Issue of Urban Sprawl in Regina
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- Ryan Boychuk
Urban Issue of Urban Sprawl in Regina
Urban Sprawl continues to be the trend of city growth in Canada. In the city of Regina, urban sprawl is a problem that needs to be addressed among the city planners. Negative effects of urban sprawl include, but are not limited to, increase in public expenditure, auto reliance, health, environment and social living. The purpose of this paper is to offer an empirical investigation of the factors proposed as generators of urban sprawl.
The Auto Eccentric City
Many believe as Salingaros (2006, p. 114) that, "Sprawl exists only because it is an outgrowth of car activities." Thus, the focus here is on how auto reliance contributes to sprawl in Canada. Regina, like many other Canadian cities, is a very auto eccentric city. Sprawling communities are a major contributor to climate change and air pollution, in part because they require so much automotive transportation, which is heavily dependent on energy consumption from fossil fuels, the biggest source of greenhouse gases. Since 2005 Canadian vehicles have contributed to approximately 170Mt in C02 emissions. This number is due to the sheer amount of people in Canada that rely on vehicles to go virtually everywhere. According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on time use, the proportion of people aged 18 and over who went everywhere by car as either a driver or a passenger rose from 68% in 1992, to 70% in 1998 and then 74% in 2005. This rising trend in auto culture inadvertently causes a push for more roads, more suburbs, successfully created more urban sprawl. As Regina continues to grow outwards and push for suburban development city plans are contributing to this ever growing traffic problem,. Not only is this detrimental to the environment but the lifestyle itself is unsustainable. The excessive use of fossil fuels in this auto reliant culture will eventually cause many irreversible problems in the future.
The Increase of Public Expenditure
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. 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 of inner city decline and how the city is affected by this process.
"When a metropolitan area is divided into neighborhoods where poverty predominates and others were 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. To present date, little has been accomplished in combating this issue at hand. Gang violence has been a problem that the residents of North Central Regina have been constantly at arms with. According to a 2005 study done by the Criminal Intelligence Service Saskatchewan, there are approximately 500 gang members and associates operating out of Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert. Not only is the economic viability and safety of the community threatened, but also the residents are left feeling alienated. People living in these areas feel afraid to leave their houses, go to the park or even participate in community reinforcement activities. The NCCA is currently trying to get it’s funding to bring back the RAGS program and hopefully reduce gang violence in Regina.
Rise of The Box Store
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”. Economist Tom Mueller'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. Ken was an economics professor at Iowa State University and 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.10 It’s hard to see the positivity in light of this box store epidemic. This was a shocking number for me but taking a drive down victoria you can see this as an evident problem in regina. These stores do not only pose a threat economically but also culturally. Cities characters have been stripped as there unique local business have been outmatched. This in turn has created a very Dull homogenized atmosphere within Regina and cities in other areas of the world.
The Effects on Health
Sprawl affects us in surprising ways. It cuts into our precious free time and contributes to expanding our waistlines. A commuter who drives just one hour each day spends the equivalent of nine working weeks a year in a car. Researchers have found that people living in sprawling suburbs spend less time walking and weigh up to six pounds more than those living in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. According to Ontario College of Family Physicians, there are five main health effects due to urban sprawl. These effects of urban sprawl are as follows, Commuting and driver stress, loss of natural environment, loss of social capital, loss of community and negative effects towards childhood development.
”In these spread-out communities, homes are separated from schools, workplaces, stores and services, forcing people to drive virtually everywhere. More time driving means less time with family and friends, less time for oneself, and less time to engage in community activities. 1 Research shows that urban sprawl commuters spend 3 to 4 times more hours driving than individuals living in well-planned, dense communities.” 2
Those extra hours that we spend driving in cities such as Regina contribute to more back pain, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, asthma, headaches and stress. There is also research stating that traffic congestion also has adverse effects on one's blood pressure, mood frustration tolerance, illness frequency, work absences, job stability, and overall life satisfaction. Taking all this into account you can see that these additional stresses on our lives can contribute to depression, home abuse and many other damaging social problems prevalent in our society.
“Thousands of pedestrians and drivers die every year in North America. The anguish and emotional scarring caused by the death of a loved one, permanent disabilities and related pain and suffering greatly impacts at every level of our social structure. 14% of traffic accident survivors have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 10 and 25% have psychiatric problems one year after an accident.” 2
Road rage is one example of mental health stress related to driving that has received considerable attention in recent years. Road rage is characterized by violent disputes between drivers that sometime causes serious injuries or even death; often road rage involves people who are not usually violent. The two primary causes for aggressive driving are being rushed or behind schedule, and increased congestion and traffic. Road rage also contributes to higher percentage of accidents as drivers tend to make poor decisions in a heightened mood. Walking or biking are not only healthier alternatives in terms of physique and stress relief but are also generally safer in biker friendly areas. Unfortunately, there is usually little emphasis on walking and biking services in car culture.
