According to Flickr, this was my 17th most interesting photo of 2014.
Consider these statistics. Rubbish could be its Mount Vesuvius. Some 7,000 metric tonnes of refuse is spewed out each day. Dumping grounds are choked, yet there is no government-mandated separation or recycling.
Around 7.5 million commuters cram themselves into local trains every day and the fledgling metro and monorail are unlikely to make a perceptible difference in the near future.
There are 700,000 cars on the road and the authorities indirectly encourage private vehicle ownership by adding flyovers and expressways, instead of building or speeding up mass rapid transit systems. Private vehicle numbers have grown by 57% in the past eight years, compared with a 23% increase in public buses.
Toxic nitric oxide and nitrogen oxide levels stand at 252 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3) more than three times the safe limit of 80 mcg/m3. Protests against sound pollution fall on deaf ears.
There’s less than 0.03 acres of open space per 1,000 people. The global norm is four; London has a profligate 12.
There are 12.7 million people jammed into the 480 sq km that comprise today’s Greater Mumbai, that’s 20,680 people per sq km. We are the world’s eighth most-populated city – and dying to prove it.
As a consequence, every sixth Mumbaikar lives in a slum. The premium on land was exacerbated by the Rent Control Act of 1947, which wasn’t amended till 1999. Too little, too late. Real estate prices are unreal. It’s cheaper to buy a flat in Manhattan than in Malabar Hill, and you can be sure that shoddy materials will shortchange you in Mumbai.
Considering that housing is the city’s biggest shortfall, it’s ironic that unbridled construction is indisputably its biggest problem. Many villains have been blamed for Mumbai’s descent into urban hell, from mafia dons to impoverished migrants, but for the past three decades the main culprit is the “politician-builder nexus”.
In 2005, the entire city was held hostage for three days. On 26 July, suburban Mumbai was lashed by 668 mm of rain in just 12 hours. Unwarned commuters and children in school buses were left high, but not dry, as roads and railway tracks disappeared. Slums and BMWs went under the deluge without discernment for their economic standing. It may have been the country’s financial capital, but in the photographs that followed, swaggering Mumbai didn’t look much different from a monsoon-marooned Bihar village.
For this humbling disaster, the finger pointed at that same culprit: the developer and his facilitator, the politician. There was nowhere for the rainwater to go. For decades the concrete army had been allowed to commandeer all open spaces, and illegal encroachments had done the rest. Public parks, verdant hills, salt-pans, school compounds, private garden plots, beaches, mangroves – nothing was spared.
Nothing. Not a damned thing. A deliberate and enormous dose of nothing at all.
That is the only accurate description for what the Harper government has done in response to this summer’s killing of Tina Fontaine and the resulting calls for an inquiry into this country’s more than 1,100 missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Nothing. Not hardly even lip service.
For roughly 10 days in August, the nation took a short break from not caring about these women, most of whom linger on the margins of society. The shattering horror of this 15- year-old girl’s murder — the way she was snapped and squeezed into a garbage bag and then disposed of casually — stirred some brief attention. Aboriginal groups, the country’s premiers, opposition leaders and editorialists caused a short-lived ruckus. There were calls for a formal inquiry to examine the root causes of this unstopping tragedy, the adequacy of the police response, and what might be done to better respond to and halt the frequent loss of life. Even some prominent Conservatives added their voices to this cause, including Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan.
Stephen Harper said no.
He insisted that Tina’s death, and all the other deaths and all the other assumed-but-we’ll-probably-never-know-for-sure-what-happened-deaths are a matter strictly for the police. And that was pretty much all he had to say, silently suggesting that either he doesn’t believe there are root causes to such violence and murder or, if they do exist, they are better left to someone else to care about and deal with.
Quickly, others came forward with a host of reinforcing arguments as to why an inquiry would be a dreadful waste of time — that it would divert funds that could otherwise be dedicated to helping aboriginal women or that it would tell us nothing we don’t know already or that it would be an insult to the police or that it isn’t justified because statistics show that aboriginal men are dying at equally alarming rates. Not every argument against an inquiry was dedicated to doing nothing. But in their own way each ended up lending momentum to that cause.
Eventually, someone came up with the less uncomfortable idea of a national roundtable. Less out of a sense of embarrassment than a desire to simply shove the issue aside, the government agreed. It promised to get to work.
