Originally Posted by casper
I grew up in Vancouver where the city was boxed in by the ocean, mountains and the US boarder. A large portion of the land was protected by being in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Much of the neighborhood I grew-up in has been torn-down as 1940-50s bungalows have been replaced by monster homes. Not certain how environmentally responsible carting perfectly good homes to the dump is.
On the prairies the natural boundaries do not exist so what constrains the city is political or land owners. Saskatoon is an odd city, in that a large portion of the land base was endowed to the University and is used as agricultural research land. Having farmland (with research farms) surrounded by the city is a bit odd. There is no questions, having more development in the city centre would be good. That said suburbs are going to be built and I think the ones being built now (in comparison to the ones from 10-20 years ago) are much denser and lower impact. These have a bit more mixed use, smaller lots, some mixed use, back lanes, etc.
Is Saskatoon an exception or is the same trend occurring in other parts of the country?
The natural boundaries existent in Vancouver are an obvious reason as to why intensification has occurred. There's no perfect development scenario where we can act in complete harmony with the environment, no matter how we develop we are impacting the environment in some way, shape or form. As you referenced in your own experiences in Vancouver, seeing perfectly good homes being bulldozed.
That being said, environmentally we are still better off demolishing good standing homes for higher densities. The alternative is to expand the city footprint into further natural areas. The argument for intensification and against peripheral growth expands beyond environment cities. Through higher densities we have the ability for cost savings by utilizing existing infrastructure, we can create exciting and vibrant neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods that are welcoming to people from all walks of life and allow for the provision of effective and efficient transit options.
Saskatoon's growth patterns certainly aren't any different than the majority of our Prairie Cities. You find a similar lack of natural barriers in Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and in cities lower in the urban hierarchy. In the last 5 years, I think there have been some positives steps to neighbourhood design in greenfield developments, but there's still a long ways to go. For the most part commercial nodes are still an absolute failure dominated by big box stores. There has been some attempt to increase densities, but these developments are still struggling to grasp the concept of great urban design. In my opinion that's where these neighbourhoods are still failing. Simple design changes could vastly improve the neighbourhood - but for whatever reason we haven't necessarily embraced these small, yet important concepts relating to design.
I can agree with you that there will always be a demand for new peripheral development in cities that are not constrained by natural barriers. That being said, what I am advocating for, is a better balance between intensification within the urban footprint and peripheral growth. In Regina the balance is hoped to be somewhere around 75-25 (peripheral to urban growth). That's simply not good enough. Our cities are facing financial deficits, increasing environmental concerns, longer commute times and a plethora of other critical issues. We are doing absolutely nothing to address said problems by focusing growth at the periphery of the city. In fact it's only further perpetuating the problem.
Another aspect to consider is that places like Saskatoon and Regina are attempting to promote downtown revitalization. There's only so much growth in these cities. On a relative scale to Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, this actual growth is quite small. If we are serious about improving the standing of our downtowns, then we need to focus on that aforementioned balance. With relatively small growth, you can only achieve so many policy objectives. You can't say, we want 5000 new residents in downtown in the next 10 years, but we also want to accommodate 25,000 new residents through peripheral growth. The numbers don't add up, the growth isn't there to satisfy both objectives. As I said, it's about creating a balance between these two contending forms of development. Right now and for the past 60 years, we've been favouring greenfield development. It has created countless issues for our cities and it's time to change the tide to promote growth that can negate these issues and create more livable and attractive cities.