Urban Sprawl Development in Regina | by John W. Warnock
Urban Sprawl Development in Regina
Tax Issue Reveals Divided Regina
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog (Regina)
The debate over the base tax proposal has revealed that Regina is a deeply divided city. The building industry, real estate interests, business organizations and people living in more expensive homes pushed the city council to impose a $400 base tax on residential property. The base tax would have shifted some of the burden of property taxation from those in the new suburban areas to homeowners who live in the older areas of Regina and have lower valued property.
The war between the suburbs and the inner city is being waged all across North America. It is the result of the post-World War II development process, commonly referred to as "urban sprawl." Professor Reid Ewing of Miami describes it as "random development characterized by poor accessibility of related land uses such as housing, jobs and services." Civic institutions like town halls, churches, schools and parks used to serve as places where people gathered. Under sprawl development, they are accessible by automobile, surrounded by parking spaces, often isolated, and are vacant much of the time. In contrast to neighbourhood development, urban sprawl is completely dependent on automobile transportation.
Low density development in outlying areas requires much higher expenditures on infrastructure and services, and this leads to reduced spending in the older city areas. Regina is following the pattern.
Inner city decline
Christopher Leo of the University of Winnipeg has studied the problem. "When a metropolitan area is divided into neighborhoods where poverty predominates and others where comfortable circumstances are the rule, it is inevitable that there will be a concentration of social problems in the poor areas. And where social problems predominate, lawlessness follows. Increasing crime and growing poverty lead to the decay of some downtown neighbourhoods."
The neighbourhood profiles for Regina prepared by city staff using 1996 census figures highlight the effects of local urban sprawl development. For the city as a whole, household income averaged $45,000; for the central zone, it was only $29,000 and lower still in the Core and North Central areas. For the city as a whole, only 35% of homes were rented compared to 59% in the Central Zone and 71% in the Core area. Single parent families and Aboriginal people are much more likely to be found in the Central zone neighborhoods.
One often hears people use the terms "the ghetto" or "the three-R reserves" when referring to the North Central area of Regina. In the United States, the central areas of the cities are characterized by a high percentage of African Americans. But in Canada, the Aboriginal population is found in all areas of the city. However, Christopher Leo points out that "growing numbers of lower-income Aboriginal people are left with no choice other than the inner city."
Urban sociologist Peter Marcuse points to the changes in North American cities. "Ghettos are neighborhoods that are socially isolated primarily because their residents cannot afford to live elsewhere." In contrast, "enclaves are neighborhoods that are socially isolated because people of a particular category choose to gather there, usually for mutual support and companionship." Thus in Toronto one finds the enclaves of Chinatown, Little Italy, and the gay district. "In contrast, ghettos tend to imprison their residents and limit their opportunities."
Sprawl development has its costs. Inner city schools are shut, parks and playgrounds are not upgraded, public transportation declines, crime increases, the inner city tax base erodes as housing deteriorates, new roads are built and inner city streets decay, snow removal costs rise, and school bussing increases. Then there are the externalized costs which are rarely measured, including noise
pollution and congestion, the stress and time lost driving cars, toxic air and water pollution, increased greenhouse gas emmissions, the disappearance of green space, and the loss of high quality farmland.
Regina home builders and real estate interests are pushing for more suburban development. Winnipeg social planner Sharon Markesteyn argues that the single detached home in the suburbs was "designed to support the nuclear family, where women were full-time housewives and mothers. But things have changed." Census figures for 1996 show the trends in Regina households. Traditional two-parent married families are declining. Common law families are increasing. Households without children are on the increase. Lone parent families are increasing. Single people living alone now make up 27% of all Regina households.
Tom Carter, of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, points out that demographic changes are not being reflected in the type of housing being constructed. "The greatest demand for housing in inner cities is for rental accommodations. People who live in inner cities are primarily low income, and they need low income housing. New single family dwellings in the suburbs do not meet the greatest housing need."
The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Housing suggested that Regina might go so far as to create "country residential" suburban development within the city limits. Is even further sprawl development the right road to take?
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author.
