, simple poverty looks like a welcome step up. Many are getting less in social assistance for rent than what their rent costs. Part of their rent has to come out of their living allowance – money that is supposed to be for food.
When people have very little, they at least want to be around their friends. These groups self-organize and find a place to meet. In this case it has become the downtown restaurant. Getting rid of the benches or even the entire McDonald’s won’t change that. They will organize and find somewhere else to meet.
Do we get rid of the benches on 21st Street or shut down the food court at the Midtown Plaza next?
Other growing cities have adopted drop-in centres. It’s not a new concept, as we have had them for youth and teens for decades. This needs to happen downtown for adults. An agency needs to step up and work with the city and downtown neighbours to create a space where people want to come, and at the same time works for neighbouring businesses. It isn’t easy, but as I have seen in visiting great drop-ins from coast to coast, it is possible to find that balance.
It takes a place where people can be warm on cold days, cool on hot days, and have something to drink, a bite to eat, and even some Internet access. From what we have learned in Saskatoon, cheap pop, coffee and hamburgers seem to be the formula people want. Just make sure they have a chance to meet their friends there.
Saskatoon has a downtown full of energy. People want to work, socialize and play there. We all want to be where the action is, regardless of our income. Other cities have learned that drop-in services need to be downtown, because that is where the people are going to congregate.
While this is a local problem, it’s also a reflection of provincial policies. Social Services needs to move beyond merely writing cheques and realize that it has a role to play in issues like this in cities and towns across Saskatchewan.
It was encouraging to see city council’s planning and operations committee look beyond the easy solution and realize there are much more complicated factors at play. Let’s see if council and the provincial government have the political will to address them.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
My column in yesterday’s The StarPhoenix (not breaking a lot of news around here today)
In late March, the international aid organization World Vision released a report titled Poverty at Your Doorsteps, which looked at poverty in five major Canadian cities to see how they recovered after the recent global recession.
The report observes a growing economic disparity between the rich and poor in Canada. Poverty is becoming increasingly concentrated among singles, young adults, aboriginal people, recent immigrants and persons with disabilities. These findings have been documented in other national and local reports, including Saskatoon’s own housing business plan.
To compare cities is difficult, as they all have different economic contexts. Even cities as close geographically as Hamilton and Toronto have different fundamentals that drive growth and shape their employment.
However, despite their differences, there is a common thread in each of the five cities. It’s the lack of affordable housing – something that we struggle with in Saskatoon, as well.
According to Statistics Canada, incomes in Saskatoon have grown on average by $12,000 per household since 2006, which is above the national average. The problem for many is that the average house price in our city has risen to around $340,000 during that time, or by more than $150,000.
The statistics are medians that don’t tell the whole story, but it is a trend that affects many people.
Those who work outside the skilled trades or the resource sector have had a tough time, as their wages have not grown at the same rate. Not surprisingly, the Saskatoon Food Bank reported in 2011 that it had 64,930 hamper requests from families, representing 87,963 adults and 64,908 children. The rent has to come from somewhere.
What’s most frustrating is that this problem exists because of the prosperity. It’s not a failure of economic policies but the result of good ones. The better our economy performs, the greater the number of people who move here and the higher the real estate prices rise. More people are left behind because of skyrocketing rents.
If city hall prognosticators are correct in their growth forecasts, and Saskatoon grows to be a city of a half million people in the next 30 years, the lack of affordable housing is a problem that won’t go away.
Despite housing traditionally being a provincial responsibility, the city is doing a lot on this front. It provides housing grants to help people afford their first house, offers grants for affordable housing units across the spectrum of needs, and has gifted parcels of land for projects.
Saskatoon does more than any other city in Canada to make housing affordable. We are a model for all other municipalities, but still aren’t getting ahead. Waiting lists for affordable housing continue to grow.
It’s tough to determine how effective the city’s efforts have been, but compared to Regina whose apartment vacancy rate in 2012 was a minuscule 0.6 per cent rather than Saskatoon’s really low rate of 3.1 per cent, those efforts can be termed successful.
There is a limit to what a city or province can do. Canada is one of few developed countries that doesn’t have a national housing strategy.
