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Mayfair

Mayfair – Hudson Bay Park – Kelsey Woodlawn Facebook Group

There is an active Facebook group for Hudson Bay Park, Mayfair, and the Kelsey Woodlawn community association.  If you are a resident of one of these three neighbourhoods, you may want to join.

There are a variety of good discussions online.  As the group intro says.

Hello and welcome. This community page represents the neighbourhoods of Hudson Bay Park, Mayfair and Kelsey/Woodlawn in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Our group is for everyone who lives in our neighbourhoods, as well as those who might want to join for information on a variety of community topics. Discussions might be about upcoming events in our neighbourhoods, concerns in the community, or other community-related topics.

Have some plants to give away? Need daycare? Great new shop recently opened up nearby? Concerned about something going on? Want to volunteer for your Community Association and help make our neighbourhoods a better place for everyone?

We like to keep discussions as civil as possible, while still allowing for differences of opinion to be discussed. We’re not always going to like what others have to say, but if we can remain respectful while expressing ourselves, we can all have our say and likely learn a thing or two from one another.

Take care of yourselves, your neighbours, and your neighbourhood.

But crime is down in Mayfair…

From the Saskatoon Police

Two males and two females will be appearing in Provincial Court on Thursday, September 6, 2012 charged with a number of drug and weapon offences.

On Wednesday, September 5, 2012 members of the Saskatoon Police Service witnessed what appeared to be drug transactions taking place at a residence in the 1400 block of Avenue G North.  A search warrant was executed at the residence and  four people were arrested.  Two males ages 21 and 23, one from British Columbia and the other from Saskatoon, and two females ages 38 and 18, both from Saskatoon.  Officers seized 36.3 grams of crack cocaine, a .22 calibre semi automatic rifle, and cash. 

The four are are facing a total of 21 criminal charges including trafficking cocaine, possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine, possession of the proceeds of crime, breaches and numerous firearm related charges. 

Mayfair

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Dave Winer was using Cyclemeter, a iPhone app that measures and maps out your ride times.  While I don’t cycle too much to work (with all of the construction, storage is at a premium), I have been walking a lot and using Walkmeter to track, map, and guilt me into walking more.  So far I hate it but I am walking around 6.14 kms a day.  While I was walking home the other day, I ran into a neighbor who was asking us if we were moving because we have been working in the yard this summer.  The truth is that with Wendy’s depression hitting on schedule this spring, we just got behind and were catching up.  Instead of walking into Safeway, saying hi to Wendy, and then heading down Avenue D, we went down Avenue B.  It was like I was in a different city.  Girls working the block, abandoned homes, boarded up windows, overgrown yards; it was a mess.  As we walked down the street he said to me, “this part of Mayfair has gone to shit” and I couldn’t agree more.  The housing stock has always been poor on these two blocks but it has gotten worse in the last couple of years.  The sidewalks were a mess and the roads were, well like a lot of roads in the city, a mess.

It’s just not Avenue B.  On Sunday afternoon Wendy had run to Co-op to get some Peat Moss for the yard and I was out watering some of it and enjoying a rather bland diabetic friendly iced tea on the front stop.  A women walked by, lifted her shirt, showed her chest and cooled herself off.  She then offered to give me a blow job for some of that beer (iced tea) that I was drinking.  Bring propositioned was one thing but flashing my 12 year old son wasn’t that cool (although he may disagree with me).  I have heard that prostitution is down on 33rd Street but it has moved along the side streets.  Wendy sees them many times while walking to Safeway for a 2:00 p.m. shift while Mark has been solicited (again, he is twelve) many times walking to and from the store, a distance of two blocks.   Prostitution is like a game of “whack a mole”, you remove from one area, it springs up in different areas.  The crackdown on 20th Street moved it to 33rd, the crackdown on 33rd moves it to my block.  Apparently that is progress.  I have confidence in the police.  They will crack down on Avenue’s C, D, and E, and the problem will move somewhere else.  I don’t blame the police for this but as a homeowner you wish the “mole” hadn’t appeared on your street and that the prostitution had gone somewhere else. 

Tonight was probably the last night that I will think of Mayfair as home.  Tonight Wendy and I were chatting about an upcoming trip and we heard a gunshot.  As I looked up the non 9-1-1 number, another gunshot went off behind what sounded to be Carpenter’s Church.  Gunshot number three sounded like it was in our backyard (although I assumed it was in the vacant lot or alley behind us) and we saw the muzzle flash of gunshot number four (although Wendy says we saw muzzle flash number 3 and just heard number 4).

Wendy had called the police and we were asked, “how do you know it’s a gunshot” and it’s a fair question which is hard to answer without being flippant.  We have fireworks and fire crackers going off here all summer along.  The dogs don’t even respond to it.  We don’t respond to it.  There is a distinctive noise that a gun makes and one that a fire cracker makes.  This was a gun (at the cabin we hear gun fire all of the time but in rural Saskatchewan its not that threatening).  I was told that Saskatoon Police responded and didn’t find a weapon so they can’t open an investigation.  That’s not their fault yet part of me goes what happens next time when one of those shots goes into Oliver’s bedroom? 

Mayfair has had two long time drug house running drug houses on the 1200 block of Avenue D (one closed, one still active), one on Avenue E (closed), two massage parlours on 33rd Street (open), another illegal brothel on Avenue D (run by someone on federal parole and now closed), a massage parlour run by Hell’s Angels, the bar that hosts the Terror Squad, illegal boarding house after illegal boarding house all over the neighbourhood, one really high profile location that flaunts their non-compliance with zoning, a regular dial-a-dope drop on my street corner (by the time it clicks in what just happened, they are gone).  The vaunted Local Area Plan (of which I am a believer) has been delayed longer than the city’s recycling plan.  Of course when it was planned, I was told that Mayfair was next because it was a neighborhood in crisis.  Nothing helps a crisis like a year long delay.   There is no functioning community association, Wendy gets solicited walking home from Safeway on a regular basis and my neighbours are scared.  I used to ignore them and their fears but now I agree with what they are saying.

Tomorrow when I complain to the police (for not even letting us know via the phone that they had driven by) I will hear that crime is down in the area, patrols are up, and there are beat cops on 33rd and all of it is true.  Then I will spend some time thinking how much longer I want to live in what is becoming increasingly violent and scary area of Saskatoon.

One of my core beliefs that it never gets so bad that you can’t make it better.  I have always criticized those that fled to other neighborhoods when it got tough because this is what happens but where the hell do you go from here?  I just don’t know.

Walkable Streets are just for the rich?

From Good

Most Americans want to live in walkable neighborhoods, but only a fraction can afford it. Housing in places with easy access to stores, restaurants, jobs, and public transit is in short supply, and only about a third of those who say they want to live in walkable neighborhoods actually do. Aaccording to a new study, the people lucky enough to live in the most walkable neighborhoods are often also be the most well-off.

Brookings Institution researchers Christopher Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo set out to create metrics for judging a neighborhood’s walkability and monitoring its progress. They picked a sample of neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C., area and, by examining several aspects of each one, assigned each a walkability score between one and five.

Once each neighborhood received a score, the researchers began exploring what distinguished high performers from low ones. They found that the most walkable communities boasted the strongest economies—and the most costly housing. Moving up one walkability point came with a $300 monthly bump in rent. Those living in the most walkable communities spent a greater portion of their income on housing and tended to be wealthier. As Leinberger told Atlantic Cities, “Only the wealthiest among us can afford to live in [these neighborhoods]."

Of course the problem is that if you invested heavily on 33rd Street, it would gentrify Mayfair and the north part of Caswell Hill.  It’s not the fault of the street or urban planning, it’s just the process of investing in really liveable streets; once you build them, people will come.

