A wasted effort
By now, everyone's heard of the Downtown Revitalization Project, the City of Regina's attempt to beautify (and rectify) our comparatively-measly downtown area. Maybe you are sick of hearing about it, or maybe you're only hearing about it now for the first time, being the sheltered, studious, when-I-say-I-don't-get-out-much-I-mean-it university student that you are. Either way, I'm entitled to my say about this. I've kept my mouth shut and have been passive on the subject, collecting every scrap of information since back when today's downtown improvement project was just proposed ideas, to form my opinion on this subject.
Back in fall 2007, the city put forth a series of proposals to “initiate a process of replacing the 20-year-old plan of Downtown Regina.” A few principles were decided upon, among which were that downtown should be “a complete, liveable community,” “gorgeous,” and (my favourite) “downtown should build upon its unique identity and heritage: buildings, streets and landscapes.”
Four years later, downtown is looking, well, different. The project remains unfinished as of yet, but fingers are crossed that it will be complete before snowfall. I know I'm excited to see the “twinkle plaza,” as the workers have dubbed it (the plaza is filled with lights that “twinkle” at night.) I understand that this is as of yet an unfinished project, and I'm sure that this plaza will be “gorgeous” once it is completed, but I have one question: was it worth it?
I was excited to hear that the city is paying millions of dollars to fund a beautifying project, and that we would have a second Scarth Street, so to speak. Being both a downtown resident and employee, I get to see the progress made each month. It fills me with pride to think that one day, our city will be bigger and better and able to hold its own against all of the bigger, better, more on-the-map cities out there.
That is, until the other day, when I saw that they had installed traffic lights in the open-air plaza. The goal behind creating this plaza is to create “clear pedestrian environments” and help small-business owners by increasing foot traffic – which, admittedly, this project just may do. However, why are we spending so much time, effort, and money on a beautifying project that is supposedly for the pedestrians, if we're going to be putting traffic through there? All this time, they weren't extending the park; they were just making a pretty street.
How long will the stones last with constant vehicular traffic? Combine that with the Saskatchewan weather extremes and it will get worn down to the same state of the Scarth Street cobbles in less than half the time. True, the stones on Scarth aren't so terrible, but this is an expensive project, and why is the city doing this if it's not going to follow through with its original principles? “It’s fascinating to see some people complain about a project that will do nothing but make Regina much more beautiful and greatly increase the quality of life,” said a Regina resident on the City of Regina's Facebook page.
I know it will, Mr. Resident, I know it will. I'm just concerned that we've meandered off in the wrong direction with this. We're talking about 75,000 square feet (about 1.2 football fields), 43,000 cubic feet of concrete, 345,000 paving stones, 644 lights consisting of four main lights, 33 decorative lights, 13 “living-room” lights, 14 sunshade pole lights and around 580 “twinkle lights.” This immense effort is all going to be squandered by allowing traffic through the Open-Air Plaza. It's a shame. I was starting to see it as a worthwhile expansion of Victoria Park, but now all I can see is exhaust fumes, a dirty-snow street this winter, and a mud-tracked boulevard come spring.
The City of Regina states that “downtown should be a source of civic pride, with a strong identity.” Right now, I find myself perched atop the fence between the two; I'm proud of the city for working hard, following a vision, and getting the job done – but our identity? Is our identity that of a city who had a vision for an awesome pedestrian plaza, then installed traffic lights?
Navigate the City of Regina website and all its PDF glory at regina.ca.