Tag Archives: Meewasin

Two views of Saskatoon (Edited)

I posted this photo this morning and was surprised by the feedback.  After writing over 25,000 words on homelessness here, for the The StarPhoenix, and other publications, I had long ago thought that very few cared enough about homelessness to care enough to respond one way or the other.

Homeless female on the west side of the river

The background of the photo is pretty boring.  Wendy and I were simply taking the 6 p.m. cruise on The Prairie Lily.   It was smoky last Friday and I debated bringing my Pentax K-3 with me at all.  I did and I took some photos of the downtown and River Landing.  As we approached Victoria Park I was looking at the east side of the river when a hush fell over the top deck and I heard someone say, “Oh My God, someone is living over there.”  I looked and took a couple of photos.  Someone actually cried a bit.  Here we were basically taking the Saskatoon equivalent of a luxury cruise down the river using the very definition of disposable income and there was someone living in a tent surrounded by garbage.  The top of the deck got very quiet as we sailed by and then as we passed it again on the way back.

The boat holds around 75 people.  Let’s say it averages 50 people a cruise so at least 100 people a day see what I saw.  It is directly across the river from the homes on Saskatchewan Crescent E. (some of which have asked that I remove the photos of their property despite it being in full site of Victoria Park and the Prairie Lily).  Rather than cause problems.  I took their photos down.

Over the last several years I have written several columns a year on homelessness and housing issues.  I have written about the cost to society, best practices on how to stop it, the impact on children, and the impact of living in a tent.  The Saskatoon homelessness count came out and there are 500 people living in some state of homelessness.

When I have written about encampments in the city before, people always tell me that they must be voluntary, when I have taken photos of the tents, I have had it suggested that they could be camping.  I decided to include a person in this photo because that is where she lives and to be honest, the angle of her head makes it impossible to identify her from anyone else.

This is what homelessness looks like.  A $80 tent from Walmart looking at multi-million dollar homes on Saskatchewan Crescent.  It is also multi-million dollar homeowners looking back at a tent and no one is moved to change a thing.

