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
They designed and built many of the landmark bridges spanning Canadian waters, but when it came to the Champlain Bridge, the father-and-son engineers P.L. and Hugh Pratley lost a big part of the job to a low, exotic bid.
This weekend, roughly 55 years later, work crews are racing to install a “super beam” and save the Champlain Bridge. Hugh Pratley, now 87, shakes his head at the memory of how the “innovative” concrete girder design imported from Europe won over his plan to use traditional steel girders to build much of a 3.4-kilometre crossing over the St. Lawrence River.
“We were ready to go with a similar design to the one my father used 30 years earlier on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and then this crazy idea came in from France,” said Mr. Pratley. “It cost less, so they took the cheapest bid. And now they’re paying for it.”
The Champlain Bridge, which is among Canada’s busiest and is located in one of the country’s key trade corridors, was scheduled to be closed completely early Saturday morning so workers could install a 75-tonne steel girder to shore up a failing concrete beam. The federal bridge authority in Montreal plans to reopen the bridge with the brace until more permanent repairs can take place.
However, the only long-term solution is a new bridge that is expected to cost at least $3-billion.
Montreal is riddled with crumbling infrastructure, but the Champlain is emblematic of problems that have haunted the city for decades: Shoddy construction, neglected upkeep and jurisdictional squabble have contributed to create an emergency situation that could have been avoided.
At the root of the problem was the desire of the Progressive Conservative government under John Diefenbaker to save a buck.
Yeah, that does sound a lot Saskatoon. The only difference is that Montreal actually fixes it’s crumbling bridges while we just let ours fall apart.
This morning I was listening to the radio when I heard the Lighthouse ask for donations of personal care items this Christmas. I wasn’t surprised but disappointed. When I was there a contract was finalized with the Ministry of Social Services that paid the Lighthouse very well to house people in its shelters at a going rate of $67.50 a night (that’s been the rate for the last couple of years). Over a month, it is over $2400 a bed a month to house someone (which is why housing first programs are so important). It is a constant rate across the province. Unlike other shelters, the LH gets stable funding for those beds.
When the housing rates were increased, I was invited to the announcement and the government made it really clear that the increase of rates was designed to ensure that not only room and board are taken care of but also things like shampoo and hygiene products. It was to provide a quality level of care. It actually a higher rate than other agencies get to provide the same kind of services. So why if an agency is getting around $2k a bed for room and board, can it not purchase shampoo, tampons, and soap? Especially when there are extremely cheap institutional suppliers that sell this stuff for pennies a package (I know because I used to order it). Even expensive things (like lockers, new beds, and linen) were a cost of doing business and orgs budgeted the money for it.
Even for long term clients, they are not being housed at a loss (going rate is $820 a month, some agencies like the LH get $910 a month from Social Services) Not only that but with the leadership of Premier Wall and the Saskatchewan Party (see, I can give credit where credit is due), the SAID program is giving more money than ever before to ensure clients are comfortable and can have their needs meant. It has been an increase of hundreds of dollars a month. No NGOs are providing services at a loss to the provincial government. So why do so many agencies use this season to ask for money for programs that are clearly fully funded by taxpayers. So we pay our taxes to pay for it and then that money isn’t spent because people will donate as well. It has never made any sense to me. In the end, some non profits are using the cold, the season, and year end generosity to manipulate people into giving more and that sucks.
Even for people who Social Services would not fund (it happens), the cost of housing someone was so low that it never impacted the bottom line on the budget. You were left with laundry costs, water for a shower, and breakfast (which was made anyways). When I was at the Salvation Army, we stopped charging clients for things because they were so cheap to provide for free (like laundry soap) and improved client life. There was always enough money.
A friend of mine was once the national treasurer of a national charitable organization. He told Wendy and I over dinner that we should never give to his organization as it has millions of dollars in surplus every single year and yet it kept going out all over the country and getting more. Those are facts that were never made public but instead the appeal for more or dire consequences would come would be repeated. You know what, Canadians would “answer the call” and give thinking they are needed to keep essential services going. In the end, the programs are totally funded by governments and often more than one level.
I was sitting down with another leader of a large non-profit who was talking about how they make their communications confusing about their finances confusing as accurate information may discourage donors. In other words he didn’t want people to know who much government funding his organization received which helped his appeals for support to individuals and business. I’m sorry but how is that manipulative at best and fraudulent at worst?