Defective Parts

A couple of years ago I would periodically stumble to my right from time to time.  I wouldn’t fall but I would find myself hitting a wall once in a while and that was embarrassing.  It was totally random and it was more annoying than anything.  I did go see my doctor who sent me to a neurologist who did a bunch of painful testing.  Part of what I learned was that my nerves were either non-responsive, really slow, or misfiring in parts of my leg.  As they would misfire or not respond, I would stumble a bit.

Misfiring nerves has been the story of the last eight or nine years of my life.  What drove me to getting help for my diabetes was the knowledge that something was wrong because of the pain in my extremities.  The pain never left but got progressively worse.  Nerve pain is unlike anything else you will ever have and my polyneuropathic pain dominated my life for a couple of years.  It was all encompassing and nothing helped.  Anywhere I had nerve endings (feet, hands, face) was in overwhelming pain for months at a time.  It was relentless.  Pain medication didn’t help.  Stuff like Oxycontin didn’t help and had some annoying side effects at a time in my life when the last thing I needed was annoying side effect.  While nerve pain is horribly painful, it is kind of fun to reflect on.  I remember being in excruciating pain and thinking, “This is a new kind of pain, it’s like I am being drilled into slowly” while other times it felt very much like being burned or being electrocuted. While the pain has become more manageable, it is still there, all of the time.

Since then it has gotten progressively worse where now walking is a conscious effort many days.  What I mean by that is that it’s no longer natural and I find myself thinking about the constant lack of balance that I feel.  They tell you as a kid that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.  Well apparently that’s not true because I am forgetting how to walk.  It’s not noticeable for others unless I can’t see where I am walking, like carrying things down stairs or if I am walking in a residential neighbourhood which really bad sidewalks like Mayfair (the old trees lift the sidewalks). I also can’t use my iPhone and walk at the same time.  Fatigue also plays a role.  All I know is that I hate this with a passion.

With it getting worse, I went and had more tests done and the result is that I am losing my ability to walk.  No body knows how long but it is degenerative and will continue to get worse.  There are things I can do to slow it but I can’t really ever stop it.  The doctor said that it may plateau and be manageable with a cane but that is a best case scenario.  Worst case is that it continues to spread.

I don’t know how to feel about it.  Yesterday was a day of cancer, suicides, and serious health issues for the clients I work with and I just shrug that off.  It’s part of life.  So too is this.  It’s part of my life and I need to deal with it.  It’s frustrating because it’s not something that I can tackle head on and fight.  It’s my body giving up on me and I hate that.  All I know is if I get a cane, I want one of those ones with the blade hidden in the handle like all of the spies had in the Len Deighton novels I read as a kid. 

This sucks.

Law & Order: Mayfair

This comes from the Saskatoon Police Service.

Drugs found in Mayfair

Six Toronto men are now facing charges relating to a dial-a-dope operation in Saskatoon.

The arrests were made following an investigation by the Saskatoon Integrated Drug Unit which began in March 2012.  The investigation focused on a crew of Toronto men who were running a dial-a-dope operation within the City.  On Wednesday, May 2, 2012, six males (ranging from 25 – 31 years old) were arrested and two search warrants were executed.  SIDU officers searched a residence in the 1200 block of Avenue D North and a hotel room in the 2100 block of Avenue B North resulting in the seizure of 7 ounces of cocaine and crack cocaine along with $20,000 in cash and numerous bank cards.  A total of 19 charges have been laid so far relating to Trafficking Cocaine, Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking Cocaine and Possession of Proceeds of Crime.  

In addition to these charges a 25 year old man was also charged with Escape from Lawful custody when, after he was arrested, pushed and ran from officers.  He ran into oncoming 5:00 p.m. traffic at the intersection of Avenue C and Circle Drive but was apprehended again immediately by officers.  Numerous unrelated warrants from other Canadian cities were also executed on these men.             

All six men are scheduled to appear in Provincial Court today at 2:00 p.m.  The court information number is 44304529.  This investigation is ongoing.

An electronic photo depicting the seizure is attached for the media.

The Saskatoon Integrated Drug Unit is comprised of members of the Saskatoon Police Service and "F" Division of the RCMP.

I thought it was classy of the policy not to name the hotel and not describe the house as “that house that everyone in Mayfair knows they are dealing drugs out of”.   Still it was a good job of the Saskatoon Police Service.  It is something that we have been complaining about for a long time in the neighbourhood and that block is notorious for illegal activity.

Column: Tackling Local Problems Tricky

My StarPhoenix column this week.

When I bought my house I had certain expectations.

I expected the police to keep marauding mobs off my street, the fire department to put out fires, my neighbours to maintain their homes and city council not to make decisions that would hurt the value of my investment. I didn’t just want the status quo; I wanted the status quo and a steady rate of return for my investment.

Having such expectations is why we get so upset when things go wrong. Depending on one’s city, it can be as simple as a day care moving onto the street or, if one lives in Detroit, a complete removal of essential civic services such as policing, fire protection and garbage pickup from the neighbourhood.

A change to the "social contract" that makes up a city can be a big deal. I experienced that last week when I fired off a couple of emails to some city councillors to express support for Mayor Don Atchison and Police Chief Clive Weighill’s plan to license escort agencies.

While I see prostitution as an act of violence against women, I know the laws of Canada see it in a much different light and prostitution is legal in Canada. The city’s plan to make it safer for the women is a step in the right direction.

While I appreciated the step forward, I also suggested the escort agencies be moved out of residential neighbourhoods, mine in particular.

Living in a neighbourhood that has some escorts and street prostitutes working there, I have had moments of NIMBYism that have been quite literal, with the women and johns performing the trick right beside my house.

For years, I have seen the same cars circle and circle. Working night shifts in a neighbourhood store used to feature coffee breaks during which I watched johns try to get up the courage (or beat down the shame) as they drove around before making their move.

As street prostitution has become a bigger part of life, each morning I check our boulevard and back alley for used needles and condoms.

In a frequent walk down to the needle disposal box, I have contemplated building my own version of the historic Watts Tower. Except, my tower would not be built out of garbage, but of used needles, burnt spoons and condoms.

I thought it was a good idea, but sadly massive towers of used drug paraphernalia are not allowed under the current zoning bylaws. It isn’t the escort agencies that are the problem, but their proximity contributes to an interconnected problem of aggressive johns, drugs and increased street prostitution.

It raises the question of how does one tackle integrated local problems without making local business and homeowners pay a price in property values and even an increase in the concentration of the problem. As in most cities, Saskatoon’s approach has not been co-ordinated, but there are examples that can be built upon.

The Saskatoon Community Service Village on 25th Street is an example of a place that delivers a high volume and quality of services without having an impact on the neighbouring communities. It’s located on the west side of Kinsmen Park, has minimal impact on surrounding businesses and residents and, being an integrated facility, has a much smaller footprint than if all of the partner agencies had their own buildings.

Another way to go is to target certain streets and areas for economic growth, while keeping social agencies to the side streets, much as the Riversdale Business Improvement District has proposed for 20th Street. Along with that could be zoning regulations that provide adequate frontage and spaces to loiter – to ensure normal street commerce and traffic isn’t interrupted.

The other side of the equation is the role neighbourhoods themselves play in solving social issues. We are not just taxpayers but also citizens, which denotes responsibility on our part.

We have a right to expect things from the city, but the city also has a right to expect things of us. In neighbourhoods where there are emerging social issues, homeowners and business operators need to accept that things need to change even if it is uncomfortable to confront the problem.

In a week where Saskatoon was considering licensing escort agencies and later the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right for Vancouver’s safe injection site to stay open, those problems seem a lot more complex than they did a couple of weeks ago.

While I despise the impact the sex trade has on people who are victimized and on the neighbourhoods it affects, at least the city and the police are moving forward.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a courageous one and a lot better than doing nothing.

jordon@jordoncooper.com

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Column: Relocating problem no answer

The StarPhoenix This week’s column in The StarPhoenix

While driving to work last Tuesday, I got ensnared in the road construction and traffic backups on 22nd Street.