The Giant Boxstore: Corporate Colonialism Comes to Regina
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog (Regina),
"Stack it deep, sell it cheap, watch it fly and hear those downtown merchants cry."
Wal-Mart employee song.
Urban sprawl development has rested on the automobile economy and taxpayer support for the highway system. As middle class people moved to the suburbs, the shopping malls followed. The latest development is the giant wholesale box store.
The Canadian mall has been anchored by large corporate retailers and national chain stores. Local businesses have been systematically excluded, and the mall stores do not buy from local producers. The large box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Toys R Us, Staples and Office Depot arrived from the United States with the free trade agreement.
James Howard Kunstler argues in The Geography of Nowhere that the box store is "a form of corporate colonialism, going into distant places and strip-mining them culturally and economically." Not only do they destroy local businesses and suck capital out of the region, they also savage the shopping malls. There are now over 4,000 empty malls in the United States. In 1999 Wall-Mart reported that it had 333 empty stores, closed as the corporation shifted to larger Supercenters. Abandoned malls are starting to appear in Saskatchewan.
The Wal-Mart model
Wal-Mart is the prototype of the box store. It is the largest retailer in the world with sales over $160 billion from over 800 stores. Its 900,000 employees make it the largest private employer in the United States. After just a few short years it became the biggest retailer in Canada. Wal-Mart's corporate strategy, which gives investors an annual 25% return, sets the pace:
* Locate on the edge of smaller cities where land is cheap, there are no zoning restrictions, and low property taxes make large parking lots feasible.
* The large warehouse store with relatively few employees.
* Low wages and vigorous opposition to trade union organizing.
* Emphasis on low-cost goods imported from low-wage Third World countries.
* Market power ensures inventory from independent suppliers at the lowest cost.
* Centralized, computerized distribution centres, just-in-time wholesaling, dependent
on the taxpayer-subsidized trucking system.
Since 1988 Wal-Mart has been moving into the grocery field and is now the largest grocer in the United States. The new "Supercenters" offer 180,000 square feet of floor space for "one-stop shopping." This is the rapid growth sector of the corporation; they plan to go from 600 Supercenters in 2000 to 1,400 by 2005. They are already building these stores in Mexico, and in the near future Canada will follow. The assistant manager of the new Regina store tells me that they have planned for a grocery addition and will be going head-to-head with their neighbour, Weston's Superstore. It will be possible to serve the Canadian prairies from a new Wal-Mart Distribution Center in north central United States.
Economist Tom Muller's studies found that 84% of Wal-Mart's sales came from other businesses. For every two jobs created in a warehouse store, three are lost. They don't buy from local manufacturers or producers but larger national firms. Dairyland Foods, our prairie farmer-owned co-operative, recently sold out to Saputo Inc., a large private firm. Dairy farmers were told that if they did not get bigger and faster they would lose access to the national grocery retailers.
The most widely-cited study of the box store phenomenon was done by Ken Stone, an economics professor at Iowa State University. He monitored the impact of Wal-Mart on Iowa between 1983 and 1993. The state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building suppliers, 269 clothing stores, 161 variety stores, 153 shoe stores, and 116 drug stores. A total of 7,326 businesses went under. Sales at discount warehouse stores rose $425 million but fell by $603 million at the eleven store types studied.
The Regina city administration is welcoming the big box stores with open arms while claiming that they want to see the downtown area redeveloped. The Weston Superstore on Albert Street was around 40,000 square feet and was reported to be the most profitable Weston food store in Canada with sales averaging between $1.8 and $2.2 million per week. It has been replaced by two 140,000 square foot stores on the east and west ends of the City.
I visited the new stores recently. They were relatively vacant. I asked shoppers what they thought of them. The most common response I got was that "they're too big. It takes too long to do your shopping." Elderly people in particular did not like the large store. The new Wal-Mart on the east end of the city was also virtually empty. My initial thought was that it will be a long time before these stores show a profit.