Dishonesty and fund raising go part and parcel. Like I said shelters run a profit (or at least the ones I ran did) in excess of six figures per annum some years. Yet what was featured in appeals for help? Shelters. I know people wanted to give but not a single dime of that money ever went to shelter services because it was never needed. Non-profit fundraising is big business even in Saskatchewan. A Regina shelter’s American fundraising firm wasn’t taking Saskatoon clients because their Regina client is fund raising here (with them taking a large portion of what is raised). The firm is quite impressive and is using micro targeted mailing lists to target Saskatoon households and blocks. Oddly enough while the parse up Saskatoon by the street according to income, they fail to understand that we are in Saskatoon and their client serves Regina. It’s not my money.
There are some programs that desperately need help but it’s hard to figure out which ones. One agency I know of proudly states they get no government funding when in reality, about 90% of their revenue comes from the Ministry of Social Services. I don’t know how they reconcile that but that is the line they give to donors and the media. It makes no sense to me.
My point is that you may want to look hard at who you donate to this season and ask some really hard questions about how that money is being spent and why they need money for it. For some orgs, they may be working in an area where the governments don’t really care like food security (Friendship Inn and Saskatoon Food Bank). Food programs almost never get government funding and are almost entirely dependent on donations. That may be a good place to start.
Another thing to consider is why are some agencies asking for money for things when others are not? If the government funding is there, why do some keep asking for donations to help the same group of clients that several other types of housing providers are not. It’s awkward to ask those questions and my experience and seeing those financials is that answer is often unpleasant. Tim Richter, the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness talks of the homeless industrial complex and he is right. I saw it up close for 8 years. It can be really self-serving.
Personally my giving tends to be attached to areas where the government doesn’t like to participate in or does a really bad job of working in. I also put my money where my mouth is and I give money directly to a couple of people who need the help. I have written about the benefits of giving money directly to people before and it’s benefits and it is something that I believe in.
Those are my thoughts. I am sorry if I hurt anyone by these thoughts. I hate to say it but if I have, I may not have a lot of respect for what your org is doing anyways.
Does Seattle know how to grow?
You’d think so, with all those construction cranes back and so many mega-projects underway. We’re about to get expanded light rail, a new waterfront, a massive downtown tunnel, a super-sized 520 bridge, and a Mercer Mess that has been tidied up after 50 years of complaining. Growth would seem to be the least of our problems.
But there are some who think these endeavors are not enough. We could do more, do it bigger, do it better and, they believe, we had better get to it because we’re facing big economic challenges. Boeing, for example, has become a constant worry. The company is doing a slow retreat from Puget Sound, and keeping key parts of Boeing’s work here is getting increasingly expensive for taxpayers. Some $9 billion in new tax breaks have been offered to keep 777X work here. Even so, without a major transportation package and with major union concessions just voted down, Boeing is looking for a better deal elsewhere.
Another foundation of our economy is showing signs of change, and age. Microsoft has reached maturity and experienced enough marketplace failures (Vista, Zune, Surface) that a major management shift is underway. We’ve grown accustomed to Redmond being a perennial powerhouse and millionaire-generator in the Gates-Ballmer era, but will that roll continue?
Seattle sees itself as a special incubator of the next big commercial success — and the new Bezos family-funded “Center for Innovation” at the Museum of History and Industry that opened this fall is a shrine to this self-image. We’ve scored with Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Amazon, for example. But in the tech sector there’s some thought that we haven’t reached our silicon potential, that we’re over-due for a new major success a la Google or Facebook.
Sure, we’re a pretty good place for start-ups, but Seattle tech booster Chris DeVore recently wrotethat while Seattle is pretty good at launching companies, “It’s been a long time since a new Seattle-based company produced a huge windfall.” He means a company, like Microsoft or Amazon, that lifted employees and investors by generating lots of wealth. “If I had to put my finger on the one thing we could do to improve our weak ‘startup rate,’ it would be to produce more explosive wins in Seattle…” he wrote. That would benefit start-ups and companies all up and down the food chain and generate money to invest in new ventures. Apparently, the tech sector needs a new blockbuster.
Another voice encouraging Seattle and Washington to take it to the next level is Microsoft executive vice president and general counsel Brad Smith. In October, he addressed the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leadership Conference, an appropriate place for business leaders to inspire the team with a growth-oriented Gipper speech. I also had a chance to talk with him afterwards. In his speech, he said “[I]f there is a moment in time when we can come together and focus on raising our ambition, I think that moment is now.” With the state recovering economically, with greater global competition ahead (China, Brazil, South Carolina…), and with so much potential here, we need to get going, and set our sights higher.