Some random urban design thoughts

  1. I was at the Peace Bridge tonight.  A couple hundred people crossed it while I was there.  Lots of tourists and families taking photos of their “accomplishment” and documenting the bridge.  Name me one place in Saskatoon where that happens.  It’s infrastructure and a tourist attraction.   Even Mark and Oliver thought it was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
  2. There was an open air concert near there and yes, there were cars parking all over the place but there were hundreds of bikes down there.  a) Can you imagine the carnage that would happen if you didn’t have bike and pedestrian infrastructure in place to get people downtown. b) How much vibrancy would you lose without it as people said, “I’m not driving downtown?”  World class cycling infrastructure means less congestion for those that have to drive.
  3. The Peace Bridge is wide, a lot wider than Saskatoon’s under bridge sidewalks.  Wide pedestrian lane and a wide cycling lane one each side.  In Saskatoon we talk of pedestrians vs. cyclists but in Calgary their multi-use path are 3x larger than Meewasin or twice as large as the path along 33rd.  Cycling infrastructure is more than just protected bike lanes, it means building all sorts of things so cyclists can use it.
  4. The Cycle Track is busier (I took some time to watch it) than I expected.  It also isn’t perfect and has some design flaws as it begins and ends but it is being used by a lot of people.   I (and others) have always said, “build it and they will come”.  It is happening in Calgary.
  5. When I was in Banff, I was shocked by how little parking there is downtown.  Only a few spots and then they use parkades.  Like in Calgary and even in some malls, it gives you a real time update of how many spots they have left.  In Chinook Centre, they even had lights to tell you where there were open spots . Saskatoon could do that kind of stuff but first we would have to invest in some parking garages.  I can’t see it happening but it would totally change downtown and give designers so much flexibility into making it into a people centric place again.
  6. In downtown Saskatoon, we have this idea that since we have Meewasin, we don’t need any downtown parks while in Calgary, there is the river and guess what, several amazing downtown squares and parks.  One of the most interesting ones was a temporary park put up by where the Telus Sky will be.  It’s just a placeholder for a future development but it looks really good and isn’t surface parking.  I’m assuming there is a tax incentive for doing this but why can’t Saskatoon do the same thing.  Why does everything torn down have to be turned into the Impark Empire.
  7. Banff has a pedestrian bridge.  It isn’t even for tourists but locals but it looks great.  Think about that, Banff has a bridge for pedestrians.
  8. Speaking of Banff, they integrate cyclists really well despite no protected bike lanes.  They are so natural there that you expect bikes (and elk) to be everywhere.  Drivers accommodate them.  I believe in excellent cycling infrastructure but drivers who respect cyclists goes a long way.  I think Saskatoon and SGI could do a lot more to educate people.  It would take decades but it could make a big difference.
  9. Does anything think that Saskatoon’s North Commuter Bridge will look anything other than the cheapest design that can be built?  Why can’t we have any signature infrastructure at a time when it is increasingly part of the urban fabric?
  10. Saskatoon will never be the next Calgary.  There is a boldness and arrogance that has long been a part of Calgary that has always demanded to be seen on the same level as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  It has always punched above it’s weight, even in times of deep recession.  Saskatoon doesn’t have that kind of leadership and spirit. 
  11. I don’t think that is entirely our fault.  There is a different business culture with agriculture, uranium and potash then with oil and natural gas. 
  12. Calgary has much higher design standards than Saskatoon.  The architecture is better in Calgary in part because they demand it.  The result is that the city has incredible design even for things like parkades while Saskatoon has the Sturdy Stone Centre.  It’s not just the market that is different, city design standards are higher.  If companies want to play in Calgary, they have to pay.  Proponents of build cheaply say that the costs are passed on and they are right but the entire wage structure is different in Calgary so it can absorb it.  Great cities are expensive, Saskatoon is trying to become one by being cheaper than everywhere else.  It isn’t going to work.   For this I blame Lorne Calvert who recruited people to come back to Saskatchewan because it was cheaper than everywhere else.
  13. You know, Lorne Calvert probably isn’t responsible but still, it bugged me when he did that then and it still bugs me now.  You don’t invite people to come back because of cheap utility and insurance. 
  14. Macleod Trail is as ugly as street as I have ever seen anywhere outside of Winnipeg.    Luckily Calgary is trying to fix it.

Christmas Morning

Good morning everyone. To be honest I hope you aren’t reading this when I post it.  It’s early and I can’t sleep.

Not sleeping well on a Christmas Eve/Christmas morning used to be my normal routine.  As a kid I would go to be early with all of these expectations of Christmas morning in my head.  I desperately wanted to sleep but never could (even then I knew that sleep would make Christmas come sooner).  I would read, count sheep, read some more and eventually around 4 a.m. my brother and sister would wander into my room while we debated if it was too early to go upstairs and wake up my mom (it was but it didn’t stop all three of us from taking the opposite view).

Around 5 a.m. we would try to wake up Mom only to be hollered at to go back to bed (later on I found out that she was awake too but wasn’t going to get up at 5:00 a.m. to open presents).  Around 6:30 a.m. she would wake up and tell us that we couldn’t come up until the coffee machine was done perking her coffee.  The normally fast coffee maker would slow down to a crawl on Christmas morning as we huddled at the bottom of the steps waiting for it to finish while Mom set out our Christmas stockings.  Every drop of coffee was heard and seemed to take forever.

After what seemed like hours, her coffee would be done and we would open our stockings and then our gifts before Mom would make us a big breakfast.  Since our stockings always had candy in them, at least once that morning Mom would say, “no more chocolate until breakfast” which would generate howls of laughter from her and us as soon as the words left her mouth.

