Right now Saskatoon is a small city – around 239,000 – but the city is growing fast. Some projections say we’ll hit 500,000 in the next 20-30 years. With the number of people planning on making their homes in downtown Saskatoon estimated to hit about 15,000, it’s clear some modifications need to be made.
The City of Saskatoon recently released its much anticipated city centre plan outlining future changes to the west part of the downtown. After changes to both the south and north downtown, around River Landing and the new police station respectively, the time has come to look west.
West to the Future
There are many changes meant to take place over the next 15 years. There will be taller buildings, more public space and more ways to use the streets, including patios along Spadina. The plan touches on strengthening the
retail marketplace and enhancing walkability, transportation and public space. With the potential of turning 21st Street into a walking street, visitors and residents will have a community space with patios, green space and an amazing view of the landmark hotel, the Bessborough.
Another location targeted for a new shared space is out front of TCU Place along 22nd Street, erasing another bald spot. The city recognizes the importance of enhancing these public spaces, as well as adding more green space. This plan includes linking Meewasin Trail to various neighbourhoods through greenways and pedestrian routes. At the same time, other streets would garner new, safer bike lanes. While Saskatoon is known as a vehicle city, the plan prioritizes a pedestrian network, building the city around people rather than cars.
The plan says it is essential to better link the downtown to other neighbourhoods, including the trendy new Riversdale neighbourhood. Better transit, transportation and pedestrian routes are central to the plan, which also includes eliminating the cumbersome bus mall.
While retail space has grown exponentially in the downtown core, residential areas continue to exist mostly on the periphery. The city centre plan calls for a greater mix of residential housing in the downtown core, similar to Toronto and Vancouver.
One of the biggest problems in the downtown is the prevalence of surface parking. Right now, about 26 per cent of the city centre area is surface parking, making the streets look gap-toothed.
Into the Cold
A problem Saskatoon faces is creating an environment that is desirable even in the cold winter months. The plan works to create a city that’s usable and enjoyable even in the midst of February. This includes provisions for canopies and step- backs on new developments to help block wind and reduce the accumulation of snow. Thick evergreens and windscreens are proposed to help protect pedestrians from the wind chill factor, and heated sidewalks and bus shelters are even recommended in some areas.
The people behind the city centre plan not only want us to get through winter, but enjoy it. The design includes light displays for the colder seasons, outdoor fireplaces, snow parks and another outdoor skating rink. If you ever walk by the rink outside the Bessborough at night, it’s clear there’s room for another ice surface in town. There may be nothing better than gliding down the ice and then cozying up with a hot chocolate and a good book.
Practical, exciting and ambitious, the city centre plan is also sustainable. The plan recommends the addition of bylaws to improve thermal, lighting, water and energy efficiency. It also advises the addition of green roofs, solar energy sources and water conservation.
The city centre plan illuminates a great way for Saskatonians to stay connected through all the seasons. As the city matures and begins to foster a “big city” downtown, it’s sure not to lost its hometown charm.