Thursday 20 February 2014

Urban Growth and Native Prairie

The Northeast Swalewatchers are fighting for the protection of the Northeast Swale, a 26 km long strip of native prairie and wetlands joining the river at each end, which is now one of the few remaining natural areas left near Saskatoon. Urban growth pressures continue, relentlessly, to have a deleterious effect on the natural world and therefore on us, whether we fully realize this or not. The Northeast Swalewatchers believe that protecting wetlands and native prairie grasslands, in unbroken parcels or as corridors, must be part of the planning for the growth of the City of Saskatoon.

The Swalewatchers are particularly concerned that the Rural Municipalities of Aberdeen and Corman Park are not interested in protecting the Swale within their jurisdictions. They are also concerned about the impact the proposed Perimeter Bridge could have on the Swale. As a result, they were eager to attend the one-day forum on Urban Transportation and Design: Getting Where We Need To Go, sponsored by APEGS, City of Saskatoon, and the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability, on January 24, 2014.

EcoFriendly Sask provided the Northeast Swalewatchers with a grant of $200 to cover the registration fees for Louise Jones and Anna Leighton.

Native Prairie
Saskatchewan retains between 17 and 21% of its original native prairie; however, most of it is in small parcels (PCAP-SK website). Areas no smaller than 225 hectares are required if animals and plants are to thrive, and adding up small parcels is not the same as a large parcel of the same size.

The Swale is a specific example of a large intact natural area whose ability to survive is being threatened by the surrounding urban neighbourhoods and supporting infrastructure. Knowing how quickly these natural areas are disappearing as the city expands its boundaries, the Swalewatchers believe it is critical to designate areas for protection. Natural areas are important in their own right as habitat for many plants and animal species, but also for reducing GHG emissions and absorbing excess rainwater.

Forum Summary 
Derek Thompson, Lands Branch – Balancing Sprawl and Density 
Derek defined urban sprawl in terms of density and discussed the concept of an urban village. He expects the new neighbourhood of Aspen Ridge to have a slightly higher density than Evergreen with a collector street with commercial on either side.

Alan Wallace, Planning and Development – Growing Forward! Shaping Saskatoon
Alan discussed how to sustainably grow the city to a population of half a million. If we do not change what we do, our city is going to be costly to build and to maintain, nor will it be the city that people want. The City is setting a goal of getting 30% of the next 250,000 residents to live in the downtown area. Public transit is going to be a major area of focus with Bus Rapid Transit. The City is holding its first public consultation on February 25 at TCU Place.

Rhonda Toohey, City of Edmonton 
Rhonda spoke about transportation planning for a sustainable and livable city. Edmonton began the process six years ago as they faced the same issues. Recently their population has grown by 13% while the increase in traffic has doubled. They now have an implementation plan and a means of measuring progress. They have staff looking at social marketing to help the City meet its objectives since one of the biggest challenges is getting the support of the citizens as the City implements the Transportation Plan. They are looking at school curriculum as a way to imbed behavioural changes.

Bob Patrick, Regional and Urban Planning, University of Saskatchewan – Transportation Behaviour, Trends and Adaptation
Bob looked at the growth of suburbia and the use of curvilinear streets and cul-de-sac designs and with it the increased dependence on the automobile. He showed a chart which clearly demonstrated the relationship between low urban density and high transport-related energy consumption. Sustainable communities must look at other ways to move people during the commute to avoid building and maintaining costly infrastructure for peak energy use.

Angela Gardiner, Director of Transportation, City of Saskatoon – Saskatoon Survey on Transportation Behaviour 
Angela spoke about a survey to collect data on movement of vehicles on the roads that was completed in the fall of 2013 (last survey done in 1999). Out of 9500 residents, 3800 surveys were submitted. The University of Saskatchewan was targeted separately and 500 surveys came from there. Unfortunately, the analysis will not be completed for several months. It will inform the travel demand plan. There was no discussion of transportation demand management.

Ian Loughran, Manager Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environment and Corporate Initiatives – Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Transportation
Ian related saving GHG emissions to economic savings. Saskatchewan is the top per capita emitter in the country, and Canada is the highest in the world. Transportation creates about 43% of the GHH emissions “pie” with 86% generated by automobiles. We need to increase bus ridership and carpooling (84% of car commutes travel alone). Increasing bus ridership is possible. While Saskatoon is at 4%, Calgary’s ridership is at 15%.

Anna and Louise asked questions of the speakers in plenary and participated actively in the various roundtable sessions.

There also were many opportunities for networking during the breaks. Roundtable sessions were recorded and a report will be made available to participants by the end of March.

Further Information
Giving Nature a Voice at the Urban Planning Table: Saskatoon's Northeast Swale
Edmonton Planner Offers Advice to Saskatoon
EcoFriendly Action Grants