To that end, his Gipper — or maybe "Skipper" — speech cited a nautical example. It was inspirational achievement of the University of Washington rowing crew who beat the odds to win a gold medal in 1936. These were local boys who had to raise their own money during the Depression to go to Germany, who had to race under rules that favored Hitler’s rowing team, and who took on the task of making America proud at the Nazi’s infamous Olympic Games. “It’s a reminder of what nine young men from humble background could achieve when they reached beyond themselves and worked as a team,” he said.
Hopefully this isn’t needed but a great idea from the City of Saskatoon
This Halloween, parents are reminded to tell their little trick or treaters that Saskatoon Transit’s SafeBus Program is there to help if they are in trouble. Children can get on a bus at any bus stop if they are lost, cold, frightened, hurt, or in trouble. Transit operators have direct 911 access to call for assistance.
Children asking for help do not need money to get on a SafeBus. To get an approaching bus operator’s attention, children in need of assistance should stand on the sidewalk and hold their hand up as the bus approaches. The operator will recognize this as a sign of distress and stop to help. The City reminds all parents to tell their children to never step onto the roadway to flag down a bus as this is very dangerous.
The SafeBus Program is part of the City of Saskatoon’s ongoing commitment to improving the safety of citizens and enhancing the quality of life in Saskatoon.
Some thoughts from Charlie Clark on Saskatoon’s property tax ratio and why he is against changing it.
While the ink is barely dry on the Flat Tax debate – we are back into a discussion on taxation with the Administration’s proposal to further reduce the amount that businesses pay in tax in comparison to homeowners by shifting the tax burden from one to another. The proposal is to move our ‘tax ratio’ (the amount of tax a commercial entity pays compared to a residential property) from 1.75 to 1.43.
In real terms – moving from a 1.75 to a 1.43 tax ratio would means reducing business taxes by $6.9 million/year and adding them on to homeowner’s taxes. I have certainly not been getting the message lately that homeowners are enthusiastic about tax increases – especially if there is nothing tangible to show for the increase. $6.9million is about 2/3 of our road maintenance budget, 3x our street sweeping budget, or 3/4 of our snow clearing budget.
I frankly remain a bit dumbfounded as to how this debate has gotten this far at this time in Saskatoon. A quick survey of other provinces and municipalities shows that we are already way on the low end of the spectrum with this 1.75 ratio. Calgary’s ratio is 4.09, Edmonton’s ratio is 3.01, Vancouver’s ratio is 4.84, Victoria’s ratio is 3.66 and Banff’s ratio is 6.0! On top of this as I have pointed out before, Saskatoon has been rated the most tax-competitive Municipality in the country to do business, most recently by a 2012 KPMG report.
It is very important that we do what we can to build a strong City that has the conditions for businesses to succeed. As I travel the City the main concerns I am hearing from people in the business community have to do with the condition of our roads, growing traffic congestion, and other infrastructure challenges.
City Council has been struggling to find the means to pay for the costs of getting our roads back into shape – and providing better basic services such as street sweeping, lane maintenance, water main repair, snow clearing – all services that reflect on the City and affect businesses ability to operate. At this point we are doing well on the tax-competitiveness front – we need to ensure that we build a City that has a good quality of life and good services that attract talent and companies to set up and expand here. Raising taxes on home-owners without adding more services only eats into our ability to raise revenues that we need to deal with the challenges of a growing City. The cost/benefit analysis on this one is completely unpersuasive and I will be voting against.
Its weird. You listen to Calgary and Edmonton’s business community and while taxes are a factor, they are well down on their list of priorities of things they want the city to do. Even Regina has looked at our (lower) tax rate and yawned. It’s not what attracts businesses to cities and almost every urbanist, economist, and politician outside of the City of Saskatoon agrees with that. Glad to see Coun. Clark take a stand on this issue.
During Hurricane Sandy, I spent hours on Wikipedia reading about New York City’s power grid, water supply, and even how their police department is organized. There are hundreds of pages about how the city works from multiple levels. I even found out that there are row houses that are actually escape tunnels for the subway. If you want to know how any major city works, Wikipedia is an indispensable tool to share that knowledge.
Saskatoon isn’t New York City but has some cool things happening from our new water pump house, our award winning super pipes, tunnels under 20th Street and exciting projects at the landfill. Why not talk more about these things and share that knowledge about the city?
Wikipedia is largely volunteer driven but organization have spent a lot of time putting up quality information to help with the efforts. The city could do the same.
Get a couple of students, hire them as summer interns, give them digital cameras, and have them research, visit, and document how our city works. Start at City Council, drill down through city admin and post everything that they find interesting with Wikipedia.