After breakfast the wrapping paper would be carefully gathered up making sure nothing got tossed out.  Mom would then turn on the Disneyworld Christmas Day parade and we would collectively mock Regis and Joan Lunden.  Joan Lunden isn’t nearly as irritating as Kathy Lee Gifford but it was Christmas morning and we were high on chocolate and strong coffee.  Some toys would be assembled but in a family of readers, the books would distract us and soon all three kids would be in our rooms reading whatever soft cover book was in our stocking.  Since all three of us were up all night, it lead to a Christmas Day nap and some quiet time for Mom.

Then we would do something fun.  We went public skating one year, tobogganing on many of them, often we took Misty our dog for a walk along the Meewasin Trail and there was often friends who stopped by.  Once mom would make her initial proclamation of “no more chocolate until breakfast”, you would hear someone say it every time someone ate a candy, including her.

Eventually it was time for the Christmas dinner.  Mom had these crystal glasses that meant the world to her.  She would always warn us to be careful and it seemed like every Christmas she would break one in the weirdest of ways.  Even weirder was that even with brain cancer, she never broke many things except for those goblets.  The Bay sold them and we would always pick up the replacement glass for her on Mother’s Day but it was kind of a tradition, Mom breaking her prized goblets.  It wasn’t like she dropped them.  Something would fall out of a counter (which never happened) bounce and the ricochet into the goblet.  We would just sit there with a look that said, “I can’t believe that happened”.  Even weirder is that as kids, we never broke one and we were the ones who broke everything.

Then it was a night of talking together, playing crokinole, and drinking too much strong coffee.  

I hated crokinole.  Mom played it all of the time as a kid and would sit there and do all of these crazy trick shots and then go, “Jordon do you want to play?”  Let me see, getting humiliated by my mother who was a poor winner seems like a lot of fun.  She was undefeated for her entire adult life.  I was winless.  So I would play and get beat badly and then get taunted for losing.  I was so happy when Jolene and Lee were there and could be beat as well.  To be fair, my mom was insanely competitive and would accept any video game challenge we made to her.  She got as good as good as she gave.  Then we would wind down and make plans to take the tree down on Boxing Day.  Christmas always started the same (waiting for coffee to perk) and ended the same (waiting for more coffee to perk).

Taking the Christmas tree down on Boxing Day started because my great Aunt Beth spent every Christmas with us.  Aunt Beth never married and adopted Mom as her favourite niece and spent every holiday with us.  She would come down from Regina on the bus and stay for a couple of weeks.  We loved Aunt Beth but she was eccentric and lived alone too long.  She was also really short (that matters) and smoked a lot.  i used to bug her that she lit her last cigarette when rationing ended after World War II and then just lit one smoke of another since then.  It wasn’t that far from the truth.

Aunt Beth would come in the second week of December and so would the smell of Player’s Light cigarettes.  So to get the smell of nice pine Christmas Tree, our tree had to go up before Aunt Beth got here.  Which meant by Boxing Day, we were tired of the tree and Christmas decorations in general so it all came down.  She never realized the reason and I don’t think she cared that much either.  There was still cookies to eat and festivities to take part of.

So today is going to kind of be the same kind of day.  The boys aren’t awake yet but they will be upstairs soon.  My coffee is being made as I write this and I assume I will be joined shortly by Oliver and Mark (who will also be drinking my coffee)  We will have a nice breakfast together and then head downtown where we will take some photos of an empty and abandoned downtown core.  Mark, Wendy, Oliver and I have new camera gear to test out.  Someone has to feed Bridge City with fresh photographs. Then back home for a charcuterie board for lunch and maybe the kids will have a nap while Wendy cooks our Christmas dinner before spending the night goofing off and drinking too much coffee.

Hope your day is a good one.  Merry Christmas.