Our federal government played a role in national housing policy since the Second World War. For good and for bad, it played a large role in urban affairs and housing into the 1980s. However, since the end of the Trudeau government in 1984, no government has really wanted to tackle housing in Canada.
By the time 1993 came along, the feds got out of housing altogether to focus on the deficit, and left the responsibility with the provinces and cities.
The loss wasn’t felt immediately. The glut of rental properties in most cities had both the units and the rates to absorb new tenants. It’s hard to believe that in the 1980s one could rent an apartment in Saskatoon and get one or two rent-free months each year. Those days are long gone.
With population growth and widening economic disparity, it is time for another national housing strategy that can support local needs while avoiding some of the mistakes of the past. Saskatoon and the province have made some significant progress, but this is a national issue.
The gap between wages and rent is growing. Unaffordable rents and huge mortgages are not a strategy and, until we have one, the problem won’t be solved. The best way to help the working poor get ahead is to provide them with affordable shelter. To make this happen is going to take all three levels of government.
It’s time for Ottawa to step up again.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
If you happened to have watched the discussions during last week’s city council meeting about snow removal and business taxes in Saskatoon, you would have left with a clear impression: The city is having a hard time paying for basic services.
Lost in the rhetoric over how hard city crews work and how bad was the winter is a simple fact. Council voted against residential snow removal last fall, which created this mess in the first place. Even last week there were news stories about impassable streets.
The reason that councillors voted against residential snow removal was to keep property taxes as low as possible. As the city has proudly proclaimed for years, Saskatoon has the lowest property taxes in Canada among cities of a similar size.
That’s great if you hate taxes. But it’s bad news if you have to pay for things. With taxes this low, you will always have problems with paying for essential services.
If we are going to be the city of the lowest taxes, we will be the city of no snow removal, constant potholes and inferior public transit, because all of those services cost money. We have to cut costs somewhere, and we have cut them on snow removal and on road repair.
We underfund our road maintenance by more than $12 million a year, and that is just to keep our streets at their current levels. To actually repair and upgrade them would cost much more. Instead of paving roads, we patch them, which allows for moisture penetration. With the freeze-thaw cycle that faces Saskatoon regularly, our streets will continue to fail.
To its credit, council has increased spending on road repair, so by 2020 we will have almost reached the levels needed to keep our streets at 2012 levels. By that time the city will need even more money for road repairs, even if the streets are gravel.
Of course we can raise taxes. However, the problem is that once you go on and on about how low your taxes are, it’s really difficult to back away from that. We can talk all we want about wanting to be a world-class city, but you never judge a government by what it says so much as where it spends its money. In Saskatoon’s case, it’s not enough even to maintain our essential services.
There are two ways to deal with this.
One is to cut back more services and get out of a lot of what the city does, such as affordable housing, building parks and funding art galleries. The focus will be solely on roads, snow removal, emergency services and utilities such as garbage pickup.
This approach provides a great value for those that don’t need social services or amenities. They get lower taxes with no noticeable impact on their life in the city. It’s a blueprint that a lot of American cities have adopted. The problem is that no one wants to live or work in those cities once the boom is over.
The other option is to do what Edmonton’s city council just did. It adopted a report titled, The Way We Prosper, which made it clear that the old way using low taxes to attract business isn’t working.
Competitive taxes are important, but they are only a piece of the puzzle. Issues such as building a livable city and integrating Edmonton’s economic development agencies in a better way were listed as higher priorities.
Cities grow because of external market forces. More important than low taxes are the commodity prices that are driving our economy. If these prices bottom out, there is little that low tax rates will do to keep or attract businesses.
On the flip side, companies and people aren’t coming to Saskatoon because of low taxes on properties and businesses. They are coming because Saskatoon is a gateway to a whole lot of prosperity.
For all of Saskatoon’s aspirations of becoming a world-class city, we aren’t even raising enough money to maintain the city we have. Pat Hyde, manager of the city’s public works branch, announced last week that this will be the worst year ever for potholes.
When you don’t bring in enough money to maintain and clear streets, it’s going to be this bad for a lot of years.
There is a reason why our taxes are so low compared to other cities. Those cities know they can’t maintain their assets and provide services at the tax rates the city is charging.
