Opinion – Let’s talk infill.
By Chris Guérette
CEO – Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association
See the article here on thestarphoenix.com.
Since Phil Tank is talking infill (Feb 4 2019: Resistance to Saskatoon city hall seems futile for some) I thought I would bring a balance to the discussion.
The development projects pushing growth in our city core is increasing. Not as intense as in Burlington, Ontario mind you, where City Council recently froze downtown development by putting a one-year hold on development. The Mayor of Burlington is claiming it has to work out a plan to curb a “sudden burst of development” without the “added pressure”. What? Now that’s a scary thought.
We’re still uncomfortable with the notion of balanced growth. Meaning choosing infill does not mean saying no to the development of new communities. And that the development of new communities does not automatically mean our city is “sprawling”. Neither of these are siloed developments, they don’t require you to pick one over the other – they actually work together to grow our city and we need both.
Infill development is often used to densify and make better use of our existing infrastructure. But why infill (not a magic word by the way) can mean serious benefits for any neighborhood, is mainly because of revitalization investments. Our neighborhoods need investments periodically to be attractive, vibrant and maintain a certain standard. We also need new communities to keep up with the population growth of our city. Our population growth for the next 5 years is expected to be well above the 20-year average.
Infill development, however, requires more leadership from City Hall.
Mr. Tank calls infill the “magic” word at the City Council table. I call it “timely”. It’s a timely discussion to help revitalize our neighborhoods and maximize investment. City Hall certainly does not have a “problem” – but what it can certainly do, is to provide more efficient consultation, to facilitate our growth.
More efficient consultations do not mean more – please, no – but we do need a process that is more effective and that demonstrates leadership: active listening, a solution mindset and action.
A good example of this would be to use development charges collected from an infill project to be used in the neighborhoods in which they were collected. Let the community associations have a word in how to spend it. If they get better sidewalks, more trees, enhanced parks out of a project, that would change the conversation.
There is also a growing gap between the vision and our current situation. While one end of our efforts is concentrated on our plan to grow our city to half a million, many of our current efforts have not caught up (yet).
Local Area Plans are a good example of that growing pain – plans that have not caught up with the vision. City Hall can be more proactive in communicating and being comfortable with those growing pains, that we don’t have everything where we want it to be right now (it’s ok, we’ll get there together over time), but that it should not stop growth waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead, neighborhoods are identifying growing pains through confusion, and don’t have the government language or history City Hall has… and it comes out as receiving the cold shoulder.
Relationships matter, leadership matters in these cases – smart consultation requires an important skill set that we do not seem to have grasped well yet. And instead of letting some concerns take up more space in the public sphere than they should, they be addressed head on with action and solutions to demonstrate improvement.
As a city, our conversations should be more centered around a vision, such as striking the right balance to meet housing choices and affordability for our residents, and not whether we should approve or not approve certain projects. We’ll never win as a city with that type of discussion and we need leadership from City Hall to shift that dialogue.