Philip St. George, retail expert for KPMG Peat Marwick, recently told Business Week Magazine that mall sales are dropping in the United States. "Only 25% to 30% of grocery shoppers are motivated primarily by low price. Most customers put convenience at the top of their shopping list." With both parents working, leisure time is the top priority for a great many families. They don't want to spend two hours in the grocery store. On weekends, they prefer to be with their kids.
Ironically, Wal-Mart has recognized this gap in their marketing strategy. In 1998 they began building Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets, 40,000 square foot grocery stores, similar to the abandoned Superstore on Albert street.
Laurence Gerckens, professor emeritus in urban planning at Ohio State University, sees urban sprawl, and its resulting inequalities, as the failure of urban development in North America. He contrasts it to the European tradition of ecological regional planning. In the late 1920s, North America shifted from planning to zoning, building highways, and outward suburban expansion. The result has been inner city decay, strip development, malls and box stores, and traffic nightmares in the suburbs. A drive east on Victoria Avenue tells it all.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author.
Wal-Mart Named "Sweatshop Retailer of the Year"
In June 2000 a coalition of churches, trade unions and social groups named Wal-Mart "Sweatshop Retailer of the Year" for its leadership role in the "sweatshop" movement. The award was given because "Wal-Mart distinguished itself as a retailer sourcing from and selling clothes made in countries ruled by repressive governments, by exploiting young people working in subhuman conditions, paid slave wages, and not allowed to organize."
Store surveys show that on average 83% of Wal-Mart's ticked items are made offshore, and a search of U.S. Customs Department records shows that 53% of Wal-Mart's imports come from China.
Wal-Mart contracts for its Kathie Lee handbags at the Qin Shi Handbag factory, Zhongshan City, in Guangdong Province, China. There are 1,000 workers at the factory, and 90% are men aged 16 to 23 years of age. They work 14 hour shifts, 7 days a week, 30 days a month. They average $3.10 for a 98 hour week, or three cents an hour. The highest wage is 10 cents an hour. The workers are housed in dormatories, 16 to a room, and fed two meals a day. They are charged for dorm and living expenses. Many workers have no net earnings at the end of the month and are in debt to the company. They are allowed to leave the factory for only 1 ½ hours a day. This is called globalization.
Can Regina adopt "Smart Growth"?
by John W. Warnock
Prairie Dog (Regina)
Last year we saw dramatic changes in Regina. The Weston Corporation built two huge Superstores at the city fringes and closed their downtown store. Wal Mart opened a new megastore at the east end of the city and announced they were going to build another in the north end. The store in Northgate mall on Albert Street will be closed.
The Hudson Bay Company moved into the Cornwall Centre when Eaton's went bankrupt, and the old Bay building is empty. Businesses continued to vacate The Galleria, and the owners are seriously considering tearing it down. The city demolished the beautiful, historic Medical and Dental building as well as the Rose Village Mall and the Forbes Anderson property. City Council announced that the number one priority for the downtown area is to create more parking spaces. The new Lakeridge Sports Park was announced for the east end of Rochdale, while inner city schools, like Albert Scott, continue to have few sports facilities.
Is there an alternative to this kind of development? Yes, there is. In urban planning it is called "smart growth," and it is expanding across North America.
The Rise of Smart Growth
Christopher Leo at the University of Winnipeg stresses that smart growth is "growth management that involves the attempt to set out rules for development that are designed to preserve the livability, viability and attractiveness of an entire urban area." They require that city planning be directed for the common good rather than just following the profit drive of developers.
Edward McMahon, an urban planner, points out that there are already smart growth trends throughout North America. Large cities are now constructing suburban town centres with green space and high density housing. Across the United States voters are demanding open, green space. People are moving back downtown to avoid commuting and to gain easy access to jobs, parks, universities, theatres, and interesting architecture. "They are walking, instead of driving," McMahon notes.
The key to smart growth is the promotion of higher density housing
Oregon set the example by establishing growth boundaries for cities, emphasizing urban infill development,
promoting public transit, rebuilding downtown centres, increasing public spaces, making streets pedestrian friendly, limiting downtown parking, and changing building codes to encourage mixed-use development.