(tomorrow, the decorations come down)

Saskatoon is Winterstrong

Saskatoon in Winterstrong

I have long said that Saskatoon could and needs to do winter better.  Instead of complaining about it, we need to embrace it like Edmonton has done.  With the arrival of winter today in Saskatoon, I decided to come up with a list of 30 awesome things to do in Saskatoon this winter (actually it is 28 things, one awesome thing is in North Battleford and one in PANP).  If you have any ideas, let me know on the page.  I’ll add them all.

100 Ideas to Improve Saskatoon: 4. WInterize Meeswasin

We all love the Meewasin Valley but its location makes it cold in the winter.  The wind whips through the South Saskatchewan River valley and brings either cold or humidity up onto the paths until it chills our bones.   It’s isn’t that winter friendly.

While Meewasin Valley does do a good job in keep its trails clear of snow (ahem, City of Saskatoon, it is possible), a walk from the Mendel Art Gallery to the Farmer’s Market is enough to make you question your desire to keep living here.

To steal an idea from Winnipeg, how about some warming huts places along the river.

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Winnipeg’s huts are designed by architects around the world and are a combination of temporary and year after year structures and they go a long way in making it easier to get out and enjoy the winter in Winnipeg.  In Saskatoon it would go a long way in allowing us to connect our downtown from the Mendel all of the way to the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market, even in the dead of winter.

The deficit we imagine vs. the deficit we have

The New York Times is reporting on the deficit and debt ceiling fight that is happening right now.

Eventually, the country will have to confront the deficit we have, rather than the deficit we imagine. The one we imagine is a deficit caused by waste, fraud, abuse, foreign aid, oil industry subsidies and vague out-of-control spending. The one we have is caused by the world’s highest health costs (by far), the world’s largest military (by far), a Social Security program built when most people died by 70 — and to pay for it all, the lowest tax rates in decades.

To put it in budgetary terms, the deficit we imagine comes largely from discretionary spending. The one we have comes partly from discretionary spending but mostly from everything else: tax rates, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

It made me think of an article that Dave Hutton wrote this week while covering City Council’s executive committee meeting.  It starts with city manager Murray Totland appearing to give political direction to city council.

In a report to the city’s executive committee Monday, city manager Murray Totland said there is "growing sentiment" among residents that the city needs to refocus the programs and services it offers and "get back to the basics."

"We can sit back and reflect a bit about what programs and services matter most to us," Totland said. "It’s just to focus and maybe rethink our priorities. What matters most?"

It goes on with this.

Coun. Maurice Neault called for "zero-based budgeting" aimed at holding the line on taxes. "Once we get going, we’ll be amazed and surprised by the result," Neault said.

"Each of the things that we might want to give up has a role in the city," Coun. Charlie Clark said.

Saying it will be a "gut-wrenching" process, Coun. Myles Heidt said "something’s gotta go" to get to a two or three per cent hike. Council increased property taxes 3.99 per cent last year, but weren’t able to make fundamental changes some councillors called for during two nights of budget deliberations.

Taxes have risen an average of 3.7 per cent each year since 2005.

"Let’s not sugar-coat this," Heidt said. "It could be programs, it could be staff, it could be anything. We’ve got to make some decisions now."

Where to start.  First of all most of the spending that has generated controversy has been capital spending, sans curbside recycling which comes in at a little over $4 million per year.  It’s not an insignificant amount but this is a city of over $200,000 and things cost sometimes.  So as a response to increased capital spending, some on city council have decided that the best way to go is to cut operational spending… on the political advice of the city manager. 

Here is something that gets lost in these debates.  Sometimes its takes courage to spend money and you know what, sometimes it takes guts to say that things are important to us as a city, even if it increases the tax rate.  Somewhere around the time that George H. Bush said “no new taxes” and today spending on government programs has the ultimate evil and instead of being a just society, we have become a society that has adopted a narrative that says, I have it so I deserve it.   We saw it during the 2000 presidential campaign where Al Gore and George W. Bush fell over themselves to tell Americans that the surplus belonged to them and they knew best what to spend it on.  The American public spent the money on cheap consumer goods imported from China while at the same time the United States had to borrow heavily to find two wars and is faced with a massive infrastructure deficit on their own.