Then the news happened, as it always will. Mike Duffy lumbered into our lives again. ISIL released beheading videos. We went to war. Two soldiers were killed on our own soil. Sexual harassment exploded as a topic of national discussion. With every passing day these important matters dominated an increasing share of mind and, by default, Tina moved further and further from our thoughts.
It’s now been 96 days since her tiny, busted body was fished from the Red River. In the competition to respond to that tragedy, nothing is winning. And it’s winning by a mile.
Not really on of my favourite photos, nor was it my best photo of the night but Flickr liked it and it is my 49th most interesting photo of 2014.
In the nineteen fifties, people with money began leaving the cities in unprecedented numbers. They were getting married, getting jobs, starting families, and buying houses—they were moving to the suburbs. A Time Magazine article in 1954 observed: “…since 1940, almost half of the 28 million national population increase has taken place in residential suburban areas, anywhere from ten to 40 miles away from traditional big-city shopping centers. Thus, to win the new customers’ dollars, merchants will have to follow the flight to the suburbs.”
They did, and the suburban shopping mall was born.
But the original idea for the mall was not just about retail. Victor Gruen, the father of the suburban shopping mall, envisioned something much bigger. He wanted outdoor areas, banks, post offices, and supermarkets; he wanted to give the suburbs a soul, one inspired by the public squares of European cities. But that never happened. Instead malls were faceless, sprawling. Gruen was so disappointed with what malls became, he gave a speech in 1978 in which he said, “I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments.” Malls turned out to be the very monoliths of soullessness that Gruen had tried to overcome.
It’s not just that there are better malls than Collin Creek in the Dallas area. It’s that there are so many malls; Dallas has more shopping centers per capita than any other city in the United States. And according to some estimates, fifty percent of indoor malls nationwide will die over the next two decades—partly because some shoppers are opting for newer, better malls, but also because, as a recent Guardian article put it, “the middle class that once supported” mid-market malls is dwindling. Or, put yet another way, by retail consultant Howard Davidowitz: “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money.” Which, of course, wasn’t always the case.
As these old malls die off, they’re being replaced more and more by upscale, outdoor shopping centers—with lofts, grocery stores, offices, public meeting areas, and day cares. At least four have popped up in Dallas within the past ten years, and they’re always packed. Sixty years after Gruen’s ideas were bastardized by short-sighted developers, they are finally seeing their day. Inklings, maybe, of the suburbs finding their soul.
To counter this, maybe there is some life for malls in winter cities.
You can hardly blame the Finns for wanting to shop in giant, self-contained malls. After all, winter tends to start early in Finland (like, November) and end late (say, in April). Temperatures in Helsinki, which is at the nation’s extreme south, with a relatively mild maritime climate, rarely get above freezing in the coldest months, and have been known to go as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. In late December, the sun in Helsinki doesn’t rise until well after 9 a.m., sets soon after 3 p.m., and stays low in the sky — only getting to about 6.6 degrees above the horizon on December 27, for instance (compare that to New York, where it reaches an altitude of 26 degrees on the same day).
So it’s no surprise that the idea of walkable urban centers are a hard sell in Finland. Still, some in the nation are calling for Finland to rethink its love affair with the shopping mall.
Yet recently I have been shocked at how quiet Confederation Mall is (a ghost town), Lawson Heights Mall, and Midtown Plaza is when I am in there. Then you look at how busy at the same time other places are. Maybe we are growing tired of malls as well.
I have mixed feelings about sidewalk snow removal in Saskatoon. I rather enjoy shovelling snow in part because when I was younger, I would go out and do it with my mom who always had me shovel the neighbour’s sidewalks on both sides of the house. She would have seen it as karma but in the end it was because my sister had a disability that made it hard for her to walk and for my mom, it was two fewer houses she had to worry about.
Now Mark and I shovel the walk in front of our house. We have a corner walk so I have Mark shovel two houses down. There has been some karma involved for him as our neighbour finds this unacceptable that Mark does it for free and pays him for it (he travels a lot and loves coming home to a clean walk). Mark has extended her service from door to door and is now doing our deck. Mark also let’s Maggi come out with him and bounds in and out of the snow. Depending on Maggi’s mood, she can actually knock more snow into the walk faster than Mark can shovel it out. Even that doesn’t seem to bother Mark.