This paper has called for an alternative to property taxes to fund civic services. Until that happens, we need to start charging more unless we want to see a further deterioration in the state of Saskatoon’s infrastructure. It’s a bill that needs to be paid sometime. As much as we hate it, it will require the payment of higher taxes.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
The mayor is off on a trade mission to China. SREDA points out that they are paying for the mayor’s portion of the trip which is true.
SREDA and the Mayor’s press release fail to point out that the major portion of SREDA’s funding comes from…. wait for it… the City of Saskatoon. It includes three members of city council on its board of directors as a result.
To be honest, I don’t care of the city pays for Mayor Atchison’s trip to China or not. He’s a good salesperson and networker and will do a good job in representing the City of Saskatoon and it’s business interests but it bugs me that we play these games instead of coming out and just saying what is going on. Taxpayers are paying for part of the trip.
Of course in the process of answering Jennifer Quesnel’s questions about the trip, SREDA CEO said this. Someone needs to let SREDA know that as a partially taxpayer funded organization, people are going to care how that money is spent.
It’s a question cities throughout Western Canada have been grappling with for decades: does new development pay for itself ? Does the city spend more money servicing new neighbourhoods than it collects from the developers who buy the lots and build houses?
A new report released by Saskatoon civic administrators that says not all costs of new suburban development are paid for by the service rates charged to developers is stirring up the debate.
“Most of the direct services – most of the capital costs to build a neighbourhood – are included in the overall developers’ fees, but there are a number things that are not covered like leisure centres and fire halls and other things,” said Randy Grauer, Saskatoon’s acting city manager.
Some cities, such as Calgary, have decided to dramatically increase development levies. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it’s an attempt to recoup the real cost of growth.
Some planners in Saskatoon say the same model should be considered here as the city’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace.
“The city has been encouraging developers to go develop on the outskirts, and now we are paying for it because we cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure,” said Avi Akkerman, a professor of regional and urban planning at the University of Saskatchewan.
“Everything that is associated with it is unsustainable.”
Of course developers disagree
“The new areas are paying a large portion of the tax burden,” said local developer Ron Olson, a former president the Canadian Home Builders Association. “The new areas are subsidizing the older neighbourhoods.”
Olson said city planners have to be careful not to “drink the Kool-Aid on this densification.” Restricting development on the outer edges of the city will only force young families to move outside the city – to places like Warman and Martensville – where they can find more housing choices.
“Calgary is a prime example of what we are talking about. The mayor has decided that new growth and suburban growth is a bad thing, and that kind of policy is regressive. You will have a bunch of satellites around Calgary, and those satellites are because young people want to live in single family homes,” Olson said.
Actually I would challenge Ron Olson’s assertions about Calgary. I would suggest that the Calgary satellite communities have everything to do with house price than a desire to live in single family homes. The farther you are away from Calgary (or Saskatoon), the less access you have to amenities and then less you have to pay for housing.
Of course the other point is that it isn’t about housing, it is about the cities ability to pay for sprawling infrastructure. It’s weird but some still see libertarian values as something that needs to be met, even in the city.
More than 100,000 churches and parishes across North America have closed their doors over the past decade. Entire denominations have disappeared or have had to merge to survive.
Despite being part of the Bible belt, Saskatoon, too, has been affected by the cultural shift away from Christianity, and we see in the decline the eventual closure of Third Avenue United Church.
The church been a part of the fabric of Saskatoon for almost a century. Its English Gothic architecture has been acclaimed since it was built. At the time, University of Saskatchewan president Walter Murray called the new building, “The first permanent home of religion in Saskatoon.”
Most churches have a life cycle. They are started, grow, mature and then die. With populations shifting to the suburbs, the lack of parking and the changing role of faith in our communities, many churches in downtown areas are struggling to survive.
There are very few examples of a local church being vibrant on its centennial, because many don’t make it that long. In most cases, tears are shed, stories told and the church is closed and sold. That money is invested in new churches and in projects the denomination see as desirable.
That is the path taken by the River Bend Presbytery. Selling the Third Avenue Church will give it the money to invest elsewhere.
