Thursday 26 May 2011

A story about Regina

For reasons that I'll leave unexplained, I ended up in Regina last weekend. Saturday, what was to be the Day of Reckoning, was an overcast drizzly sort of day. I found myself downtown taking a short walk in the early evening.

As I walked past city hall and approached the drab-looking public library on 12th Ave, a gust of cool wind hit me. I looked at my watch: 6:00 pm. Isn't that the time that the Rapture was supposed to happen? The was no earthquake. No fireballs raining down from the heavens. Ha! I knew this end of days stuff was all nonsense.

I continued on my journey for a few steps before freezing in my tracks...

Wait a minute -- I looked up Smith Street, I looked back down 12th, I looked up towards Victoria Park -- everybody was gone! My GOD. It DID happen! I was expecting more drama, but the rapture took everybody and left only ME! Oh wait .. I'm in downtown Regina. Heh. Nevermind. Unless ... unless this is just the beginning of my 5-month period of horrible torment!

It was an uneventful walk .. there were few people milling about. I ran across only one homeless dude, who, maybe not politely, but meekly asked if I had any change, and I likewise ran across relatively few clean-cut people. As I often do when I'm in the downtowns of other cities, I draw comparisons to Winnipeg. Regina has a block of Scarth St. closed to traffic -- something that we've talked about doing in Winnipeg (perhaps Albert St.) although Scarth St. tends to be mostly vacant of people whenever I go there. Perhaps after Regina finishes renovating Victoria Park into some hybrid of Winnipeg's Central Park and Old market Square, there will be a larger mass of people attracted to the area ... though I doubt it. In terms of liveliness, Winnipeg definitely has the edge, except on nights when the Riders play. Winnipeg also has more shops, restaurants, and more and nicer heritage buildings.

It's not everyday that a Winnipegger can feel smug in the core of another city ... and then I came across a construction crane. There was a sign with a diagram of what is to be a third Hill Centre office tower, adjacent to the two trademark towers that are highlighted in Regina's logo, with the Mosiac head office as the lead tenant. I guess Regina will have to redesign their logo now. A quick look on the Skyscraper Page shows two additional proposed buildings which would be the two tallest structures in the city, and another 16 story office building, all of which appear to be driven by private investment.

Geeze .. when was the last time Winnipeg had construction like this from private investment? A few years back, a company called Crystal Developers was prepared to build a 15 story apartment building downtown, but current and former politicians and other miscellaneous elites made damn sure that wouldn't happen through a media-driven campaign of public deception and private arm-twisting. As a result, our skyline has remained untarnished by private development for many years now.

Feeling glum, I picked up a copy of Regina's local freebee paper and headed back to the hotel. Maybe this hillbilly publication will cheer me up with stories about the quaint little accomplishments of simple Regina folk. Back in the room, I brew a coffee, sit down, turn the page and read: "Winnipeg’s screw ups are a free lesson for Regina". Gaaaa! Even the Prairie Dog is beating us down.

The editorial, which reads like a blog post, riffs off of the Globe and Mail story about Winnipeg's downtown revitalization. It is written by the editor of the Prairie Dog who grew up in Winnipeg and "spent the first half of his life going bananas watching Winnipeg wreck itself"; and it contains a couple zingers, like:

When I think about the place I think of how Regina’s future could go horribly, horribly wrong. And I don’t just mean we could have a football team as bad as the Bombers.

He ends up concluding the same thing that the G&M piece does: that Winnipeg is heading in the right direction. "Even the dorkiest politicians are starting to get it." (He is referring to Sam Katz, in case you're wondering). Like Winnipeg, Regina is developing a comprehensive community plan. Unlike Winnipeg, they may actually follow it. When writing the curriculum for these free lessons for Regina, this should be at least one module: "Community planning -- more than just creating a document?" Other modules could include:
  • Creating traffic chaos with bike paths
  • Designing a new logo -- perhaps something that looks like a nipple?
  • Infrastructure planning: traffic lights good, overpasses bad.
  • Bait and switch with schools in new developments, and other ways to screw up sprawl.
  • Street banners -- the more the merrier.
  • How to be "world class": IKEA, Helicopters and waterparks
We could have a whole undergrad program on botching up rapid transit. Anyhow, we should all learn from each other, and I wish Regina luck with their own revitalization. Don't blow too much money on Victoria Park.


Although Winnipeg's skyscraper diagram page doesn't show anything proposed or under construction, there is some reason to be hopeful of new development downtown. First, there is a promising project brewing for the A&B Sound Building and adjacent area. Expect to hear more about that in the coming months. [UPDATE: Bart Kives has a story about this on the Freep website today]

Also, Crystal Developers, who should be given credit for not blowing off our city entirely, may eventually start building their new Heritage Landing project on the problematic Assiniboine Ave. lot that we stuck them with after screwing them out of the Fort Street location.

Also, it appears as though Regina does have a new logo (and slogan) although you don't actually see it anywhere when you're in the city. Sadly, it does not look like a nipple. I don't really like the new logo, but I'm glad they changed it because the old one bugged me because it was inaccurate. There was no angle from which the Hill Centre towers appear as they do in that logo.


One Man Committee said...

Great post. Regina has had a good thing going with much of its employment base concentrated downtown, but it too is giving in and making the same mistakes that other cities have been making. The east/south-east portions of Regina are expanding dramatically, with loads of single-family homes and big box stores popping up. If they don't keep that in check, there will be some real problems down the road.

But that said, it is impressive to see some major private sector-led developments in Regina. However, it is worth noting that few of the major planned projects (Capital Pointe, Canterbury Gardens, new Riders stadium) are nowhere near ready to go yet and may never be.

cherenkov said...

It appears that Regina shares another problem with Winnipeg: not enough people living downtown. They are spending money on this victoria park reno and turning a block of 12th street into pedestrian mall and gathering place, and I just don't think it will work because there aren't enough people downtown in the evenings & weekends.

I do however admire the foresight of the planners of both Regina and Saskatoon for putting in freeways that partially ring the city. You can get anywhere in a short time.

unclebob said...

Here is a part of what we are running regarding private investment

Holy Moley! Private money in the north end?

When it comes to poor housing, high crime rates, problem neighbourhoods and overall decay most Winnipeggers can point out areas of the north end like Selkirk, Manitoba, Flora, Stella and Pritchard all from about the first block to about the 900s all in need of attention. City reports for those areas quote a highly disproportionate share of rental properties, triple or more that the rest of the city and most of the time in poor condition. If you had a choice would you live there, work there, or perish the thought invest there? Sure there are government programs to do things in the north end and there is the publicly funded, hugely expensive and massively inefficient self perpetuating North End Renewal Corporation but private money? When is the last time unsubsidized private money was seen floating around the north end? Well read on and you will find out.

A small group of friends is starting to attract some attention for what they have been doing. Loosely affiliated, project by project, the group acquires, strips bare and rebuilds one house at a time. They have completed more than a dozen and have plans to expand their pace. They take the absolute worst places and bring them up to standard. Now there are a few speculators around who like to buy cheap, put a little lipstick and some new carpet into an ailing property and then flip it. Not these folks. They want high standards because they do not flip the renovated buildings. They keep them for their own rental portfolio.

Last Thursday I managed to snag a tour of one of their current sites. It was up on 783 Pritchard right across from a school and right beside a community club. The group had bought it a few months before and were about half way along in fixing it. I met Darren Zawislak and Dennis Malthouse who told me all about it. Apparently the place had been a huge thorn in the side of the neighbourhood. It had been a crack house and a brothel abandoned by everybody except the pigeons.

cherenkov said...

Sounds promising...

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