Wendy who works at 33rd Street Safeway walks the two blocks home and often notes that no one else shovels their walks, including the church across the street from us which is a triple lot. That’s a lot of snow to wander through, especially when it gets icy.
I am not sure why no one shovels their walks anymore. Even our neighbour who travels shovels his walk when he gets home. I have heard him out with an ice scraper before (which is why he loves it when Mark does it now).
The city came out with it’s snow angel program a couple of years ago which reminded citizens that they had to shovel their own walk and if they could, shovel someone else’s walk. It seemed to work well for a couple of years and then the city grew silent about it. Since then snow there seems to be less and less snow clearing going on which makes it really hard for our neighbours who have disabilities to get around. Like Wendy they have to walk to Safeway on 33rd. Unlike Wendy they are doing it in a walker, wheelchairs or a cane and the snow and ice has a huge impact on their ability to get around.
Not only are they battling sidewalks that are uncleared but deep snow and ice at intersections. It’s frustrating for me to get around, it’s even more frustrating for others.
If I was city council, instead of spending $3 million a year on snow removal on sidewalks, I would instead spend the money on the following things.
- Clear the snow off and around city parks. Clear the paths and the sidewalks. I have listened to city managers say this is the case for years and then walk by A.H. Browne and see it covered with snow and ice. If it is being done, it isn’t done in a timely manner.
- Work with snow clearing crews to make sure intersections are clear of snow. Piling up snow on the corners is an insane practice. It happens a lot.
- Bring back the Snow Angels campaign but also start to fine places that are not clearing sidewalks. Seriously. Write tickets. The city by-law is that you have 24 hours to clear it and there are houses that go all winter without shovelling. Make them pay the cost to have it cleared.
- Work out a plan so that infirm seniors or those with disabilities can have some help clearing it. I’d do something with local schools. Kids will shovel for money.
We’re just two weeks away from photo radar in Saskatoon, with the city identifying 10 possible locations where cameras could nab drivers for speeding.
Working with the Saskatoon Police Service, the city says one camera will be shuffled between five high-risk locations on Circle Drive including Preston Avenue, 108th Street, Taylor Street, Airport Drive and the Circle Drive South Bridge.
Drivers travelling at excessive speeds in those areas, where the speed limit tops out at 90km/h, could be served with a $110 fine plus $1 for every kilometer over the posted speed limit.
A second camera will be shuffled between five school zones including St. Michael’s Community School, Brownell School, École Henry Kesley, École Canadienne-Française and Mother Teresa and Silverspring School.
Drivers caught travelling faster than the 30km/h speed limit could face a $190 fine plus $2 for every kilometer over the posted speed limit.
I can’t speak for the other schools but seeing photo radar on 33rd Street near St. Michael’s Community School and École Henry Kesley is a good thing. 33rd Street and those two schools have been a fatal combination before and if speeds can be lowered, its good for drivers and the community.
No one likes tickets but if it saves some students from being hurt or even killed, it is worth it.
A couple of months ago I relaunched my photoblog at BridgeCity.ca. My photos have always been popular on Flickr (more than a couple million views) but I wanted some place to pull out and highlight certain ones about Saskatoon. When I saw www.bridgecity.ca was available, I bought it, found a template, and started to upload a photo or two a day to it.
This site averages 1000 visitors a day who view on average about 5 posts each time they stop by. The site has a large archive and benefits from a decade of people linking to it. I didn’t expect 1000 hits a day but I was really disappointed when I launched Bridge City and didn’t even get a single hit some days. Now a couple of months later traffic is holding steady at about 175 hits a day and growing. Here is what I learned during this.
- Use Google Webmaster Tools: This isn’t going to get you any hits but does tell you if Google is indexing your site which is really all you can ask for. It will also give you an idea of what people are searching for. Also use Bing Webmaster Tools. To be honest the amount of traffic I get from Bing is nothing compared to what I get from Google but some people still use it and Yahoo! Search so you might as well incorporate it into your site.
- Figure out how Google Image Search worked. Google has no idea what those images I was posting to my site are. They rely on the words in the attribute tag and the words I am using on the site to describe what I am posting. I had images on Flickr that had gotten thousands of hits but only 1 hit on Bridge City. The difference was that I described what the image was well on Flickr and had not on Bridge City. When I changed that, Google figured out what the subject was and suddenly ignored content was found.