Dr. John Holtzclaw of the Sierra Club stresses that smart growth helps preserve the environment and conserve energy. "Apartments and row houses use far less energy thanindividual detached housing, less arable land, and require one-fifth as much infrastructure costs." New York City, even with its bright lights and cold climate, uses only 50 percent as much energy per capita as the U.S. average. "It's the high density housing, good public transit and walking. And with this comes great theatre, concerts, cheap ethnic restaurants, libraries and a wide variety of stores."
Subsidizing Urban Sprawl Development
The first requirement for change is to end the public subsidies for suburban sprawl development. On a per-capita basis, providing infrastructure for low density, single house suburbs is much higher than high density development.
In new suburban areas developers and builders pay for installing the infrastructure on the site being developed. The Regina and District Homebuilders' Association argues that this costs around $25,000 per house, and it is included in the price of the new house.
In addition, there is the "hectarage fee" collected by the city which is supposed to offset the additional costs to the city of servicing the new suburban area. Ned Kosteniuk of the Homebuilders' Association reports that "in Regina these range from $4,000 to $6,000 per lot. We are in the process of negotiating changes with the City of Regina. These fees cover roads, water, sewers, parks and recreation."
Developers and builders insist that the hectarage fee is too high and discourages new homes from being built. The City administration claims that the present hectarage fees do not cover the real infrastructure costs to the rest of the city.
Studies in the United States that factor in all the additional costs to the entire infrastructure system including power, natural gas, telephone, schools, libraries, health services, police and fire raise the actual hectarage cost per lot to between $20,000 and $30,000. As David Bollier argues in How Smart Growth Can Stop Sprawl, "the city and older suburbs are subsidizing new infrastructure for developing suburbs."
But there is more. The social costs of suburban sprawl are never included in the hectarage fee system. These include increased air, water and noise pollution, traffic congestion, additional stress on commuters, traffic accidents, deaths and injuries, less greenspace, loss of agricultural land, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and inner city decay.
City policy can change. For example, Maryland and British Columbia have led the way in requiring all new developments to include a percentage of low and moderate income housing. Across North America zoning is being amended to permit higher-density housing in all residential areas. Substantial subsidies are granted to infill housing in older areas, as they bring in new city tax revenue without adding infrastructure costs. Smart growth cuts costs, promotes green spaces, reduces environmental damage, and promotes inner city and downtown redevelopment. Is there support for a new policy direction in Regina?
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author.
Council Must Act to Revive Downtown Regina
by John W. Warnock
October 15, 2001
All across North America the flight of the middle class to the suburbs has led to the collapse of the downtown areas of cities. We can certainly see this in Regina with the empty smaller stores, the closing of the grocery stores, the demolition of buildings, and the vacant lots. Department stores have moved to the suburban malls. After 6 pm the streets are empty.
But around 1990 a new trend began: the revitalization of downtown areas. Thus hopes rose when the City of Regina and Regina's Market Square announced that they were hiring two Denver, Colorado consulting groups to provide professional guidance for a new Downtown Development Plan. Denver is known throughout North America as a major success story in how to rebuild a decayed downtown core.
Denver as the model of success
A 1998 study by the Brookings Institution and the Fannie Mae Foundation in the U.S. found that the key to success is creating an atmosphere where people once again move downtown to live. Their survey of 24 U.S. cities found that "people are living downtown because they want to be near their work places and cultural amenities, and because they enjoy a bustling urban environment." Denver's present growth in the old Lower Downtown comes from "demand for housing, where condominiums, lofts, apartments, and townhouses are leased or sold as quickly as they are built."
The key to the reversal is demographic changes. Jennifer Moulton, director of Denver's Community Planning and Development Agency, points out that "the number of households without children is rising steadily. It was 66.4% in 1990 and is projected to reach 72% by 2010. People in their late 20s and 30s are marrying later and postponing families. Over-50 baby boomers are seeking maintenance-free living found in centre cities. This is precisely the type of household that is driving the interest in downtown living." Here in Saskatchewan, the category "single person living alone" is rising fast and now accounts for 26% of all households.
