The problem for me is that we always seem to be just on the cusp of big changes toward building a more sustainable city, but then progress seems to stall. This despite the fact that we have probably the biggest potential of any city in Canada to set a new standard that cities around the world could look up to and strive to be like.
The two problems I’m seeing are 1) a city council that talks big but is much more timid in action, and 2) not all city departments are on the same page as even the smallest visions of council, the transportation department primarily.
Things that I think would help:
1. Get the Transportation department in line. From little things like giving inner city and mature neighborhoods priority for snow removal and street sweeping, to making sure big roadway projects like 99 St. reconstruction not only respect but further enhance the experience for more than just cars – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit.
2. Revise The Way We Grow (yes, this soon after it was passed). The 25/75 split of infill versus expansion is ridiculous and unsustainable. For those new neighborhoods that we do approve, set the standard much higher: Allow more mixed uses, include alternative transportation as design rather than afterthought, build walkable and vibrant community centres that don’t require everyone to drive for everyday things, and require sustainable design and building practices.
3. Build neighborhoods and communities instead of roads. 99 St. is a prime example here, too; the opportunity existed to enhance and build a cool little niche of a neighborhood; instead of got a widened thoroughfare in what was once one of the more walkable mature and central neighborhoods.
4. Lose the fear of traffic and congestion. Traffic and congestion are going to happen, that’s just a fact of urban life. But the longer it takes to happen is the longer it takes for people to ditch their cars, move closer to work, and demand more transit, LRT, and bike infrastructure. Don’t be afraid to narrow roads to provide more sidewalks, bike lanes, transit lanes, or metered parking where appropriate. Don’t be afraid to tear apart the ridiculously overbuilt interchanges by the Muttart, and return the land to the public as park space.
A prime example of nos. 3 and 4: The proposed “winter garden” pedway over 104 Ave. as part of the arena project. 104 Ave is too scary to cross at grade? Maybe if we brought it down to the scale of a downtown arterial rather than a near-expressway it might be less scary. Narrow it down, convert the curb lanes to metered parking, and ensure all new developments (including the arena) have an active street front brought up to the sidewalk with minimal setback. Make it feel like a downtown street, and maybe it will feel less intimidating to walk along or across.
I realize it’s a difficult balance that the city needs to find, but I don’t believe we have found it yet – we’re not even close. We have grand dreams and visions, but those don’t seem to be getting passed down to the departments and people who are empowered to act on them. But we are taking a lot of good steps and making good strides, and I hope to see that momentum continue and grow.