- I don’t rely on SEO very much but I do use a plugin in WordPress to see what Google thinks it is seeing and then I do my best to accurately describe what it should be seeing. Huffington Post has perfected this but often uses misleading headlines and descriptions to drive traffic. I want accurate titles and descriptions so that people can find what they are looking for.
- The hardest part has been tagging the photos. Do I call that building office or commercial? Did I call others like it a restaurant or a pub? Is it a pub or a bar?
- Do I link to the business? I try to. It’s a site about what I think is cool and interesting about Saskatoon. Since I am using business names in titles, I tend to put a link back to the business or organization. That way if people are looking for something, with a click they can find it. I have also learned that some businesses have websites that are hard to find. If I can give it a good link, it helps them too.
- There are some boring neighbourhoods in this city. You can see where I tend to spend my time by the categories and the tags at the bottom of each page but there are some parts of the city that really have nothing interesting to photograph (I am looking at you Westview, Montgomery, and Wildwood) It speaks of some really poor neighbourhood design.
- Most of the shots are on foot. Wendy and I will park the car somewhere and go for a neighbourhood stroll. Since I take a lot of shots of schools, we generally go on the weekend so as to not freak out parents, teachers, police, RCMP, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security… you know, those kinds of people.
- Some officers from the Saskatoon Police Service has taken a mild interest in what I have been doing. One time Wendy and I were kind of trespassing near the tracks by the grain terminals and a couple of cops wandered down to see what we were up to. When they saw we have cameras their concern wandered off an instead they questioned me on the lens I was using. The same thing happened downtown when I was ask, “Is it actually focusing on things”. I then explained aperture to the officers who actually took some notes. I find that so far the cops have been far more interested in mine and Wendy’s difference in cameras than what we are doing. They actually remind me of cops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston who seemed to be drawn to the guy with the camera and had opinions on what to photograph than anything.
- Thank you to the City of Saskatoon for posting this neighbourhood map. It the official arbiter of what neighbourhoods are called and where the boundaries are. More than one time I have sent someone to it and heard back, “I could have sworn that X was part of Y neighbourhood”. I’ve done it myself.
- A lot of buildings downtown are double and even triple attributed by reputable sources to the same architect. I have brought this up to a couple of developers who all said, “I know”. It’s been fun looking back at contradictory archival data as well. I don’t think we will ever know for sure.
- I don’t get this but architectural websites don’t always list their own works. I have a feeling that there probably was some strong disagreements during design or construction and the architect more or less washes his or her hands of the project but it makes it hard to track down who created the project. Winnipeg has a building database. I wish we had one in Saskatoon. If for no reason than to help celebrate some of the great architects in our cities history. Hopefully a project like this will happen when Saskatoon finally gets a school of architecture.
- I wish the public and separate school boards would publish a list of architects of their schools. These are tremendously important to our community and so little is known of them. Either that or I am going to have to do it.
The five most popular posts are
- Affinity Campus
- 2nd Avenue Lofts
- Irene & Leslie Dube Centre for Mental Health
- John Deere Building
- Nuit Blanche
I am biased but there are my two favourites.
Step aside, humble duplex: the next wave of infill housing is side-by-side-by-side units.
In a bid to bring more density to established neighbourhoods without triggering massive resident backlash, Calgary council has approved new zoning rules that would allow row houses, as well as secondary suites in duplexes and row homes.
Councillors would have to authorize rezoning bids to allow these units in older neighbourhoods, so they won’t sweep across Calgary anytime soon. But there is demand there for them, said one architect who works on small inner-city redevelopment projects.
“It’s got the front yard. It’s got the house. It’s got the backyard. It’s got the garage,” said Stephen Barnecut. “So you could put it next to a 1950s bungalow and it won’t really feel out of place.”
Saskatoon already allows them as seen by several historic properties and the new SoCal lofts in Caswell.
I chose not to write anything about the lockout because as soon as it lifted, I got several versions of the in-camera discussions and to be honest, the stories shocked me. Instead I put together some excellent posts, columns and articles from other people observing the lockout.
The first comes from October 10th and is by University of Saskatchewan law professor Keir Valance who said back then that the lockout was illegal. He was right.