The environment that we live in affects our health in both negative and positive ways. Animals, plants, landscapes and wilderness all have a tremendous impact on human well-being, as humans are innately attracted to other living organisms. Positive effects of the natural environment have been documented and include improved social and cognitive functioning, and decreased violence.A study done in Chicago found that people who live in buildings surrounded by greenspace have a stronger sense of community, better relationships with neighbours and less heated domestic conflicts.1
Impact on Social aspects
Research today is beginning to gather undeniable evidence that cons of Urban communities definitely outweigh the benefits. Over the past half-century, many writers have addressed the isolating effect of low-density suburban development. The use of vehicles does not encourage the same level of social interaction that could exist if residents met each other on the street (Katz and Bradley 1999). Suburban residents are also less likely to take on additional community responsibilities due to increased commuting times (Putnam 2000). Some writers have gone as far as suggesting that the most common interaction between neighbours in suburbia is through the blinking turn signals on their cars (Holtz Kay 1997). Simply put, low-density suburban developments do not foster the same level of social interaction as dense, walkable, neighbourhoods.2
Regina’s policies to Improve Infrastructure
Green Field Development
Urban sprawl and greenfield development share only one common trait they both occur on the outskirts of urban areas. Unlike urban sprawl, where there is little or no suburban planning, greenfield development is about efficient urban planning that aims to provide practical, affordable and sustainable living spaces for growing urban populations. The planning takes future growth and development into account as well as seeks to avoid the various infrastructure issues that plague existing urban areas. Regina is currently in a process to formulate the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which will shape the way future growth will unfold. The public consultation process, Design Regina, that accompanies the new plan is such a great idea. We all need to be involved in the conversation about the future of our city. Citizens, Community Developers, Builders and Public Officials all need to be engaged in this process. In 2013 The province of Saskatchewan approved the new Official community plan, entitled design Regina and replaced the Regina Development Plan on December 2013. In this Plan they recognized the need for complete communities,thats is, communities that provide all necessary recreational, social and consumer need within close proximity to residential areas.6
“While the diversity of housing that has entered the market in the past few years has helped to improve housing choice based on location and housing preference, there is still a greater need for residential development in proximity to services and amenities to create complete communities. Similarly, the development of below market and affordable units in greenfield areas creates challenges due to a lack of nearby services resulting in increased transportation costs to meet a household’s everyday needs.” 3
In the official city document for the cities future there seems to be many goals aiming towards greener, more pedestrian friendly cities. According to the document, we have have had improvement overall for affordable housing in Regina. They are also making strides to address the increasing homeless population.
“The Cold Weather Strategy is a partnership program with the Ministry of Social Services and service providers to Regina’s homeless population, including shelters, emergency service agencies, the City, and health services. The purpose is to ensure services work together so no one is without a safe place to sleep on cold nights in Regina.” 3
There are also plans to increase housing diversity within the city to grant people more affordable housing that is still within city limits. With this plan we may see more development near inner city areas effectively breathing new life into otherwise stagnant areas.
1 Kuo, F., and Sullivan, W., (2001). “Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?” Environ. Behav. 33, pp 343 – 367.
2 SPRAWL, U. "Social & Mental Health - Ontario College of Family Physicians." 2013. <http://ocfp.on.ca/docs/committee-documents/urban-sprawl---volume-4---social-and-mental-health.pdf?sfvrsn=5>
3 "Design Regina." 2011. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://www.designregina.ca/>
4 "Canada's Emissions Trends 2013." 2015. 9 Apr. 2015 <https://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/985F05FB-4744-4269-8C1A-D443F8A86814/1001-Canada's%20Emissions%20Trends%202013_e.pdf>
5 GUIDE, ACS. "Understanding Sprawl - David Suzuki Foundation." 2010. <http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2003/Understanding_Sprawl.pdf>
6 "Don't Confuse Greenfield Development with Urban Sprawl ..." 2013. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://reginahomebuilders.com/news/view/20>
7 "Discourage Urban Sprawl - David Suzuki Foundation." 2010. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/reduce-your-carbon-footprint/discourage-urban-sprawl/>
8 "Causes and Effects of Urban Sprawl - Conserve Energy Future." 2013. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-urban-sprawl.php>
9 "Gang Culture in Regina and Saskatchewan | - The Carillon." 2013. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://www.carillonregina.com/gang-culture-in-regina-and-saskatchewan/>
10 "Urban sprawl development in Regina, Canada and the ..." 2005. 9 Apr. 2015 <http://www.johnwarnock.ca/sprawldevelopment.html>
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