The problem is that the loss of the downtown church would be a net loss to Saskatoon. This isn’t just another building. The Third Avenue United Church has legendary acoustical properties and rivals theatres across Canada as a great performance space.
Its capacity fills a niche in Saskatoon as it is larger than the Broadway and Roxy theatres, while at 1,100 seats, it’s smaller than TCU Place. It adds to the city without competing with other performance spaces.
The Third Avenue Centre, a non-profit group that wants to turn the church into a performing arts centre, has made a proposal to the congregation and the presbytery.
The congregation approved the proposal, but the presbytery disagreed and instructed church officials to send it back on to the market for other bids.
As other cities have taught us, when such facilities hit the open market, they can be lost to the community forever. Some communities have learned the lesson and are converting similar buildings to concert halls and performance spaces because of the value they offer a city.
The market for old cathedrals is traditionally soft.
Organizations can buy and convert them for far less than building a replacement.
Once the Third Avenue church is lost, we will never be able to replace it. There is a reason we don’t build facilities like it anymore: It’s too expensive. Its stonework alone would cost approximately $39 million to replace.
Councillor Darren Hill told The StarPhoenix, “I don’t think it’s the city’s position to get involved in the decision making of the presbytery. That is not our role. But if there is the opportunity to strengthen a bid or a proposal to protect the integrity of the church as a performing arts centre, that’s where we need to come in.”
While Hill is calling on the city to intervene, an even better solution would be for Saskatoon’s corporate and philanthropic community to step up and invest in the next century of performing arts in Saskatoon. It would be a timeless investment in both the arts and in Saskatoon as a whole.
Looking at similar and older cathedrals across Eastern Canada, the United States and Europe, there are countless generations of use left in the Third Avenue building if we are willing to invest in it before it is too late.
Saskatoon would not be alone in doing this. Several cities across Canada have stepped in to transform old churches into performance spaces. Some have allowed the congregation to continue to meet in the space – a solution that would work well here.
As builders and trustees of Third Avenue United Church for a century, it makes sense to give congregation members a home as it moves into its next phase of life as a building.
The congregation got us this far. Now it’s up to us as a city to step up and figure out what’s next. We had the vision to add a world-class art gallery downtown.
Now we need to figure out where a world-class concert hall fits in. This opportunity presents itself only once and, if we seize it, the result will be enjoyed by generations to come.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
Nerdist – which itself has expanded from its humble origins to include a premium content YouTube channel, podcast offshoots and a cross-platform newsletter, Nerdist News – is a logical extension of a not-so-radical concept: A talk show about nerd culture hosted by and featuring people who actually know what they’re talking about.
Nerdist podcast topics draw on everything and everyone from MythBusters star Adam Savage to Clerks and Silent Bob filmmaker, Comic Book Men TV impresario and unapologetic fan-boy Kevin Smith.
Nerdist Podcast ranked No. 3 in a recent Rolling Stone list of the 10 best comedy podcasts of the moment. Guests over the years – Nerdist Podcast bowed in February 2010 – have ranged from comics maestro Stan Lee and TV actors Jeri Ryan and Drew Carey to rocker Ozzy Osbourne and cast members from Doctor Who, Community and Star Trek: The Next Generation, among other similarly styled shows.
Hardwick considers himself a Doctor Who evangelist, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nerdist’s TV debut coincides with the return of Doctor Who’s seventh season in the U.S. and Canada later this month.
Hardwick fell into Nerdist Podcast almost by accident. He was a struggling standup comic at the time. He had a hard time finding bookings and filing comedy clubs. No one knew who he was, or what his comedy involved. Podcasting seemed a natural way to spread the word.
“Podcasting is a survival mechanism,” Hardwick explained, earlier this year in Los Angeles. “As starting comedians, we need a way to express ourselves in public in a way that tells them this is who we are, this is what we’re about, these are the things we want to talk about. Podcasts have become the comedy albums of today.
“When I was a kid, you’d listen to the same comedy album 20, 30, 50 times. Today, we’re spoiled as consumers. We’re like, ‘More! More!’ Podcasts provide that for people. They’re like a nonstop comedy album.”
From The StarPhoenix’s blog. A note from the giant icicle before it was torn down. Luckily Jeremy Warren was there to get the story.