More importantly, though, the lockout may well be illegal, and so may be the City’s unilateral changes to the pension plan. And the Union quickly brought an application before the Labour Relations Board, arguing exactly that.
On Sept. 26, 2014, the Labour Relations Board issued an interim Order (LRB File No. 211-14). That Order didn’t end the lockout, but it did prevent the City from implementing any further unilateral changes to the pension plan. On October 14th, the City and the ATU are back in front of the Board to argue about the legality of the changes to the pension plan and to the legality of the lockout.
The language that potentially renders the City’s actions illegal is the same now, under the new
Saskatchewan Employment Act (“SEA”), as it was under the now-repealed Trade Union Act. Section 6-62(1)(l)(i) of the SEA reads:
6-62(1)It is an unfair labour practice for an employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, to do any of the following:
(l) to declare or cause a lockout or to make or threaten any changes in wages, hours, conditions or tenure of employment, benefits or privileges while:
(i) any application is pending before the Board…
[“Pending” means that the hearing of the application has begun but the Board has not yet rendered a decision, so an Employer or Union could not, for instance, file a frivolous application just to prevent a lockout or strike.]
Unfortunately for the City, there was an Unfair Labour Practice (“ULP”) application pending before the Labour Relations Board when the lockout notice was issued. It appears the ULP was unrelated to the lockout – it related to discipline of a bus driver and was heard back in May – but the language in the SEA doesn’t say a “related” application, or anything of the sort. It says any application.
In order for the lockout and the pension plan changes to be legal, the City has to convince the Labour Relations Board that when the SEA says “any application”, the statute really means “any related application”. That flies in the face of the plain wording of the legislation. However, in fairness to the City’s position, most of the time the ULPs in such situations are related either to the lockout itself, or to the collective bargaining process that was underway. The intention of s. 6-62(1)(l) is to ensure that employers don’t “raise the stakes” on a ULP by trying to place economic pressure on a Union that has decided to pursue its rights before the Board. It’s about protecting the integrity of the Board’s process, and not allowing the rule of law to be undermined by economic power.
Still, the Board can’t simply decide what it thinks the law should be. It’s got to operate within the terms of the legislation that gives it its authority (the SEA). Without getting into the intricacies of statutory interpretation, the City would have to have some strong evidence that the Legislature somehow did not intend for the statute to mean what it says it means. That’s not impossible. But the Union has in its favour the fact that the Legislature could have changed the language of the statute when it implemented the SEA – but didn’t.
Okay, so it got weird from the start. I knew that law and when I probed members of council about it, they started telling me that the city didn’t like the law and it was ruining their strategy so the Board would have to overturn it. When I brought up voices like Valance, they looked at me like I was mad. Again, kind of weird.
Oh yeah, there is also this sentence from Valance from that post
Ironically, had the City waited two weeks, there would have been no question that the lockout had been properly issued – because the outstanding ULP was decided on October 3, 2014.
Saskatoon City Council wasted over $1 million of “ratepayers” (you know those of us they are trying to protect) money because they could not wait two week? Think about that for a while. If they had waited two weeks, it would have been a legal lockout and they probably would have won.
So now the Mayor wants a judicial review on the ruling. According to Valance, that stands little chance of succeeding.
If the City pursues judicial review of the LRB decision, the question will be whether the LRB’s interpretation of the SEA was “reasonable”. In my view, it was (though I hasten to add we still don’t have the Board’s written reasons for why it ruled as it did). The Board has the jurisdiction, responsibility, and expertise to interpret its governing statute. It’s owed deference in its decision. And in my view, finding in the City’s favour would have flown in the face of the plain language of the legislation, and would have flown in the face of the fact that the Legislature has apparently – at least twice – refused to change the section in question.
Whether ss. 6-62(1)(l) and 6-63(1)(b) are good or bad for labour relations is not the point. That’s for the Legislature to decide. And the Legislature has decided at least three times (in 1944 when it proclaimed The Trade Union Act, 1944; in 1993; and in 2013) that these sections were to stay. It should be up to the Legislature to change them.
So let’s get Les MacPherson’s take on it as he arrived at many of the same conclusions as Valance and also the Labour Relations Board (and might as well toss this in there, the Government of Saskatchewan in 1944, 1993, and in 2013)
I find myself mystified by this transit fiasco.