After navigating part of Caswell Hill, I managed to get across 22nd at Avenue M. As I was stopped on 20th Street, I was approached by a young woman who offered sex for money. It was 8: 20 a.m.

As I ignored her and turned left on 20th Street, the contrast couldn’t have been more stark. Riversdale is going through a rebirth and economic revival, yet here was a woman prostituting herself when she probably should have been attending school.

Two years ago, I walked down 20th Street with a camera. Looking back at my photos, I am amazed at the changes in the area since those photos were taken.

The city has improved the streetscaping. Shift Developments made an investment with The Two Twenty and Collective Coffee. New restaurants have opened up, others have reinvented themselves, or are moving in. The Friendship Inn has had a successful building campaign and features a new Rider green façade that looks great.

The side streets are showing signs of life, with new businesses moving in and new projects getting underway. Even the closure of the Little Chief police station will probably add to the street as new tenants move in.

If you are an entrepreneur, it is good in the ‘hood.

While the city, Riversdale BID and the business community have come together to do some great things for the business district in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, a lot of the social issues have not been tackled.

While gentrification is happening in Riversdale through the improved quality of housing, proximately to downtown, a revitalized 20th Street and the Meewasin Valley improvements has pushed some of the poverty issues further west to Pleasant Hill and Confederation areas, and north toward Mayfair.

It’s progress if you own a home in Riversdale; not so much if you’re in one of the other neighbourhoods.

How bad is it in Mayfair? My wife works in retail and has had johns approach her on more than one occasion. She no longer feels safe walking the two short blocks home. She was also approached as she went into work one morning at 6 a.m.

With two "massage parlours" in the neighbourhood, a growing number of prostitutes along 33rd and side streets and, for a while, a brothel on our street, Mayfair has become an unofficial red light district. Along with the sex trade, we get discarded needles and johns circling the streets, and we get harassed by prostitutes as we walk to the grocery store in the evening.

Colleagues in Pleasant Hill tell me that spouses of staff members are often harassed by prostitutes as they wait for the midnight shift change.

Last summer, when I made regular 8: 30 a.m. trips to this facility, we were often greeted by the women working the side streets where they were not quite so visible to the police.

Traditionally, law enforcement has been used to stop prostitution and the accompanying crime it brings to neighbourhoods. It has worked in Riversdale. I rarely see the women on the corner on Avenues B to G any longer.

Five years ago, they would bring their johns to the parking lot across from the Salvation Army and the Farmers’ Market in case the trick goes bad, as it often does.

That never happens anymore. The johns now park on the side street beside my house in Mayfair. This is success if you live in Riversdale, but not so much for my children. In addition to a yearly tax increase, I now get to pick up used condoms and needles off my boulevard.

I wonder if this is the "right track" that the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is speaking of ?

There are 600 women being trafficked in and out of Saskatoon. Reports say there may be as many as 200 underage girls engaged in prostitution. In addition, you have countless other women doing what they can to survive on the streets.

I have talked to many sex trade workers while at work at the Salvation Army. They have been deeply damaged by society, and many are struggling with mental health issues, addictions, or acquired brain injuries. They don’t need to be relocated, they need to be helped off the street.

While organizations like Egadz and their street outreach have made a big difference, more needs to be done. If not, the improvement and success of some neighbourhoods and business districts will continue to be paid for by those less fortunate.

jordon@jordoncooper.com

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

The bumpy road to the future goes through Saskatoon

Barack Obama is said to be thinking about tapping the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  For those of you who have have never heard of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, here is Wikipedia

Strategic Petroleum ReserveThe US SPR is the largest emergency supply in the world with the current capacity to hold up to 727 million barrels (115,600,000 m3). The second largest emergency supply of oil is Japan’s with a 2010 reported capacity of 583 million barrels (92,700,000 m3). Also, China has begun construction and planning for an expansion of a SPR that will place their SPR at 685,000,000 barrels (108,900,000 m3) by 2020, surpassing Japan.

The United States started the petroleum reserve in 1975 after oil supplies were cut off during the 1973-74 oil embargo, to mitigate future temporary supply disruptions. According to the World Factbook, the United States imports a net 12 million barrels (1,900,000 m3) of oil a day (MMbd), so the SPR holds about a 58-day supply. However, the maximum total withdrawal capability from the SPR is only 4.4 million barrels (700,000 m3) per day, making it a 160 + day supply.

Back to Obama

Administration officials have sent mixed signals in the last several days about the possibility of opening the reserve, which is a rare step. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said on Friday that the administration was monitoring prices, but he seemed reluctant. “We don’t want to be totally reactive so that when the price goes up everybody panics and when it goes back down everybody goes back to sleep,” he said. A few days earlier, Mr. Chu said that the administration was watching closely, but expected oil production that had been lost in Libya because of unrest there would be made up by production elsewhere.

Not question Energy Secretary Chu but who is going to pick up the slack?  OPEC is planning on raising their output by one million barrels a day but that has as much to do with Saudi oilfields coming back online after maintenance than it does about an ability to raise production.  According to Wikileaks and other sources, Saudi Arabia can’t and neither can anyone else.  As Jeff Rubin blogs, only a recession is going to stand in the way of $200/barrel oil and as we found out last time, when oil gets to be higher than $100/barrel, the price is more than global markets can afford and oil dependent economies enter into a recession.  Previous record high prices of $147 per barrel prices brought global economic growth to a halt.  According to Rubin, gas is about to hit six pounds a gallon (£1.32 pounds/liter) and the British government is already considering rationing systems which could be needed by 2020.

This isn’t about rising prices rising because of Libya or Egypt.  If it was that simple, releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would make sense, just as it did after Hurricane Katrina.  The problem is that oil prices were higher than $100 per barrel before the protests started in Egypt.  Global demand was already in excess of a record 87 million barrels per day. It was yet not about potential supply problems from Libya or anywhere else in the Middle East, it is just that the world is running low on oil and we haven’t been able to find the oil stocks to meet demand.

If the President of the United States admitting that the world is running low on oil in a press conference, this would cause a lot of damage to consumer confidence, create even higher price spikes and inspire Tea Party supporters to chant “Drill, Baby Drill” at Sarah Palin campaign stops, and perhaps start the painful transition to the future.  Or you can just pretend it’s a temporary problem and tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  Leadership and getting re-elected are often two qualities that are often in tension with each other.

Closer to home energy independence isn’t an issue, Canada is an oil exporter but we do sell our oil on the open market which means as oil goes to $200/barrel on the open market, we pay $200/barrel oil.  A couple of years ago when we bought the cabin, it was almost $70 to fill the tank on the Honda Accord which had an impact on how we shopped, vacationed, and lived.  It was part of the reason why I drive a 1993 Ford Festiva today.   At one time you have a mini-van or a SUV for long trips, the time might be coming that we have smart car’s for the same reason.

As a province, $200/barrel does wonders for the balance sheet of the Saskatchewan budget.  It makes any finance minister look like a genius.  Look at what Alberta oil revenues did for Stockwell Day (before he put on a wet suit).  It also will generate higher food prices as more and more of the continent’s arable land is converted from wheat and corn we eat and is earmarked for ethanol production.  That’s great if you are an oilman or if you are a grain farmer.  Well actually since 99% of Alberta’s oil reserves are in the oil sands, it’s only great if you are a huge multinational oilman in Fort McMurray.

It’s not so great if you are a consumer, someone in England looking at $2.09/litre for gas or someone that is looking at another summer of skyrocketing food prices here in Canada.  With elections on the horizon in Ontario, Saskatchewan and perhaps across the country, you don’t hear a lot about energy and food prices or creative policy solutions that are going to provide any relief to us in the future with oil or natural gas prices long term.

In fact, Canada doesn’t really have an energy policy at all, unless you consider pump it out as fast as we can as an energy policy and that’s not a sustainable policy.  To break down the problem, I’ll look at it by sector.  Let’s take a look at natural gas first.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Canada is the third largest producer of natural gas but ranks only 21st in the amount of proved reserves.  In Alberta, which produces 80% of Canadian gas, the average initial productivity of a gas well has declined by 72% since 1995, meaning we have to drill nearly four wells today to equal one average well in 1995.