You must know a few things before they hack me apart and I melt into your memories. First, stop calling me an icicle. I’m more of an ice wall, no? You’ve seen the photos by now. My elegant curves run from the top of the apartment to the ground. I hang for no one.
Second, WHY? Why must you destroy me? There are more perilous icicles hovering above Saskatoon sidewalks and apartments, and yet it’s my ice on the firing line. I blame the media spotlight. Its hot glare is not good for my kind.
One afternoon I’m at home — in my case it’s just a wall but it’s still home — and a reporter comes around, lets neighbours talk garbage about me and then publishes a story accusing me of threatening innocent citizens. Did I get an interview? I was not asked for my side of the story. I got the cold shoulder.
But that’s how we are treated, my frozen friends and I. How many of you have snapped an icicle hanging from your windows and trucks? Those are our children cut down in their prime. This is ice-ism.
I am not an old soul, but my young ice age has provided some insight into this world. Stuck to the same spot for months, I can’t help but notice the best and worst of you. I watched a young couple fight on the street, a blizzard of pent up resentment blowing between them. I watched two teens rush to the aid of an old man who slipped on the icy sidewalk. A microcosm of humanity has passed before me and I came to love you. Now you’re all left cold to my pleas of mercy.
I will likely die today. Think of me when you slip on your skates. Think of me when you drop a few ice cubes in your warm cola. I did nothing wrong and I am being punished. Justice is blind and maybe that’s why she moves at a such a glacial pace.
As the city prepares to develop the north downtown and aspires to make significant progress toward Mayor Don Atchison’s plan of having 15,000 people live downtown, it also has the opportunity to deal with another problem: Making Saskatoon a lot more affordable place to live.
A recent StarPhoenix story quoted lobbyist Wendell Cox of Demographia saying Saskatoon is among the least affordable cities in Canada.
This might be an expensive place to live, but I am not sure that I agree with Cox’s idea that we can sprawl until we hit mountains. Unlike Cox, I don’t lobby for the auto industry, or oppose the expansion of public transit.
His point is valid that densification of cities drives up property values and home prices. There come to be more amenities as more people move in, and people pay more to be close to the things they love. If you doubt me, check out the housing prices in Nutana near the Broadway business area. You pay more to live on or near a great street or urban village.
With a north downtown plan that will bring more people and more companies to the area, the same thing will happen to housing prices there. People will pay more to live close to work and play, and it’s already being reflected in rising prices in City Park, Caswell Hill and, more recently, Riversdale. This will only intensify when there are more people downtown. We all expect better transit, more restaurants and maybe even food trucks.
In many cities, the market dictates the most expensive kind of housing or condos that are created.
The result is that high-end condos win out, which is great for developers and owners. The wealth in the city centre also adds to the downtown street life and culture.
Where the market fails is in producing the lower-end rental suites that make a city affordable to live, and to a degree puts some downward pressure on the market. As a city grows more prosperous, these kind of bachelor and single-bedroom suites become more scarce.
The economic result is that it hurts a city’s creative and startup culture. It also hurts the very businesses that move into a downtown core because it’s hard to retain staff who can’t afford the commute. I see that when I find myself in an unaffordable city centre where there are a surprising number of “help wanted” signs, even in a poor job market.
When staff can’t easily get to their jobs, they quit when they find something closer to home. We see that happening even in Saskatoon. Why commute downtown when you can find work within walking distance?
There are ways to deal with this.
Mississauga, Ont., just built a massive and ugly affordable housing project that has created such an outcry that the city is looking at how to fix what it has done. One councillor called the project an “industrial prison.”
It’s spacious housing, but no one is ever going to want to call it a home. Like most such large-scale projects, this one won’t age well and will be part of the problem within a couple of decades.
The other approach being taken in some other cities with a dearth of affordable apartments is to start building micro apartments which cost less but are still of good quality. These are 270-to 350-square-foot suites at an affordable price. Having seen videos of a 78-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, the 270-squarefoot ones look like an expansive ranch house and are the size of many bachelor suites in Saskatoon.