I’m no lawyer, but, to me, at least, it seems crystal clear that the lockout was illegal in the first place. The labour act says there can be no strike or lockout with a pending grievance before the labour board. There was a pending grievance before the labour board, filed by the union in June. On the face of it, the lockout was illegal.
City lawyers argued that the grievance was not relevant to negotiations. Except the act doesn’t say anything about relevance to negotiations. It says “any” grievance. The city, unwisely, was betting the board would read into well-established law what isn’t there. For that to happen would be almost freakishly rare.
The city further argued that the grievance was not really pending because the board had not started formal hearings. Except the act doesn’t say anything about whether hearings have started. It just says there can be no strike or lockout if a grievance is pending. Again, the city gambled that the board would interpret the law to mean what it doesn’t say. Losing this bet will cost Saskatoon taxpayers into the seven figures in refunded wages for lockedout bus drivers, for refunds on transit passes and for legal costs. For the damage done to those who rely on transit to get to work, to get to the store, to get the kids to daycare, there is no accounting.
The city argued that the law as it is invites labour turmoil. Any looming strike or lockout, otherwise perfectly legitimate, could be thwarted by filing a bogus grievance. Maybe so, ruled the labour board, but the law is the law. There are many legislated restrictions on strikes and lockouts, the ruling explained. This is one of them.
“It is not for this board to rewrite the Saskatchewan Employment Act in the fashion suggested by the city.” The city should not have to go to the labour board to be told the law is the law.
By appealing this decision, the city now will be asking the Court of Queen’s Bench to rewrite the law. Why the court would be any more likely than the board to do so, no one has explained. The board is appointed by a Saskatchewan Party government, and not because it is labour-friendly.
As for the labour turmoil predicted by city solicitor Patricia Warwick if the decision is allowed to stand, I wouldn’t bet on that, either. The prohibition on a strike or lockout when a grievance is pending is nothing new. It has been a part of Saskatchewan labour legislation since 1944, and has remained in place after multiple revisions and amendments in the decades since. The idea is to prevent undue pressure on the board while it adjudicates a grievance. Why a law in place for 70 years suddenly would cause labour turmoil is no more clear to me than it was to the labour board.
He summarizes with this
To me, it looks like council got lousy advice. On a case that might have gone either way, an expensive defeat is bearable. In this case, council was advised to gamble taxpayers’ money on a crazy long shot for something it could have had anyway, and legally, in two weeks. If I were the client here, I would be angry.
What kind of shocks me in this whole thing is that the city has several solicitors to draw advice from. They also have a lawyer on Council (Tiffany Paulsen) and someone who is a labour expert (Ann Iwanchuk) who also overlooked or ignored the act. There are also some other councillors who bragged to me about their knowledge of the labour act and were 100% confident that this was a legal lockout. How did the all get it wrong?
What goes on in that bunker where everyone gets it wrong and is utterly shocked when a ruling where all of these outside voices are saying you are going to lose goes against you?
There is a weird reality that council puts itself in sometimes. Remember snow removal when council voted against residential snow clearing. Then it snowed a bunch that winter and in an “emergency debate” on it, many of them played the victims and used phrases like “under siege” and seemed shocked that it snows in Saskatoon in the winter. The city wasn’t under siege but as councillors they were. It was all about them. Then the mayor starts to lecture manager who do not have the funds to do snow removal to do a daily press conference because it must be a misunderstanding right?
The same thing happened with the outrage over roads. The city for over a decade (it started when Atch was elected) cut back on road repair and maintenance. What happened? The roads fell apart and again council acted as it they were victims of this. Now we have the same thing. A hashtag, website, new pylons (no I am not talking about new politicians but actual pylons with “Building Better Roads” on them) and congratulatory radio ads about doing what other cities just do, maintain the roads. I don’t get it but it is a weird group dynamic. There are some intelligent members on council but for whatever reason the sum of the whole is far less then the total of the parts and the result is a very, very low functioning city council and we as a city suffer because of it.
Four of its 12 casinos have closed in the last year, including the Revel, the newest and glitziest, despite a $260 million, taxpayer-funded gift courtesy of Gov. Chris Christie. A fifth, the Trump Taj Mahal, is on the brink. The gaming industry—proponents never call it gambling—has lost nearly 8,000 jobs since the beginning of the year and its revenue, which hit a high of $5.2 billion in 2006, is down nearly 50 percent. Add to that the city’s $65 million budget shortfall, pending layoffs of as many as 300 city workers and a tax base in free fall.