In a paper on how to create a living downtown, Moulton argues that "housing must be downtown's political and business priority." To attract people to live and visit the downtown area there must be good public transit service, a high quality street scape, good entertainment and shopping choices. It must be clean and safe, must preserve and reuse old buildings, and building codes must be changed to permit new development options. The city must devote significant resources to housing. And to be successful, the downtown area should be surrounded by viable neighbourhoods within walking distance.
Downtown businessmen reject smart growth
Impact of Market Sqwuare
The terms of the Regina study were set by Regina's Market Square, the organization of downtown businesses and property owners. The primary goal they set for the consultants, with the support of the City of Regina, was to provide help to "create an environment to encourage and attract new investment." When it came to selecting focus groups, the Denver firms only consulted downtown business and property owners.
Thus it was not surprising that the consultants concluded that "parking is the number one improvement priority among downtown property and business owners," and this became the primary focus of their report. Regina's City Council agreed.
Yet the consultants concluded that "an adequate supply of parking exists in parkades and on the streets." The problem was seen to be "the aversion of the general public to using downtown parkades." A major problem for downtown businesses, as David Suzuki pointed out in a visit to Regina, is the free (and subsidized) parking at the large suburban malls.
I asked several people why they don't use the parkades, and they all gave the same answer. Parkades charge a lot of money, they are dirty, dark, there are no people working there, and no security guards. Women told me they would not park there. One of Denver's first priorities was cleaning up, making the downtown attractive, and creating a new downtown police district with police on patrol around the clock.
The Downtown Development Plan produced by the consultants and Regina's Market Square was adopted by the City of Regina in July 1999. The City saw its role to demolish the Medical and Dental Building, the Rose Village Mall, and the Forbes Anderson property, and along with two other city-owned properties, create "interim" surface parking lots.
In contrast, Denver moved to prevent the demolition of old buildings, preferring to convert them to other uses. They also revoked the right to create surface parking lots. As Moulton argues, "if these reusable buildings had been razed, the redevelopment stage of the downtown residential cycle would have been stalled until new construction was viable."
John Hopkins, who works for Regina's Market Square, argues that "we are putting a high priority on developing housing in the downtown area. But the conversion of older building is difficult because of the national building codes." For those presently living in the downtown area, the major complaint is lack of services, especially a grocery store.
The Denver consultants proposed an "entertainment opportunity site" in the Rose and Broad street area of downtown Regina. It was hoped that a new multi-plex cinema would anchor this zone. But while the consultants' report praises developments in the adjacent Cathedral and Transition areas as contributing to a viable downtown centre, they completely ignore the Core community area, which butts up against Broad street. Along with Regina's Market Square and the City, they dodged the key question: can there be any revitalization of the downtown centre without also revitalizing the inner city Core community area?
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and author.
Winnipeg Offers Inner-city Lesson for Regina
By John W. Warnock
November 19, 2001
Recently the Ministry of Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs held a meeting at Albert Scott School to hear from the public on the proposed Framework for Co-operation with Métis and off-reserve First Nations people. The province will spend $10 million in this budget on this program. Of this, $7 million is going to support community schools.
At the meeting people expressed their dismay over the persistence of poverty, unemployment and the devastation caused by the steady decline in social assistance income. The problem most cited was the lack of good, affordable housing. As one Aboriginal woman proclaimed: "I have listened to government promises for twenty-five years. Yet nothing is done and everything in our community is getting worse."
In July 2000 the City released the report of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Housing. It specifically rejected the Winnipeg model of housing and inner-city redevelopment. After making two research trips to Winnipeg, it is my belief that we can learn a lot from their experience.
The Winnipeg model
The first phase of the Winnipeg Core Area Initiative covered 1981-1986, the second phase 1986-1991. This was a planned, combined effort of all three levels of government, investing $96 million in phase one and $100 million in phase two. The central focus was on training and job placement, housing redevelopment, and support for community development.
In the first phase $12.9 million was used as core funding to upgrade 6,000 houses and build 500 new houses. In the second phase $10 million was used to renovate 1,000 houses and build 327. In phase one 2,241 unemployed people completed training programs and 1,968 jobs were created. The results of phase two were similar.