I was reminded of this Paul Krugman column from earlier this year.  It was written in the aftermath of the Gabrielle Gifford assassination attempt so the language is a little raw but he has some relevance to the debate over how the city spends it’s money.

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft.That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

There’s no middle ground between these views. One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.

This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted,the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.

Being Canadian, of course there is middle ground, we are all about the middle ground but there is a view that says that the smaller our civic responsibilities are, the better off we are as a city.  As former councillor Elaine Hnatyshyn writes,

In today’s SP (June 21/11) it is reported that council will take a ‘gut-wrenching’ review of services. Back to basics seems to be the coming theme for budget preparation for 2012, a civic election year. Would I rather have services necessary to my daily living over debt and debt repayment? Do I want my roads repaired? Street cleaning? Snow Removal? Or do I want pay to maintain River Landing, the Shaw Olympic Pool, Art Gallery of Saskatchewan . . . . .

In some ways Hnatyshyn’s comments make a lot of sense.  There is a pothole on Avenue E (between 34th and 33rd) that is so large that it will have it’s own MP in the next redrawing of electoral boundaries.  It has done some damage to quite a few vehicles when the shadows camouflage it’s true depth but I disagree when she talks about River Landing or a new pool and Art Gallery. 

Wendy and I are doing okay financially.  I work for the Salvation Army and they have treated me well.  Working for a non-profit organization is no way to get rich.  Wendy works for Safeway and is lucky to have been part of the old guard there where the salary is still livable.  We also own our home and pay around $600/month for mortgage and taxes (about $150 more a month in taxes than when we bought it).  Despite doing okay, some of the derided extra services the city provides, make a big difference in our standard of living.  Is Mayfair Pool an essential service the city should be providing?  No it’s not.  It’s a money pit but tell that to my sons who name it as one of the best things about their summer.  Like most people in Saskatoon, we don’t have a pool and so these public spaces serve as an important roll in giving those who don’t have the resources, access to important services.  Have you seen the mayhem at the waterpark at River Landing many days?  That’s not essential either but it provides a free public gathering spot for thousands of people everyday.  Starting tonight the city will be full of the sounds of the SaskTel Jazz Festival.  In addition to crown corporation sponsorship dollars going to subsidize the event, funding agencies include the City of Saskatoon and Canadian Heritage, money that goes to help subsidize the event, keeps ticket prices down and helps keep the free stages going.  You know, so more people can come down and enjoy it despite not being able to afford it.  This isn’t a new concept.  Years ago the citizens of Saskatoon decided to keep commercial and residential development away from the part of South Saskatchewan River valley and eventually decided to create the Meewasin Valley Authority, mostly because we realized that a riverbank that was open to all of us, was important.  That initiative was started by Saskatoon’s City Council in 1974 and has become one of Saskatoon’s crown jewels.

The Art Gallery of Saskatchewan Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan is not an essential service but what is the value of an art gallery to the citizens of Saskatoon.  As a kid growing up in Calgary, we very little money after my dad left but I remember being taken to the Glenbow Museum (which uses over $3 million in govt funding each year).  I still have vivid memories of models, displays, and information as we would wander through the galleries of history, politics, and art.  I had no idea at the time but that place started me off on a lifetime of learning and curiosity.   My son has a passion for design and architecture which started from seeing an exhibit of Clifford Weins at the Mendel Art Gallery a couple of years ago.