Head down to the archives and digitize photos, maps, and information and while you are at it, post a biography on Wikipedia worthy of Cliff Wright‘s legacy. Write about Meewasin Valley, SREDA, the Farmer’s Market, and the flow of water in the river. Whatever they find interesting, let’s find out more information and share it.
Having researched and posted to Wikipedia in the past, within days people will start filling in the blanks and the end result will be a much more comprehensive look and understanding of how the City of Saskatoon works. This is an investment that will pay off with a better educated and engaged citizenship who really do understand the complexity of what it makes to build a great city.
We had a good discussion today on the Saskatoon Afternoon Roundtable about hockey fights and the Mayor’s lack of leadership on active transportation and cutting congestion on Saskatoon City Streets. I may have called him “clueless”. If I would have brought my “A” game, I would have called him the “Gary Bettman of Mayors” and bridged the segments. Next time (we talk municipal politics and hockey in the same segment).
I love Cairns Field. It seats 5000 people which is small enough to feel cozy yet large enough to feel like an event. The best part of it is that if you are there, you are watching some pretty good baseball being played by the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets on a warm Saskatoon summer night.
The bad part about Cairns Field is it’s location. It’s tucked away between Holiday Park and the South Industrial section. It’s hard to get to and even hard to find. I have had more than one person that was going to meet us at the game text and ask, “now where exactly is this Cairns Field”.
Cairns Field represents Saskatoon’s best chance at professional sports. Professional basketball in Canada is the Toronto Raptors, we aren’t big enough for MLS or even NASL soccer, the CFL won’t put an additional team in Saskatchewan, and those that think that the NHL is coming are delusional (I’ve heard the arguments and they aren’t based in reality). Minor league baseball (and maybe an AHL team) is the one team that can thrive in Saskatoon but it’s going to be hard if it is stuck back in it’s current location.
So where do you put it? Well baseball needs to be close to downtown and close to amenities. That is going to be a challenge anywhere in Saskatoon unless we can put it in the North Downtown redevelopment where the city yards are currently located.
I am not saying it is ever going to happen but it would be an amazing place to walk down to and have dinner and then watch a game followed by a couple of drinks at a nearby pub. They have done it in Winnipeg and for 50 nights each summer (plus playoffs) up to 7481 people come downtown to enjoy The Forks and watch a game (and spend money while down there).
A cozy stadium of 5,000 seats in the heart of Saskatoon with affordable ticket prices? I can see that working. Especially if we can find a way to up the quality of ball being played to A or AA baseball.
If that fails, maybe the city can build a decent website for the field that makes it clearer that it exists and how to get there. That would be a good first step.
Gordie Howe Bowl is a terrible stadium and it will be even after the renovations. I know its home to the Saskatoon Hilltops, the 834 time Canadian Junior Football champions but that doesn’t mean it’s a decent stadium.
The stands are a long ways away from the playing field and the seats are sloped well back. It’s more a saucer than it is a bowl which means that the stadium is quiet, even with a crowd full of cow bells and air horns.
The concessions are terrible which makes a bad game day experience worse., even if watching the Saskatoon Hilltops is always worth your time and money. For high school football, the size is too large even for frosh week or rivalry games. Even when attendance is goodl, half of the stadium is empty.
Proponents of Howe Bowl point out that the improvements (larger dressing rooms that no one uses), concessions, and field turf will make the game better. Field turf has shredded (63%) more knees (players hate it) and caused more concussions than decent grass ever has. The medical evidence for keeping players on natural grass is significant, especially since most high school seasons are done before the extreme cold hits (I know there are exceptions, I have played in them). By upgrading Howe Bowl and making it cheaper to maintain (our city’s m.o.) we are making it less safe for high school athletes.
The solution is to stop the fundraising for the stadium and move the Hilltops to Griffiths Stadium. As for high school football, construct metal stands on each high school field like they do in almost every other city in North America and have them play there. Most high school fields are in good shape and the addition of some bleachers means that home field would really mean something.
As for the Hilltops, it isn’t as if this is a big move as the Hilltops play late season games at Griffiths each season after the high school teams have destroyed the turf at the Bowl. Canadian championships have been won at Griffiths Stadium. It has history for both the Huskies and Hilltops not to mention city high school games and even the Charity Bowl.
Gordie Howe Bowl has a lot of tradition but there is no need to have a separate field for both the Huskies and Hilltops. The field is out of date and the upgrades will make it dangerous for players. It was a poorly conceived idea from the start.
Plus, this commercial makes a lot more sense when a high school actually has a “home field”.