This inner city redevelopment program was replaced by the Winnipeg Development Agreement, which covered 1995-2000. The three levels of government provided $75 million used for a wide range of community development projects.
Community Development Corporations
Today, Winnipeg inner city redevelopment is driven by Community Development Dorporations (CDCs). They are created by local neighborhoods and involve a broad section of the community including residents, businesses, churches, organizations, financial institutions, and schools. Planning comes from the community, from the bottom up.
The basic principles of CDCs include local neighbourhood ownership, leadership at the neighbourhood level, civic participation in all basic decision making, empowerment of local residents, skill development of local residents, and partnership at the local level and with the larger community.
The first CDC in Winnipeg was started in the West Broadway neighbourhood. As local supporter Paul Chorney told me, "This was once an elegant area of the city. But it experienced decline with suburban development and the resulting lack of local government attention and investment. Homes were converted to single-room tenements for the very poor, the crime rate increased, and the drug trade brought in local gangs. Aboriginal people moving to Winnipeg came to the area for relatively cheap housing. Around 4,000 people live here today."
In 1991 local people created the West Broadway Alliance, a coalition of more than fifty local organizations. In 1997 they launched the West Broadway Development Corporation, designed to raise capital, initiate projects, and oversee a plan developed by local residents. Housing is a central focus, but projects include local training and employment programs, child care facilities, recreational programs for youth, upgrading of the community centre, community gardens, a job skills services and restorative justice programs.
The key is upgrading affordable housing
A key goal of the CDC is to provide upgraded housing for the local residents. They are opposed to gentrification, renovation which leads to an influx of upper middle class people and the displacement of low income people. This is what happened in the Cathedral area of Regina.
Linda Williams of the Tenant-Landlord Co-operation Project showed me two large apartments on Langside Street. "These apartment buildings are privately owned. They're in very good condition, and one has been totally renovated. The rents are low, and almost all the tenants are on social assistance. They love the place, and they get along well with the landlord." On the renovated building a sign listed the rents: bachelor suites, $277; one-bedroom apartments, $328; two-bedroom apartments, $368. There is nothing like these apartments in Regina! And yes, the landlord still makes a reasonable profit.
Homes which were boarded up or in poor condition are being bought and upgraded. Some have been converted to duplexes. Three houses are being converted into a co-op for six families, with a common room, common kitchen area and common laundry. The Lions Housing Centre, a member of the Alliance, is buying and renovating houses and has built a new panel-module three bedroom home which is for sale for $50,000. It was built to R-2000 specifications.
"The impact of the CDC has been amazing," Paul Chorney adds. "People are upgrading their own homes. Three years ago people were afraid to walk in the neighbourhood. That's no longer the case."
The community redevelopment process is well under way in Winnipeg. The CDCs have had the financial support of the three levels of government through the Winnipeg Development Agreement. The Assiniboine Credit Union actively promotes community development and has been involved in extensive financing. The Jubilee Fund, the interfaith coalition, mobilizes capital for risky ventures. They receive financing from the Crocus Labour Fund. The two universities have been active participants. The city government has given full support to the revitalization cause.
The Winnipeg experience points to where Regina could be going. The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Housing concluded that "social housing projects must be targeted to the city's households that have the greatest need." That would be people on social assistance. But to date nothing is being done. What is needed here is a community revitalization movement driven by people who live in the inner-city neighbourhoods. Winnipeg's project was started and supported by Conservative and Liberal governments. Perhaps we need a change of government here before anything will happen.
John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist. He co-authored The Disappearance of Affordable Housing in Regina for the Council on Social Development Regina.
Adding to Suburban Sprawl Wrong Route for Regina
by Jim Elliott and John W. Warnock
December 7, 2004
On November 22 the Regina City Council voted unanimously to approve the new urban plan, Long Term Residential Growth. Following the basic city plan adopted in 1961, our city government now calls for large areas of farmland to be added to the city in the northwest, southwest and southeast. This is the wrong way to go.