As Stats Canada points out, Canada’s between December 2006 and December 2007, gas production is declined 8.7% with the Alberta Energy and Resources Conservation Board feels that we will see a further overall decline in Alberta natural gas production of 35% from 2009 levels by 2019.

Even the industry magazine, Oil Week says Alberta has “squandered” a lot of their natural gas.

It is not commonly known that 80 to 90 per cent of Alberta has had declining natural gas production for a number of years. In the extreme case, northeastern Alberta has seen production drop to 35 per cent of its peak 10 years ago. Even the Alberta Deep Basin, where production grew by over one billion cubic feet (bcf) per day between 2003 and 2007, has struggled to maintain production levels in the last couple of years.

Unfortunately, even the most optimistic predictions of unconventional gas drilling and production cannot mask the terminal decline that is afflicting the Alberta gas industry as a whole.

AJM Petroleum Consultants geologists estimate that raw gas production in Alberta has already dropped from peak by nearly 3 bcf per day, but at 11 bcf per day of sales gas, Alberta is still currently in third place behind Russia and the United States in worldwide daily gas production.
Alberta will not run out of gas anytime soon. But the fact is we have squandered our easily produced, low-cost natural gas resources and have very little to show for it. Without the government ensuring that Alberta is the most attractive place in the world to explore and develop natural gas, the significance of Alberta´s gas industry to the Albertan and North American economy will wane quite rapidly.

Of the major gas producers in the world, only Canada has a lower reserve to production ratio than the US.  In Saskatchewan, SaskEnergy practices a policy of hedging and has done a pretty good job of protecting Saskatchewan consumers from price spikes.  Despite as supplies dwindle the price will keep getting higher and higher.  Because SaskPower uses natural gas for it’s peaking stations, this not only affects us keeping our houses warm in the winter but also just keeping our air conditioning and energy efficient lights on in the summer.

While I enjoy taking a drive out to the Gardiner Dam on a lazy summer afternoon every year, it only generates less than half of what the Queen Elizabeth II peaking station does, which relies on natural gas.  Saskatchewan just opened the Lily Wind Farm near Moosomin which contributes 26.4 MW of energy to our grid and is only one of three wind farms in Saskatchewan (generating about 200 mw) that generates 5% of SaskPower’s needsAccording to SaskPower, they have gotten almost everything they can get from wind general as it can only generate 8% of our province’s electricity needs.  This is a problem because as the province grows, the need keeps increasing and according to SaskPower, they are generating as much power as they can.  Saskatchewan currently consumes 3,600 megawatts on average.  We are going to need to generate another 1,200 to 1,750 megawatts by 2020 because of mixture of growth and the fact that some of our coal fire plants are being decommissioned.

An even more severe problem is our oil supply.  As Ralph Klein loved to point out, Alberta has the second largest supply of oil in the world, right behind Saudi Arabia (or even more than them as you never really can trust their stated oil reserves) with 174 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the oil sands.  Now that part we agree with but comparing it to Saudi light crude oil isn’t a fair comparison.  Oil sands recover is very energy, capital, and time-intensive to produce compared to easier conventional light oil.  As Jeff Rubin wrote in his book, Your World is About to Get Smaller, the fact that we have to go after that hard to get oil proves we are running out of oil.  While the Alberta economy has benefitted from the massive investment of capital and resources to extract oil from the oil sands, there is still not a lot of oil being produced.  Estimates of five million barrels per day by 2025 have been toned down to three and a third, which is still nearly triple current production.  This would take Canada’s total production of oil to 4.1 million barrels of oil a day which would allow us to remain energy sufficient but since oil in Canada is sold at market prices, still pay the same amount as the rest of the world in terms of price and believe me, we will need to purchase a lot of it.

Globally, finding the numbers of how much oil is left is hard to determine.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal (2009), proven reserves of oil worldwide at the end of 2009 amounted to 1,354 billion barrels — a marginally higher volume than estimated a year earlier and the highest level ever attained. Reserves have more than doubled since 1980 and have increased by one-third over the last decade. Half of the increase since 2000 is due to Canadian oil sands reserves; most of the remainder is due to revisions in OPEC countries, particularly in Iran, Venezuela and Qatar. There are continuing question-marks over the estimates for some OPEC countries and their comparability with the figures for other countries. Notwithstanding these uncertainties, OPEC countries account for about 70 per cent of the world total reserves, with Saudi Arabia holding the largest volume.”

At 2009 rates of oil demand (84 mb/d), 1,354 billion barrels is enough for a little over 44 years.

Future World Oil Production

Which means that we will see rising prices from now until the oil runs out… or gets to expensive to go after.  This is what will make it a rough transition for Canadians.

Canadian lifestyle isn’t the most energy efficient.  Canadians are among the highest per capita consumers of energy in the world, exceeding even Americans and most nations that don’t have subsidized energy policies.  We consume about five times the world average and more than 80% of this consumption is fossil fuels.   Why so much?  Part of it is geography based.  It’s cold up here which means that we spend a lot heating our homes in the winter and a lot of energy cooling them down in the summers.  The other geographical feature is we are spread out.  In the last two weeks I did four trips of 827 kms from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and there isn’t a lot between them (no offense to Regina or Brandon).  We have electoral districts the size of some countries that are so vast that candidates need to fly around them to campaign effectively.  With much of our economic power in relatively few cities, we rely on cheap ground or air transportation to move goods throughout the country.  Agriculturally many of our inputs are petroleum based and of course high fuel costs mean higher costs for farmers and producers in terms of machinery and transportation.  With the elimination of the Crow Rate in the 1995, much of Saskatchewan’s train and grain handling infrastructure was eliminated or changed making it even more expensive and fuel intensive to get grain to market and then to bring that grain back to us.  I can give you a hundred other examples but however you look at it, Canada is dependent on cheap energy and we love to exploit it for our own use and to drive our economic growth.

So what happens when oil hits $200/barrel?  While we like to blame the banks for the current economic chaos and they have a lot of explaining to do, it was oil that hit $140/barrel that pushed the world into recession and oil prices are headed on up again.  Even at today’s $118/barrel, that is enough to push us back into a global recession, even if it is not as severe as the previous one.  These recessions may be a way of life.  Oil prices go up, we head into recession which drives demand and oil prices back down.  The cycle continues itself when there is an economic recovery as demand goes up and so does oil prices starting the cycle all over again.

Yet no government at any level seems to have any idea about what to do about this.  Stephane Dion might have been correct with his Green Shift in the long haul but a carbon tax was a hard sell as any tax that encourages changed behaviour is going to be attacked.  We saw this with Jack Layton wanting taxes lifted on home heating fuel.  While we should be encouraging people to shift away from expensive and carbon emitting heating sources, there is a tax on home heating fuel which means that someone is going to rail against it.   Every time gas taxes, opposition parties across the country call for gas taxes to be cut, as if repealing taxes will solve the problem of diminishing oil reserves.

What are the solutions?

For some there is always the assumption that technology will bail us out.  Years ago we heard about Ballard Fuel Cells and how they were going to change anything.  Then they gave up because you can’t make it work at a price point that makes sense.  Then it was electric cars.  In Saskatchewan’s winter, a Chevrolet Volt will only drive about 25 miles before it has to switch to the motor.  There is ethanol which has made a big difference in Brazil with their flex fuels but in North America, the same crops we use for food are being switched to ethanol production.  This lead to some of the large increases in food prices we saw over the last couple of years.  To meet his 2030 targets of 60 billion gallons of ethanol being produced, almost 400% more corn will need to be used which means even more price increases.  For those of you who think that someone should challenge these goals, let me remind that the state of Iowa grows a lot of corn and has this thing called the Iowa caucuses.  Iowa voters love high corn prices and high paying refinery jobs.  My point is that the best technology or common sense doesn’t always win out.

