Tag Archives: Calgary

Liability concerns prompt some cities to ban sledding

Saskatoon holds firm and allows kids to be kids

Tobogganing is coming under threat as cities across the U.S. and Canada move to restrict – and in some cases outright ban – the activity.

Saskatoon isn’t on the list of cities considering a sledding ban, but the beloved winter pastime remains a dangerous one, say officials.

“Every year we see a lot of these types of injuries,” said MD Ambulance spokesperson Troy Davies, who confirmed that paramedics were called to three sledding incidents this past weekend.

The three most common types of injuries stemming from sledding are typically concussions, dislocated knees and twisted ankles, said Davies.

“With the rate of speed that people can get nowadays it’s become fairly common for us to deal with these types of calls,” he said.

Councillor Mairin Loewen said a sledding ban is unlikely. “This isn’t something that I would entertain,” said Loewen. “There’s typically some risk associated with most winter activities, but this isn’t anything that I’ve heard about.”

Dubuque, Iowa, is set to ban toboggans in nearly all its 50 parks. Other cities, including Des Moines, Iowa; Montville, New Jersey;

Lincoln, Nebraska; and Columbia City, Indiana, are following suit by restricting certain runs or posting signs warning people away.

When I was 8, I was sledding in a private park in the Canyon Meadows neighbourhood in Calgary.  It was a long and steep hill which has a slight curve in it.  It was well lit at night by light standards that were on the top of the bowl.  I was sledding on one of the circular saucers which always made you go down backwards.  

As I was descending this steep and icy hill… backward, I rose up the side of the hill and hit one of the light standards hard and almost straight on with my spine.

I hit the light standard just off centre so I managed to take the full impact but still keep going up over the top of the bowl and back down the other side.

I remember laying on my back and kind of doing a medical version of the song, “Do the hokey, pokey”.

“Put your left foot in”

Okay, that is working

“Take your left foot out”

So that foot isn’t broken.

“Shake it all about”

Now that hurts a bit.

I was fine but had a bruise going from my one butt cheek to my shoulder.

After some adults confirmed that I was only slightly concussed, I was back on the slope.  Since my neighbourhood didn’t have a private park (or a toboggan hill) anything less than a collapsed lung and I would have fought to stay on that hill.

My point is that Councillor Mairin Loewen is completely right.  All of us knew there was considerable risk of putting small children on fast devices on a hard service with no safety devices.  We did it any ways and our parents encouraged it.

It is natures way of deciding who can live on the prairies and who has to move to the west coast.

A fresh start

So I heard Derek Powazek talking on Twitter about having a fresh start on Twitter.  Someone posted a YouTube video with code on how to unfollow everyone.  After a couple of days of considering it, I decided to try it and saw me unfollow almost 1100 people.

So as soon as I did that, I decided to go look for interesting people to follow.  Of course there was some family and friends but I decided to find local people to follow and started to click “follow”.  It was a lot of fun and some people that I was aware of and enjoyed their tweets and never followed were added to the list.

That took me to about 300 followers and then I looked at who I should be following.  It was all Alberta names!  Apparently many of us in Saskatoon keep an idea on what is going on in Calgary and Edmonton.

I added a few national voices to my followers, photographers, and photography sites and I found myself back at about 900 followers.  I also realized that Saskatoon now has a lot of journalists covering city hall.  You can blame Dave Hutton for that.

I also followed some MLAs from both sides of the floor.  My advice for them is to be more like Brad Wall, Cam Broten, Trent Weatherspoon, or Dustin Duncan.  It’s okay to act more like humans and less like robots folks!

The people I left behind were the spin doctors, NFL pundits, and a lot of American political voices.  They can be fun to follow but don’t contribute much to my life.

If I unfollowed you and haven’t followed you back, don’t take it personally.  It will take some time to track down everyone I left behind and I’ll get to you soon.

Resolved, 2015

Hi 2015, it’s nice to meet you.  Since our relationship is rather new and still optimistic, I thought I would make some goals before I kick you to the curb a year from now.

Hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin

As Wendy noted, we have never done our expedition to Grey Owl’s cabin.  It’s a two day walk into the backwoods of Prince Albert National Park.  It should be a lot of fun.

Explore & photograph some great urban locations

I hate to think of Moose Jaw as a great urban location but it does have some great architecture as does Calgary and Winnipeg.  My camera and I need to do some some travelling and exploring.  Let’s not take too long to reflect on the fact that Moose Jaw has some of the best architecture in Saskatchewan.

It's Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

So the plan is to spend a day photographing and exploring Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and hopefully a couple of days in Calgary.

Make progress on my book

Last year I was sitting in a Saskatoon City Council meeting listening to our finest elected leaders talk about residential snow clearing and then voting on cleaning some of our streets.  At the same time I was following Calgary City Council make plans for taking over the world.

Saskatoon City Council chambers

Since then I have read more about the formation of cities than I care to think of.  Why do some cities turn into Calgary or New York City while others turn into Cleveland, Detroit or Regina?  Why does it feel like we are wasting the boom?  Why do some cities like Saskatoon allow themselves to be defined by low taxes while other cities defined by the quality of life?

Integrate Evernote into my workflow

I have some big plans for Evernote in 2015 but the biggest is incorporating it into my workflow for columns, roundtables, and this blog.

Evernote

I use it right now and find it invaluable but I know I can more with it in the future.

Enjoy 2015 more than 2014

2014 was okay but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  Here is to more coffees on patios, more late nights on decks, and more fires in the backyard.

Starbucks Patio

Mark posted his New Year’s resolutions here while Wendy posted her’s over on her weblog.

How to fall in love with Saskatoon

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.

Here is the City of Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s take on this

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. 

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.