Sure, the still-sluggish U.S. economy is a factor. The loss of the East Coast gambling monopoly that Atlantic City enjoyed for nearly 20 years is another. Poor planning, lack of foresight and the failure to expand the city’s attractions beyond casinos are part of the mix. Even acts of God played a role: Though the city wasn’t devastated in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy the way other Jersey Shore towns were, tourism plunged in the immediate aftermath at a time when the city could least afford it.
But there is something else at play, something in the city’s DNA that is painfully obvious to anyone who’s lived or worked there.
Even during its halcyon days, Atlantic City was an enterprise built around blue smoke and mirrors. Think, Nucky Johnson, the inspiration for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and the wide-open rackets of gambling, booze and prostitution during Prohibition.
It was all about grabbing whatever you could, whenever you could from whomever you could. The city worked on a 12-week economy, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Get the tourists and vacationers into town. Sell them the beach and the Boardwalk and then send them home broke. The Miss America Pageant, held in Atlantic City for most of its years, was part of that con. It was the 1920s brainchild of a city huckster looking for a way to extend the summer season for another week. The city was born as a come-on, a fugazy.
Wonder why Atlantic City is failing? The better question, the one asked by people who know the town: Why did anyone think it would ever succeed?
Winnipeg columnist Brent Bellamey has written a fantastic column on how people fall in love with a city. He is talking about Winnipeg but he could be talking about Saskatoon.
The difficult solution to many of the city’s issues is to increase opportunity and prosperity for its citizens, improving their quality of life, growing the economy and civic revenue.
In business, the greatest success is rarely the result of following trends. Wealth comes from being ahead of the curve, predicting and investing in what’s coming next. A city is no different. Prosperity, particularly in this age of unparalleled mobility, can only be achieved by building a city that inspires and attracts the next generation.
Often called generation Y, 18- to 35-year-olds make up the largest demographic in North America today, with the greatest spending power and highest level of mobility. Their lifestyle choices will have a significant effect on the economy and competitiveness of cities across the continent. Those that are most successful at retaining and attracting a young, creative population will flourish in the future.
Winnipeg loses 3,000 to 5,000 (mostly young) people per year to other provinces, yet we continue to focus on creating the city of our postwar dreams. Our auto-centric urban-design template has taken the city from being a place with unique neighbourhoods and a distinct personality to one filled with low-density, cul-de-sac development, making it indistinguishable from any other.
Cities across North America are beginning to understand the baby boomer, suburban dream is less often the dream of the next generation.
North American young people are showing a clear shift to a mobile and flexible lifestyle supported by a greater level of density and urbanization. They live in smaller spaces than their parents did when they were young, focussing more on the dream neighbourhood than the dream house. For the first time, car ownership is dropping across the continent. In 2009, American youth drove 23 per cent less than they did in 2001. During that same period, bike trips increased by 24 per cent and walking rose by 16 per cent. Canadian transit ridership is growing at twice the rate of the population, and more than 100,000 of us belong to car-share programs.
These statistics show young people are gravitating in larger numbers to a lifestyle that is much more urban than past generations did. Walkable streets, vibrant public spaces and accessible amenities are beginning to replace the two-car garage and sprawling front-yard dream. The cities Winnipeg often loses its young people to, the places we compete with for investment, immigration and tourism are looking to the future, reacting to and investing in these changing trends.
I am surprised how many people who are in their 20s and 30s aspire to leave Saskatoon still. They want to live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal for the very reasons that Bellamey is mentioning; walkable neighbourhoods, excellent public transit, bike lanes and vibrant public spaces. None of them mention the phrase “starter home” or time of commute in their discussions.
It seems like Saskatoon is trying to build the dream city of the past rather than the future. It is a decision that we could really come to regret, especially as cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and even Winnipeg (which has a far superior transit service compared to ours) continues to pull ahead.
Let me put it this way, either Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Halifax are correct is striving to build cities that can attract global talent (and therefore become more prosperous) or Saskatoon’s method of building more roads and lowering taxes is.