The good news is that north of the border in Saskatchewan, SaskPower seems to be taking some of the steps needed.  Revitalizing and expanding our electrical grids, diversifying into wind, and even offering incentives for people to produce their own power and sell the electricity back to them (an idea that doesn’t make a lot of sense right now because of the time it would take to recover your investment but it’s a step in the right direction).  Saskatoon has made some noise about using the weir to generate a limited about of hydro power as well as building a test wind turbine at the landfill site.  Some municipalities are taking advantage of solar power to keep the lights on in schools and places like Harry Bailey Aquatic Centre.    These make a difference but in the end don’t generate/save enough megawatts to make up for the loss of coal burning plants and increased electrical needs of the province.  While the decision to bring nuclear power to Saskatchewan was controversial and rejected, I can’t help but wonder if 20 years from now when Saskatchewan and much of North America is struggling with an overwhelmed grid, we will regret not forging ahead with clean energy.

With natural gas, SaskEnergy tries to make it as inexpensive as possible to upgrade to a super high efficient furnace.  At the same time I can’t help but get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I hear that an energy company has been acquired whose specialty is extracting hard to get to natural gas deposits.  The viability of these technologies means that we can look forward to more and more price increases in the days ahead.

What do we do about an increase of oil prices.  This is going to impact Saskatchewan in many ways.  Since the elimination of the Crow Rate, Saskatchewan’s rail infrastructure is diminished which is going to cause us grief in the transition into a world of scarcity.  In case you forgot, Warren Buffett just bought Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway for $34 billion because he sees the importance of rail travel in moving freight to market at a fraction of cost of ground transportation.  There does seem to be some understanding of this on a federal level.  In Saskatoon we are familiar with the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative as it contributed $20 million to complete Circle Drive  The federal rationale is that these projects will improve access to the Canadian National Railway’s rail yards south of Montgomery in Saskatoon.  The other big project in Saskatchewan is $27 million to the new CPR intermodal facility west
of Regina and upgrading the road connecting highways 1 and 11.  It’s a start in making it easier and cheaper for freight, fuel, and food to move to us and to our export markets.

Locally, it changes the way that tourism happens.  When we go out to the lake, we tend to go out for two three day weekends a month in the summer.  It costs us $30 if I take the Festiva, $70 if we take the van an of course $100 if we are taking about both vehicles.  While we are out there, Wendy will run out of something or make a menu change and Mark and I will drive into Strasbourg for what we need.  Other times we head down to Regina for a Rider game or because I ran out of things to read and we need to visit Chapters.  It often costs us another tank of gas by the time things are all said and done.  That’s fine at $30/tank or $50/tank for the Accord.  It’s not fine when it is $100 tank.  That will change our consumption patterns dramatically.  Instead of 10 quick trips out, we may instead move to three extended trips.  There won’t be any gravel road photography or quick trips into town.

Getting out to enjoy Saskatchewan or see friends may not be as easier or inexpensive as we have grown accustomed to it being.  STC has been an institution in Saskatchewan for decades, even if it isn’t your preferred way to travel.  I’ll be honest, bus travel is not my favourite.  Body odour, drunk passengers, and stopping at every small down between hear and Edmonton has added hours to what should be a pretty quick trip.  Will STC or Greyhound offer a first class bus  between Saskatoon and Regina or between Saskatoon and Calgary that features free wifi, movies, and a steward?  As the economics of travel change, there is going to be new opportunities.  The dream is always going to be high speed rail but as the Acela’s average speed of 120/kph is only slightly higher than that would be of a bus (or my Festiva for that manner) between Saskatoon and Regina.

Oil isn’t just connected to transportation, it’s connected to the food we eat and rising costs of oil lead to higher fuel costs.  Higher costs of fuel mean that input and transportation costs are higher, both from the producer to the mill and from the mill to the store.  Since fuel costs are higher, we have more acreage being dedicated to ethanol production, making food crops even scarcer.  Also you have China buying up vast tracts of land around the world so that their farm workers have jobs and their people have food.  Food grown in Africa and is shipped to China only adds to the world food price pressures and drives up global prices.

Much of what we purchase is not local but is shipped across the country.  The watermelon on the shelf at Safeway or Superstore today was not grown locally, it may not have even been grown on this continent yet at the same we don’t have the infrastructure to eat locally.  While the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market is a great venue and a fun place to spend a Saturday morning, it doesn’t provide the volume, variety or the frequency to make it easy or cost effective to eat local.  Oddly enough Wal-Mart is leading the charge in this area as they foresee a future where fuel costs are going to alter the way we eat.  Who know if Safeway, Supertore, and Sobeys will follow Walmart’s lead or be forced to drastically alter how they get food to our tables.

The Canadian Wheat Board is an export agency but it is going to need to change to allow for more locally grown and produced wheat products or it’s going to have to create a local infrastructure to allow for cheaper food production in local markets.  Years ago some Manitoba farmers wanted to set up a pasta plant and sell it their own wheat.  This is against the law in Canada (which still boggles my mind) as you can only only sell to the Canadian Wheat Board at a price they set so the plant idea died.  In some ways it means that as consumers we are caught in the same cycle with food as we are with eat.  Food shortages in China drive up international prices and we pay more in Saskatchewan for crops that we produce here.

While I don’t think we are going to run out of food, it is going to cost us more and will pay much more for the variety that we want.  This is going to alter the landscape for Saskatoon’s lower class.  The Bridge on 20th does almost 70,000 meals a year, the Salvation Army does 100,000 meals a year, the Saskatoon Food Bank has 15,000 visitors a month or 180,000 a year and while I can’t speak for The Bridge and the Food Bank, the Salvation Army’s increase is partially linked to rising fuel costs.  These are going to be people who are least likely to have a Chevy Volt or a Toyota Prius and don’t have easy access to a neighbourhood grocery store.

The interesting thing is that it may cause a reordering of our civic lives.  High fuel and food prices have hit cities before.  Jeff Rubin looks at Sarajevo during the U.N. sanctions and fighting drove fuel to $6/litre.  To go back even further, England spend years with fuel and food rationing from the start of WWII until 1954.   Even today in some islands in the Caribbean, food and fuel prices are extremely expensive.

What happens?  Cars get parked, bicycles come out an life becomes local again.  Local grocery stores, corner stores, and coffee shops start to become the centre of culture rather than the malls and the big box stores.  Food becomes seasonal again.  We may even start to grow gardens.  The city of Saskatoon is redesigning and rebuilding Mayfair Pool.  Since I moved to Mayfair has been irrelevant because I can go to any pool I want in the city.  Why do I need to go to my local pool when I can drive to Lawson Heights Civic Centre and enjoy the wave pool?  Gas prices or as in England, gas rationing will make us think twice.  In the future local spaces like Mayfair Pool will become important again, as will my local church, my local pub, and my neighbourhood coffee shop, even if it doesn’t sell Starbucks.  The world will get smaller but I don’t know if it is going to be worse.  It’s just going to be different.

The losers in all of this are bedroom communities or exurbs that don’t have a sustainable local economy.  A friend told me that she spends $500/month in gasoline to commute into the city for work.   What happens when that doubles?  You either find work in your community or you do what thousands of others do, you move a lot closer to work.  Some will discover that local economy but other towns will slowly go away.

We are left with two choices as a city.  As Rubin puts it, fundamentally change how we live or get caught in a cycle of recession after recession.  Neither choice is going to be solved by a little more oil being put on the markets by the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Saudi Arabia, or the Alberta Oil Sands.  It’s too big of a problem.

Tomorrow I’ll spend some more time looking at Saskatoon’s future in terms of peak oil.