So what does a Saskatoon look like without the Meewasin Valley Trail, Harry Bailey Aquatic Centre, Mayfair Pool, or the architecture of University and Broadway bridges?  Does 20th Street look as hopeful today without the city redesigning and rebuilding sidewalks?  How much higher are rent rates without a city that invests heavily into affordable housing.  As Richard Florida writes in the Rise of the Creative Class, some of the cities in the United States that are struggling the most have the lowest tax rates.  No one wants to live there, no one wants to work there.  One of thing that many cities who are growing and vibrant have in common is that they do have higher taxes but it’s citizens believe that they are getting good value from living there and enjoy the extra services and amenities.   What’s crazy about this budget and spending debate is that Saskatoon has low taxes and is providing some extra value.  By deciding that we have to make “gut-wrenching” cuts and limit operational spending to 2% (or inflation), some councillors are saying that the city’s role in shaping the city is done.  I don’t agree.  There is a role for government to shape our city and provide a city that all of it’s citizens can enjoy.  Sometimes it takes money to spend money to make a city better and more liveable.  Yesterday I linked to a video about Helsinki, Finland and as a video said, they had the courage to take risks and make changes.  Hopefully city council will be able to find it.

What I learned

  • Local MPs performance don’t matter much : NDP’s Vegas candidate won, their English speaking candidate in a 98% francophone riding won, Ken Dryden and Lawrence Cannon lost.
  • Never bring down a minority government when you are behind.  Ignatieff thought it was because Canadians weren’t paying attention to him, in truth, we just didn’t like him that much.
  • Party platforms don’t matter.  I asked a lot of people who were out door knocking if people at the door had read the party platform and the answer was “not one”.  The NDP offer up $70 billion in new spending and they still get 100 seats.  The
  • You have to think that in Saskatchewan the big losers are the Saskatchewan Liberals.  The vote totals were appalling and I doubt and of the campaigns will even break even.  For Ryan Bater and the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, you have to wonder if they will be looking at the same kind of vote numbers in the next provincial election.  There isn’t a lot to build on and nothing that would attract high profile candidates to run for them provincially.
  • Along the same lines, I feel awfully bad for Darren Hill.  He ran a good campaign, is a good city councilor but even liberals in Saskatoon aren’t voting Liberal anymore.
  • Warren Kinsella says that the Liberal dysfunction goes beyond Ignatieff.
  • The city/province needs to put a ban on lawn and campaign signs on public property.  Boulevards, ditches, and parks don’t vote.  Keep the signs out of the Meewasin Valley and out of the highway ditches.  Lawn signs are supposed to be a measure of support and I am pretty sure that the ditches on Highway 16 is non partisan.
  • I would have more respect for those calling for electoral reform if they didn’t just do it when Harper won.  I didn’t hear anyone calling for it when Jean Chretien won a majority with 37% of the vote.  Of course I say this with apologies to James Bow who has been calling for electoral reform consistently for years.
  • You should be able to opt out of the campaign if you wanted to.  Nine robocalls on the Sunday from the Conservatives (that being said, I think because I kept hanging up, they kept calling).  We probably had 15 calls from the Conservative call centre’s in Manitoba and Nova Scotia during the campaign.  That is getting obscene and is bordering on harassment.  Every live phone call that I got, I asked to be taken off their database and I was either hung up on (Manitoba) or told politely that they could not do that (Nova Scotia).  Frustrating.  As I have said before, letting the politicians design privacy laws is like letting foxes install a security system inside a hen house.

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.

Election signs on public property

Sean Shaw brought this up and it’s been a long time irritant to me but I really believe that there should be no election signs on public property.  A lawn sign is supposed to be an endorsement of who you are going to vote for.  The last time I checked but the Meewasin Valley does not vote, neither do soccer fields, tennis courts, boulevards, telephone polls, or abandoned lots. 

If campaign signs are found to be up on public grounds, you get warned and then fined.  If there are some allegations of dirty tricks (which of course no politician would ever do), there is some leeway on whether or not there is a fine.  The same rules for civic, provincial, and federal campaigns.  The exception would be the poster boards downtown and on places like Broadway and 20th Street (those poster boards seem to be there for a reason).

It rewards candidates who engage their constituents and keeps our public spaces non-partisan.