The Mayor and City Council have accepted the argument that Regina will grow to 235,000 and then 300,000. Furthermore, they believe that the great majority of those moving to Regina will want to live in large single detached homes in suburban areas.
There is little reason to believe that Regina will grow as projected. The population of the province has been stable at about one million people since the 1930s. Between 1991 and 2001 the growth of Regina averaged 0.1% per year. Even with an annual increase of 0.2% the population would only reach 190,753 by the year 2035. We would only reach 208,698 by 2080. Given that the population for Canada is projected to peak, a rapid growth rate for Regina could only be expected if there were a very significant increase in population moving here from elsewhere in Canada and abroad. Is that likely to happen?
As the Census reveals, all of the elements of population change, natural growth, international migration, inter-provincial migration and intra-provincial migration have been declining or have net decreases for the last eleven years. One group within the city, Aboriginal people, has bucked that trend. But most of these people have low incomes and cannot afford to buy suburban homes. Elderly people are moving to Regina to retire, and most are seeking apartments or condominiums. A loss of population could be expected as the baby boom generation moves on to the next life.
Since the 1950s residential housing development in North America has concentrated on suburban expansion of single-family houses on relatively large lots. As many studies have shown, the "hectarage fees" charged by cities for these suburban lot developments may cover the building of local roads, water and sewer services within the area being developed, but they do not cover the costs of installing and operating telephone and power, highway development, public transit, garbage collection, road repair, schools, libraries, police, fire, community centres, and other public services. The norm has been that the older areas of the city have subsidized suburban development. This is one reason why city taxes have been steadily rising.
But there are other costs to suburban development that are externalized. Suburban homes use more materials and resources in their construction, devour much valuable arable land, and require much higher uses of energy. People are forced to use automobiles to travel to work, schools, shops and other services. Traffic deaths and injuries increase. Greater automobile use results in air pollution causing illness and early death. Noise pollution increases. A new study by the Rand Corporation reports a direct link between suburban sprawl and the incidence of many chronic health ailments. None of these costs are born by those who choose to live or site their businesses in the new suburban areas.
Then there are the social costs of this type of development, seen in Regina and across North America. Those with higher incomes move to the suburbs, leaving those with lower incomes to the inner city. The socially disadvantaged gather in the inner city where rents and the price of houses are lower. Social inequalities are intensified. Services are poorer in the inner city. Crime rates tend to be higher. The downtown centres of cities are hollowed out as businesses collapse or move. These social costs of suburban sprawl are passed on to the public at large.
The new plan for Regina is anything but compact growth. It is the opposite of "smart growth" which is being introduced across North America. The study by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on the ecological footprint of Canada's 16 largest cities found that Regina and Saskatoon were worst with the highest amount of built on land per capita at .44 hectares. Population density is actually decreasing. As Professor Avi Friedman warned in his presentations in Regina, natural gas is rapidly disappearing and we can all expect steady major increases in natural gas prices. The value of large suburban homes will fall as natural gas prices go up. This is stressed in the Canadian film, The End of Suburbia, now being shown around Regina by the Sierra Club. It is rather astonishing that our city planners and government are ignorant of this reality.
Suburban development is closely linked to the car culture, large shopping stores and now box store "power complexes" that we know all too well. Numerous studies have shown that these corporate stores destroy more jobs than they create, force locally owned businesses to the wall, and drive down wages in the wholesale and retail sectors. They are huge black holes that suck capital out of the local economy. They receive large hidden subsidies, particularly for parking space. While they pay some property taxes, they result in an overall decline in taxes as property values in the older shopping areas fall.
Thus the Regina Area Group of the New Green Alliance has called on the Regina City Council to create an independent commission to study the true costs of suburban sprawl development and box store "power centres" using the full cost pricing system now used in the United States. The commission should also look at the costs of urban "smart growth" which is the alternative. Only when we have all the information can we make educated choices on local development and taxation policy. The New Green Alliance believes that smart growth is the right choice to make in the new era of global warming and climate change.
Jim Elliott and John W. Warnock are members of the New Green Alliance and presented briefs to City Council advocating a smart growth development policy.