Making Saskatoon a Winter City

Saskatoon's Ice Cycle 2011For those of you who missed it, Ice Cycle was two Sundays ago.  It’s basically an event where hard core cyclists taunt the weather and risk getting pneumonia while going for a bike ride in extreme cold.  Mother Nature doesn’t enjoy getting taunted and met them with –40 degree weather.

Now personally I think each and every participant in Ice Cycle should have been given a court ordered psychiatric examination for going for a recreational bike ride in that weather but I love being in a city where these kind of events are held.  We were at the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market shortly after the ride and it was packed with bike riders trying to warm up and thaw out their cheeks enough to complete full sentences.  Wendy joked that the coffee vendors at the Farmer’s Market could have charged $100 for a cup of coffee and people would have still paid it.

Dave Hutton asks Is Saskatoon a Winter City and explores some ideas with city councillor Charlie Clark.

Much of the city’s architecture is bland, a hodge podge of styles that don’t represent the climate or lift spirits when the sky is overcast. Office towers and taller downtown buildings trap wind and throw it on to the sidewalk or cast shadows and block the sun.

There remains a dire lack of covered bus shelters and it often takes long periods of time to clear snow from bus stops, forcing people to wait on the street. Those who congregate at the downtown bus mall must seek refuge in stores on bitterly cold days.

Snowstorms are a nuisance, winter a plague.

"I think people view winter as an endurance test," said Coun. Charlie Clark in an interview at the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, where a modest afternoon crowd of young families played on the ice slide and ice ping pong table while admiring snow sculptures.

"As a prevailing kind of perception, winter is something that you get through."

Last year, Clark brought forward the idea of freezing the South Saskatchewan River for winter recreation through diverting the warm water expelled from the Queen Elizabeth Power Station into a district heating system.

This week, he trudged down to the river’s edge south of the power station to show the idea is feasible. There, numerous tracks can be seen across the river and snowmobiles heard farther south. At its edge, where the ice breaks to reveal its depth, at least two metres of thick ice is revealed.

There are engineering problems to overcome, but at its root the idea is a way to bring life to what can be a depressing time -to live with the climate, not in spite of it, Clark said.

In many northern European cities, businesses have made efforts to extend the outdoor season for socializing and cafe-sitting by using overhead freestanding heaters and offering blankets, cushions and sheepskins on public benches, Clark said.

I don’t think one can make –40 liveable or enjoyable.  My face froze from the time it took me to walk from the car behind the Farmer’s Market to the front of the Farmer’s Market while on Saturday we went down and I was wearing a fleece jacket and felt fine.  While I enjoyed both trips down, I enjoyed one trip a whole lot more.  Despite the weather, I think there are some things that Saskatoon can do to make it more winter friendly and I think it has more to do with cold weather civic zoning and setbacks.  I think part of it has to do with us rediscovering living in our communities and it’s something that we have lost.

Growing up in Lawson Heights, the rink behind Lawson Heights School was always open and cleared off with the mud room of the school being opened up by the community association.  There were often nights when hot chocolate was served.  Playing minor hockey, we had several season of practice behind the old Wilson School in City Park because of it’s warm up shack.  I remember practicing at –30 and it wasn’t a big deal.  We had a lot of breaks in the warming shack, there was hot chocolate for us, coffee for the parents, and lot’s of stories reminding us about how our parents played outside in –80 degree cold while sharing half the rink with hungry polar bears. 

Those games and practices were replaced with ice time at Gemini 4 arenas.  The food was better and the locker rooms bigger but so were the fees and within a short time kids stopped learning to play hockey at the local rink but rather learned the game from EA Sports.

I remember what a hassle it was to keep the Lawson Heights School warm up shack open which is why I am so impressed that the Mayfair/Hudson Bay Park Community Association has opened up the warming shack at Henry Kelsey School for public skating.  Mark uses it a fair bit and we do pilgrimage a couple of times a winter down to the Meewasin skating rink beside the Bessborough Hotel.

I am not sure that I am on board with the idea of freezing the South Saskatchewan River solid but some heaters on the Meewasin Trail at strategic points (near the washrooms at Lawson Heights, the Weir, the Mendel Art Gallery dock, behind the Bessborough, and a couple along winter landing, as well as some along the east side of the river south of the university would be a nice touch).  Some heated bus shelters would also be a great step in actually getting people out of the house and using city transit.  As the article says, the bus mall isn’t exactly winter friendly but for as bad as that it, several stops are in front of open areas that have no shelter from the wind (or sun in the summer) in any direction.  Sean Shaw has another idea that is worth looking into and that is doing what is popular in many cities and that is creating a Blackberry/Android/iPhone/Ovi/web app that allows one to track in real time where city busses are.  Regina has rolled out a web version but once the data is there, creating the apps isn’t that hard.  Their system even allows for SMS updates which is fantastic for the non-smartphone segment of the market.

Finally at WinterShines, it showed that there is a demand for a place for people to congregate and be social in the winter.  The Farmer’s Market was a perfect spot for that and hopefully a profitable time for the merchants (including the vendor who charged Wendy $2 for a watered down hot chocolate made from nothing from a bit of Carnation Hot Chocolate and water from the dish washer hose and sold me a coffee that was so stale that I tossed it out) who saw an increase in crowds looking at their wares.  City Council has asked the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market to stay open for longer days and hours in the past and I would love to see that come true (at work we head down quite often and sadly we are sometimes the only ones down there for lunch so I don’t know if it is economically feasible).  The one part of the equation that Hutton doesn’t bring up is the almost mythical River Landing Village (or whatever Victory Major Investments is going to call it).  You have the possibility there of having three winter friendly locations all within walking distance of each other (Meewasin Skating Rink, River Landing Village, Saskatoon Farmer’s Market).  While it will take some time, there is the chance that higher density in the south downtown core could really reinvent our public spaces downtown making what once was a one week festival into a winter long playground and I think I’d be okay with that.

What’s Next?

A couple of weeks ago now I resigned by job.  Like any life decision like that there are a lot of reasons but in the end I was feeling really tired and in some ways burned out.  Wendy’s depression is worse now than it has ever been and that takes a toll on the entire family (she’s making an ugly, ugly transition to yet another stronger anti-depressant without being weaned off the old one right now).  While the job wasn’t burning my out, life was taking a toll on all of us and we have a very hard time getting treatment in Saskatchewan, heck, we can’t even get her old clinic to transfer her medical files to the new doctor

After I made it public that I was looking for a new challenge, several serious job offers came in and we looked at some opportunities that would change our financial position substantially and one in particular that would give me and the family an opportunity to travel and live abroad.  Another offer was a great job in a particularly evil company.  Not quite big tobacco or working for the GOP but evil enough that I am sure that all go for supper together.  I have lived in the prairies my entire life and the opportunity to raise Mark and Oliver in a different culture and worldview was something that I wanted to do since Mark was born.  I am also getting to the age where I think a little more about retirement each year and this would give us a chance to retire with a little more money in the bank.  While the Salvation Army treats me quite fairly, as a non-profit, it can’t compare to the compensation of evil publically traded companies.  Whatever my job decision was going to be, I had planned to wrap up work here last Wednesday and start at my new job in late September.  I was asked to reconsider my decision and stay here as well but at the time, I was at peace with moving on to new challenges.

It wasn’t a easy decision to make as we balanced Wendy’s access to treatment, what was good for the boys, what our goals were as a family, and also some pretty strong ties to Saskatoon, particularly the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  During this time of evaluation, there was a murder (more) that bothered me deeply.  I know both the victim and the accused from work and while I was processing that death, we had a death at work.  After hours of questioning by the police, crime scene investigators and major crimes (don’t worry, it was a death from natural causes), I drove our former chaplain up to St. Paul’s Hospital as he was off to see a dying friend.  While I tend to drive up 19th Street to avoid the traffic on 20th, I drove back down 20th Street that night.  I have never seen 20th Street like that.  I counted 14 girls clearly working the stroll.  Three of them looked to be underage.  Guys were on the street corners as I watched 2 drug deals go down.  I know that isn’t typical for 20th Street and was like that because the Saskatoon Exhibition was in town which brings in a lot of out of town customers.  As I left the Centre that night around 10:00 p.m., I turned back up 19th and as I was turning the corner, I watched a taxi complete a brazen dial-a-dope transaction at the phone booth across the street from the Centre.  Of course the prostitutes were on 33rd Street that night (Wendy later told me that there has been as many as four in the Safeway parking lot on shift).  I got home, grabbed a Diet Coke, grabbed my Moleskine and started to jot down some notes for how things had changed since I started working at the Salvation Army in Riversdale and on the west side.