Even more important than that, for Canada to survive, we must attract the best talent from around the world. So we need the top graduating engineers in Shanghai or Dubai or Mumbai to say, “I can be at the top of my profession in Canada, and that’s a place I want to live.” We need the financiers to come to Toronto and Calgary as much as they go to Wall Street. And for those people to make those sorts of decisions, we have to have great places to live.
People from Toronto are always shocked when I tell them this, but the oil sands are not located under downtown Calgary. That tower is not, in fact, a derrick. The oil sands are a 2.5- to three-hour flight away. So why are all those great, taxpaying, head-office jobs in Calgary and not a slightly longer flight away, in Houston or Shanghai? It’s because people want to live in Calgary. And what makes people want to live in our city is the fact that the transit is good, the road network is good, we have clean water and all those things that make cities work well.
So he mentioned “road network. How do you get a functioning road network?
It really is about consistent underinvestment by federal and provincial governments in this kind of infrastructure, and particularly transit. Think about the fact that, in all of Canada, there are two cities that have subways. There are fewer subway lines in Canada than there are in the city of Boston.
The reason the United States has so much transit is because the federal government started playing a very significant role in this in the 1960s and ‘70s. In Calgary, in Vancouver, and especially in the GTA, it’s unconscionable how much we have underinvested in our transit systems. Look, I’ll be a rhetorical politician for a minute: Investments in public transit are among the very best investments any government can make. Think about all the benefits that accrue from that: There are environmental benefits. There are real benefits in congestion savings, which means you’re giving citizens back time that has been stolen from them. Transit is also an investment in social mobility, because if you make it easier to live and work and go to school without needing your own car, suddenly you open up the ability to participate in the economy to far more people. But I think our provincial and federal governments have often seen transit as being at the bottom of the list.
You know what, if we won’t build the kind of infrastructure people want, some other city will. We have seen people leave before and they will do it again.
The classic American residential street has a 12-foot lane that handles traffic in two directions. And many busy streets in my hometown of Washington, D.C., have eight-foot lanes that function wonderfully. These are as safe and efficient as they are illegal in most of the United States, and we New Urbanists have written about them plenty before, and built more than a few. But what concerns us here are downtown streets, suburban arterials and collectors, and those other streets that are expected to handle a good amount of traffic, and are thus subject to the mandate of free flow.
Second, you should know that these streets used to be made up of 10-foot lanes. Many of them still exist, especially in older cities, where there is no room for anything larger. The success of these streets has had little impact on the traffic-engineering establishment, which, over the decades, has pushed the standard upward, almost nationwide, first to 11 feet, and then to 12. Now, in almost every place I work, I find that certain streets are held to a 12-foot standard, if not by the city, then by a state or a county department of transportation.
In some cases, a state or county controls only a small number of downtown streets. In other cases, they control them all. In a typical city, like Cedar Rapids or Fort Lauderdale, the most important street or streets downtown are owned by the state. In Boise, every single downtown street is owned by the Ada County Highway District, an organization that, if it won’t relinquish its streets to the city, should at least feel obliged to change its name. And states and counties almost always apply a 12-foot standard.
Why do they do this? Because they believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong. Or, to be more accurate, they are wrong, and thousands of Americans are dead.
They are wrong because of a fundamental error that underlies the practice of traffic engineering—and many other disciplines—an outright refusal to acknowledge that human behavior is impacted by its environment. This error applies to traffic planning, as state DOTs widen highways to reduce congestion, in complete ignorance of all the data proving that new lanes will be clogged by the new drivers that they invite. And it applies to safety planning, as traffic engineers, designing for the drunk who’s texting at midnight, widen our city streets so that the things that drivers might hit are further away.
The logic is simple enough, and makes reasonable sense when applied to the design of high-speed roads. Think about your behavior when you enter a highway. If you are like me, you take note of the posted speed limit, set your cruise control for 5 m.p.h. above that limit, and you’re good to go. We do this because we know that we will encounter a consistent environment free of impediments to high-speed travel. Traffic engineers know that we will behave this way, and that is why they design highways for speeds well above their posted speed limits.
Unfortunately, trained to expect this sort of behavior, highway engineers apply the same logic to the design of city streets, where people behave in an entirely different way. On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?
So yeah, I hear the complaints out of Evergreen, Hampton Village, and other new neighbourhoods that your narrow streets bug you but they are making those streets safer for children, other cars, and yourselves because you have to drive so slow to navigate them. You know what, that is a good thing.