This town ain’t big enough for the all of us
It’s time to get out of town.
I was recently sharing a shuttle with a mortgage broker who mentioned to the driver that there were rumours that Regina could top 500,000 people just five years from now. With two potash mines going up in the vicinity and the seemingly endless economic boom we are experiencing right now, apparently over-doubling the population of the city, which has been essentially stable since the early nineties, is a possibility according to some.
At first glance, doubling the population of Regina is an exciting prospect. While it would not bring the city up to the level of other metropolitan regions like Calgary, Vancouver, or Toronto, it would certainly make living in Regina feel more like living in a city rather than in an overgrown town. With higher population comes a greater proliferation of the arts, better public services, more options for classes at the university, and improved transportation infrastructure.
Or so one would hope. But if it’s even possible, the cheery prospect of Regina becoming a city of over 500,000 resident, essentially overnight is terrifying.
As we pointed out last week in our feature (“Going for broke,” January 26, Vol. 54 Issue 17), Regina’s vacancy rate could possibly hit 0.0 per cent within the next few years. That is not only unhealthy for the people that are looking to find housing, it’s unhealthy for the economy. How can Regina expect to double in size in only five years if there is no rental housing for the migrant workers that would have to be hired to build the thousands of new homes required to house these additional 300,000 residents? With such high demand, housing prices would become even more astronomical, making this city not only unliveable because of low vacancy rates, but unliveable due to the crippling cost of renting or owning a house.
On top of that, even if there is a pocket of people somewhere in Canada with deep pockets and a strange fantasy to live on a flat plain with bitterly cold winters (this winter being an exception), it seems unlikely that their kids will stick around, or the kids of the people currently living here for that matter. What young person just starting out could afford to live in a Regina plagued with a 0.0 per cent vacancy rate and a housing market that makes home ownership only a possibility for the extremely wealthy or polyamorous collectives?
Beside the fact that population would eventually collapse due to emigration, the people that do remain here will need to be crammed together in hospitals, clinics, restaurants, and any of the other venues Regina currently boasts. If you think the lines at Tim Hortons are ridiculous now, imagine adding thousands more people to the city. Our city just wasn’t designed to hold half a million people and still function efficiently.
Perhaps the prospects of Regina rapidly doubling in size would be less terrifying if the city showed any ability to plan for growth. However, the city’s inability to make the bus system appealing to citizens and its lack of vision for anything beyond a new stadium are troubling, and Victoria Avenue East, the huge number of poorly designed and poorly built homes in some of the newer areas, and the urban abomination that is Harbour Landing are not confidence inspiring.
This is not to say that growth is a bad thing. Over time, increasing the population of Regina would bring about all the good things that cities offer. But cramming 500,000 people into Regina in only five years will lead to urban sprawl, poorly constructed houses, and extreme strain on the existing infrastructure. If we don’t want to live in a late-19th-century hellhole, it might be time to put the brakes on the out-of-control growth or do some serious planning.