What we do at the Salvation Army Community Services is both really simple in concept and really complex in how it is executed.  The concepts are pretty easy.  We provide meals, food, budget management help, and emergency assistance to those that need it.  The nuances of distributing those goods, paying for it, being paid for it, determining need and the appropriate response is what is so complex.  It takes a lot of staff, volunteers, officers, and money to make it happen.

The operational side I have a firm grasp on, it is that simple stuff that was troubling me.  The Centre does a really good job at doing what we do but what haunted me as I went to bed that night was, are we doing the right things?

I came in and talked with some other managers about what I was thinking.  I think the Salvation Army Community Services does a lot of really good things but Riversdale has changed.  While getting the Mumford House ready for it’s opening, I drove a lot between the two locations and on every corner around the women’s shelter, there are girls working on the corners… at 8:30 a.m.  Even during the opening of the Mumford House I watched girls on the corner.  While I have been complaining night and day about prostitution in Mayfair, girls are working the streets in Confederation Park and even as far west as Pacific Heights.  90% of the girls on the streets are being trafficked by a variety of sources.  They are moving out of the stroll (women can be as territorial as the men and if they don’t come up with a new territory, they get beaten if they don’t bring him the money).

It’s just not the prostitution.  It’s the drugs, the increase in violence, and the sense of hopelessness from not being able to get ahead.  13.2% of residents in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon don’t have a grade nine education.  (including 21.0% of those in Riversdale and 18.4 of those in Pleasant Hill).  While 11% of Saskatoon is made up of one parents families, 24 % of Riversdale households are single parents families.  Not to get all Dan Quayle on you or anything but Wendy and I have a hard time raising kids on two salaries and very little child care costs (we work opposite hours).  How much harder is it to go alone?  A sign of disenfranchisement many households feel, only 13% of Pleasant Hill residents turned out to vote in the last civic election (vs. 50% of voters in Briarwood).   Of course one doesn’t need to channel the spirit of Thomas Homer-Dixon to realize how problems can be even more complex than the combined statistical analysis… and believe me, the stats show a complex problem.

We are left with two alternatives.  During this time, I finished up an internal proposal to go to the Salvation Army for a new facility.  It’s no secret that Saskatoon needs more shelter beds.  In addition to more beds, it redesigns how we accommodate our residents so they are more comfortable and guys can have a better rest.  More youth rooms, more mental health rooms, a wing for grumpy old men, transitional rooms, a small half gym, computer facilities, a coffee shop/drop in space, and lots of green space for our guys.  It’s not perfect, I couldn’t figure out how to slide a go-cart track past the bureaucracy but will we see.

As I finished it up, I realized that what we were proposing a dam and levy system for many of our residents.  While they were at the Centre, they would be safe and secure and maybe even get ahead of the game but when many left, they get swamped by what is outside of the Centre.  There is value in creating safe spaces but eventually you have to leave and go out in the real world.  Too high of rent, too low of income, stuck in a flophouse, surrounded by drugs, forced to take a bad roommate, mental health and addiction problems and trapped in poverty.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that life should be hard at times but the obstacles confronting our clients are considerable.    So I was left with an architectural solution (increase the size of dorms to X number of dorm beds and even more private rooms for grumpy old men and then keep building and building and building) or we figure out a way to help our clients live back in the community amongst the alcohol, drugs, violence, and exploitation.  By doing so, we would also be changing the character of those neighbourhoods.  Of course of the two, the second option is a lot harder to do.

As I was thinking about this, I was at the Front Desk the other night when a women came in.  The Emergency After Hours worker was swamped with other clients and the women was upset and crying.  I took her into a room off the office, left the door open (and it’s on camera) and started to see what she needed.  She needed accommodation and I asked a couple of questions which she was quite forthcoming in answering.  The details aren’t that important but drugs, acquired brain injury, prostitution to make ends meet, a couple of bad tricks.  As the staff found a place for her at a local women’s shelter, I had two thoughts.  One this women in someone’s daughter and secondly as her face and neck had the signs of being beaten up by a john, will she escape this cycle first or will she end up being another statistic?

So what can I do?  What can we do?  I’ll get into this in a lot of detail later but there is a lot that we can do about this.  I think that is what kept me here, there is stuff that I can do as an individual, I can do within the organization, and we can do as an organization of other community based partners.    As Margaret Mead once said, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. 

Losing My Religion

A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex.  First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much.  Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said.  I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again.  On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors.  I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.

It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything.  To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.

The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church.  I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community.  This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community.  Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of.  The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in. 

Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities.  While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon.   There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community.  While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing.  So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work).   I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.

I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe.  I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore.  I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community.  A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul.  The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops.  Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know.  I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself.  The Emperor has no clothes.

I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs.  Are all churches like this?  I don’t think so.  One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space.   Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find.  The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back.  When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people.  We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims.  Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte.  Every last person.  When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well.  If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders.  If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone.  What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us.   Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves.  Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth.  Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth.  Sadly I am not alone.  A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”.  It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills.  Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.

The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me.  God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff.  The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection.  After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with.  He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.”  A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal.  We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.”  I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me.  As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling.  Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days.  Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll.  It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard.  The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one.  Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.

As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me.  I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out.  I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.

My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see.  It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing.  I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out.  Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this".  Yet I talk with some of them all of the time.  They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this.  Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries.   They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it.  They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off.  While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of. 

I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while?  If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?

Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s.  As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again.  It hasn’t happened yet.  In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems.  It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind.  The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does.  Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it.  I’ll let you figure it out.

A look back

My early ideas on Social Services were shaped by the Devine Tories.  As some of you know, the first campaign I worked on was the 1986 provincial election campaign that saw Grant Devine and the Progressive Conservatives re-elected.  Devine was confronted with a large budget deficit, an extremely effective NDP opposition party, an ongoing drought and low grain prices, declining poll numbers, as well as his own conservative ideology.  With the NDP controlling Regina and most of Saskatoon, the 1986 election split the province between urban and rural voters and Social Services became a wedge issue that was supposed to motivate Tories across the land.

Saskatchewan made some big cuts to Social Services and as Janice MacKinnon later discovered and wrote about, made Social Services into a very politicized department.  I think history will see Grant Devine as a good man who believed in Saskatchewan but was a horrible judge of character in those he appointed.  MacKinnon agreed

imageIn appointing the hyper partisan Grant Schmidt to be Minister of Social Services in his second term, the Progressive Conservatives made no effort in hiding their dislike of the “socialist” Ministry of Social Services.  The Conservatives had a weekly (or monthly… it was long time ago) fundraiser called Tory Tuesdays where a cabinet minister would come to Saskatoon and speak to the (dwindling) party faithful.  I remember listening to Deputy Premier Pat Smith and then Social Services minister Grant Schmidt rail against people on Social Services and the Ministry itself.  Janice MacKinnon quotes him in her book as saying the Ministry of Social Services spent money like a drunken sailor and said that out of “2,200 employees in the department, 1,500 were his political enemies”.  I don’t think it was a stretch to say that the Tories saw Social Services as a ministry that served an urban NDP core constituency where the Tories saw no chance for growth.  By attacking them, they also appealed to their base.

Later I was at a fundraiser for newly appointed Social Services Minister Bill Neudorf.  He joked about while he was excited to be in cabinet, how Social Services was the worst ministry in the province to have to take over in his public comments but at least he was in cabinet.