While such a micro suite would be cramped to hold a decent Super Bowl party this weekend, it could provide the essentials of life at an affordable price. Half of Saskatchewan’s residents say they spend less on groceries in order to make the rent payment. This changes that.
By going small instead of low quality, micro suites provide affordable housing without competing against other types of housing, and are targeted at single people who often are overlooked.
Such housing allows artists, fledgling entrepreneurs and low-income earners a chance to live and get ahead.
If we don’t have this kind of creative housing, we risk missing out on the next wave – whether that be the arts or the birth of a new industry. Other cities have made this mistake and have paid for it.
Developing the north downtown could be as big for Saskatoon as River Landing. We all know there will be some amazing spaces built there, but let’s also hope there are some amazing and affordable spaces being built as well, even if they are on the small side.
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As chosen by their photographer Gord Waldner. My favourite from his favourites is this one. It just seemed to sum up 2012 around Saskatoon.
Last week the Internet news site iPolitics reported that Iwan Zinger, the executive director of the Office of Correctional Investigations, raised a series of concerns about the double bunking of federal offenders in federal penitentiaries.
Since June 2010, inmates being held in segregation in Manitoba’s Stoney Mountain Penitentiary have been double bunked despite being confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.
In a related story, iPolitics reported that in Prince Albert inmates are being double bunked in a prison cell that is less than five-square metres.
It’s been a long-standing practice with Correctional Services to avoid double bunking. Zinger pointed out in a memo he wrote to correctional officials that Canada has long endorsed the United National Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which calls for one inmate per prison cell.
Correctional Service responded to the letter with concern, but double bunking has been on the increase for the last couple of years anyway. As far back as August 2010, CSC has posted policy notes on its website that loosen the rules for double bunking.
For the foreseeable future, however, the policy seems to be here to stay. There is an increasing number of inmates being double bunked in cells designed for a single person. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has indicated he is content with double bunking in spite of the 1,700 new cells being added to the system.
Western Canada sees the highest rate of double bunking, at about one in five inmates. As can be expected, the increased crowding leads to other problems.
In prison, it leads to a higher rate of violence and public-health problems such as the spread of infectious diseases. It also makes rehabilitation more difficult as we are housing inmates in unsafe prisons that are not designed to hold that many people.
While it may be physically possible to hold a higher number of prisoners they eventually get released, and that’s when the real problems start.
The American practice of building supermax prisons generated a lot of attention when they were opened. They were super secure for the system’s most dangerous criminals. As the reinvention of places like Alcatraz, they held prisoners such as the notorious mob boss John Gotti.
They did an amazing job of segregating inmates and stopping violence. Their failure was that some who were housed there were not given life sentences and like most offenders in Canada, they were eventually released. Authorities found that many were worse off when they were released, however, than when they were convicted.
I am all in favour of tougher prison sentences for some crimes. It takes a long time to change behaviours and be taught the new skills that can break the crime cycle. It’s staff intensive and costs money but at the same time not doing it costs a lot more in both crime and more incarceration.
Many who return to California’s famous San Quentin are arrested before they have the chance to spend the $100 bill that they are given when they are released. Released in the morning and returned later that day. Each of those crimes has a victim and of course the cost of even more incarceration. It’s in all of our best interests to get this right.
That isn’t happening now. The Conservatives have totally forgotten the “corrections” part of their crime bill in a haste of locking everyone up. While they may be correct that we need longer sentences and have more people incarcerated, locking people up without the cells to safely house them and the space to turn their lives around is a recipe for more crime and even longer sentences.
Studies have shown that for most criminals, prison isn’t a deterrent. The evidence would suggest that in most western countries, it’s not the jail time that stops people from committing crimes – most are very aware of the consequences before they do the crime.
Many can’t get by in the world without breaking the law and that is why they do it. Some are violent people who must be locked up for a long time, but most need to be taught the skills to live without crime. Treating our prisons as warehouses for criminals doesn’t do that.
While it may feel good to be tough on crime, we must break the crime cycle and that doesn’t happen in over-crowded and violent prisons.
It’s hard to care for criminals but for many, prison must be where they can change their lives. Warehousing them in small cells isn’t going to accomplish that. Best practices have to win out over Conservative ideology and politics.
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