I never thought too much about it from a philosophical point of view.  Like a lot of you, I believed that Social Services should be for those that really needed the funding and was (and am) disgusted by those who are taking advantage of the system.  Our neighbour growing up was a masterful user of the system and despite being on Social Services had a much higher standard of living then we did.  The fact that she was brazen about her fraud made it a lot worse to take.  At the same time, I had no idea how hard it was on Social Services for those who are unwilling or unable to scam the system and to be honest, I had no reason to look into it.  Growing up in Lawson Heights, crime wasn’t really on anyone’s radar.  I used to walk our dog Misty along Spadina Crescent late at night through River Heights.  It was before there was street lights along the river and it was pitch dark.  Not only did I feel no fear along the walk, neither did any of the people we met.  Actually most of them carried dog treats with them (which is really odd considering who goes out with dog treats on the off chance they meet a pleasant dog while walking along a darkened part of the Meewasin Trail?).  In addition to spoiling my dog, they had no apprehension about chatting with a large college student they met.  Crime and personal safety wasn’t on any of our minds.

As far as homelessness went, my first apartment was a downtown apartment for $250/month.  I am not sure was Social Services was allowing back then but you could find $350/month apartments all over downtown.  When I look back at old documents for the Salvation Army from the 90s, the issue was not too many guys in the dorms at work but there was concerns about too few men in the facility.

When I started to work in the church, social issues were not high on my theological agenda.  The Free Methodist Church has never really engaged in social justice issues in North America, the church I had attended growing up was on the edge of McNabb Park but yet struggled to engage it consistently (although flooding it’s parking lot one winter for a skating rink was a cool idea).  While we touched on issues of poverty in ethics classes in college, it was never a local issue.  Evangelical theology is inherently individualistic and that crossed the line to me to how I saw the world (as many of you have told me over the years, I have libertarian leanings).

The first I was really challenged in this area was by Methodist theologian, Leonard Sweet in his book, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe when it talked about what it meant for kids to go school hungry.  The amount he quoted in the book was quite a bit less than I had blown at McDonald’s on my way home from work that night and for the first time, issues of poverty started to make some sense to me.  While I still saw it as an individual generosity issue, I started to question it a lot more, even though I wasn’t seeing as a societal issue.

During this time Wendy and I bought our home in Mayfair.  Mayfair was and is a core neighbourhood but like most home owners, I only saw what was happening in our neighbourhood in terms of housing values, not what was going on in the homes that call Mayfair home but even then as I saw a drug dealer selling drugs right on my street corner (the same corner my house is located on), something was going on and it wasn’t all good.

A couple of years later I was in Fullerton, lecturing at Hope International University.  I was flying out of LAX on a Sunday morning and after being trapped in Los Angeles traffic many times over the week, I left really, really early on a Sunday morning without realizing soon that I was the only one on Interstate 5.  I got to the LAX area really early and decided that I had some time to tour Watts.  It was the first time that I started to see neighbourhoods as societal narratives and my first thought was “What the hell is going on here?”.  How does one of the richest cities in the world allow Watts to happen and Watts isn’t even the worst part of Los Angeles.  I came home and started to read about Watts, Skid Row, East Hastings, and other urban areas gone wrong and started to really wonder what was happening, both in Los Angeles and in other large urban settings.  The more I realized that Saskatoon was no longer isolated from that.  Poverty, crime, violence, and life in Saskatoon were a series of interconnected issues that were becoming interconnected with my life.

Around this time I had read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book, The Ingenuity Gap at my friend’s Karen’s insistence.  While his story is a global one, Homer-Dixon tells a story of interconnected and complex systems that are evolving in a global world.  While Thomas Friedman tells the economic version, Thomas Homer-Dixon adds environmental and complex socio-political factors to the equation.  Each one of these factors require their own specialized experts and the problem is that as the world becomes more connected, the variables overwhelm even the experts which is kind of what is happening in many cities right now.  So a new Super Wal-Mart comes to Saskatoon and increases the number of jobs by 100.  That’s a good thing right?  Well what about job losses and hour cutbacks at Confederation Mall because the anchor store isn’t there?  Well not so good right?  On the other hand there are people who are shopping locally because they can’t get to Wal-Mart on bus.  That’s good for local store owners, except now the consumers have less discretionary income.

As I later took a job at the Salvation Army Community Services in Saskatoon, I saw a complex series of factors manifesting in some pretty horrific behavior.  On my first shift I saw some very young prostitutes shooting themselves up after a night of working on the street, the next day I saw my first dial-a-dope transaction at a nearby flophouse.  A week later as I was walking home, a women started to hit me with a stick on the street as I was “her enemy”.  I was quite happy to see a beat cop as she started to hit him and I kept walking.  I started to question what I was seeing like almost every staff I have later hired.  What causes this behaviour, how do you change it, why can’t more be done?  Yet at the end of the day, I felt like I was working inside The Ingenuity Gap as the contributing interrelated factors overwhelm my (and others) ability to understand them.

As I am writing this, I am up at the lake and last night Wendy and I had coffee at our friends the Rigby’s.  John is on the board here and was talking about the decision to shut down Kinney Memorial Lodge for the winter and whether or not that was a good one.  Without giving a conclusion he mentioned a bunch of factors to consider and it made me chuckle because here you have a pretty simple question, did it make sense to close a retreat centre down when business is slowest (and probably expenses are higher) and even that has all of these variables and factors affecting the decision.  How much more complicated is what is happening to Riversdale, Pleasant, and Mayfair?

Over the next several weeks I am going to try to look at some of these factors in Saskatoon.  I needed a framework to work through this so I am going to use the programs where I work as a starting point to start the discussion and branch off from there.  I welcome your comments and if you don’t want to say anything publically, feel free to e-mail me as I don’t publish any e-mails publically here.

The Decline of Mayfair?

Wendy has a post on the supposed decline of Mayfair and talks about the violence and crime that is happening in the neighborhood and puts it into some context.

Prostitution in Mayfair

The Star Phoenix has an article on the increase of street prostitution in my neighborhood.

1947742.bin Ground zero for the sex-trade workers is hard to pinpoint, but the new stroll is anchored by 33rd Street West, stretching by some estimates to 38th Street, between Idylwyld Drive and Avenue G North.

"(It) turns into a different place after 10:30 at night," said Sharon Loeppky, who organizes a citizens’ patrol for the Hudson Bay Park/Mayfair community association.

"We’re not confrontational. We just walk. We try and make the johns uncomfortable. Those girls, I don’t believe they’ve chosen this life."

The migration of prostitutes from the 20th Street West area may have happened for a couple of reasons, said Hill, such as the closure of the notorious Barry Hotel and the prevalence of massage parlors in the 33rd Street West area.

I hold the city responsible for this as Mayfair is home to many of the city’s brothels massage parlors.   While there is a difference in what happens behind closed doors and street prostitution, for those of us who live in close proximity to one brothels massage parlor (it’s half a block down the street), the high speed traffic out of there is incredible and someone is going to die there if something isn’t done.  We live in a neighborhood where young kids run the streets 24/7 during the summer and weekends and now we have traffic approaching 100 km. zooming down Avenue D North.

It’s a blue collar working class neighborhood.  It doesn’t deserve to be “ground zero” for prostitutes and brothels massage parlors.  Wendy doesn’t need to be harassed coming home from work at Safeway by johns and neither does anyone else.

My other issue with this article was this statement by the Saskatoon Police Service.

Until the town hall meeting with 45 residents, police weren’t aware of the increased activity, said Engele.

I have e-mailed, talked to individual cops and called the police and invited them to park beside my house for a night to see what goes on a couple of blocks off 33rd street.  Apparently they need more invites but what more do I have to do?  It’s frustrating for everyone but with the other sex trade shops in our neighborhood and on my block, doesn’t that become an invitation for street prostitution and drugs?