A Little Off The Top Please

Shaved SidewalkI was out for a walk in the vicinity of Central Park last night and stumbled across several crews grinding down the concrete at select spots on one stretch of sidewalk I was on. I’ve seen sights like the one pictured above on other sidewalks in the past little while and didn’t know what had caused them. After seeing the crews at work I assume the purpose is to even out ridges that have popped up due to Regina’s ever-shifting soil. It makes for okay walking, although I don’t know if it will have a long-term negative impact on the durability of the concrete.

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your puny human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

27 thoughts on “A Little Off The Top Please”

  1. Slow day in the news room?
    This isn’t news. Beyond the fact that this mundane topic isn’t newsworthy, you have proposed questions and have not done any research to find the answers. A quick call to the city would provide you with the answers you posed. Journalism isn’t simply asking questions, it requires you look for answers.

  2. Awesome. Thanks for the remedial journalism lesson, Chris. You can be sure we’ll be taking that to heart.

    Another subject I think it’ll benefit everyone to apply more is “reading.” In this case, reading reveals that the date stamp on this post is Sept 29. And with that fact in hand, a little investigative journalism will reveal that Sept 29 is a “Sunday” and that city hall isn’t open on Sundays. So finding out what’s up with all the sidewalk grinding is kind of impossible to do on a Sunday.

    Also worth noting is the fact that Dog Blog — as the name implies — is a blog. And that means that sometimes posts on the blog aren’t full fledged works of investigative journalism. Sometimes they’re just idle questions or half-formed opinions meant to spark a discussion with our blog readership. And sometimes they’re just story ideas that we float in this forum to see if they’re worth turning into an article for Prairie Dog’s print version.

    In a lot of ways, the Dog Blog is proto-journalism.

    But apparently you have much higher standards for what you’re going to mentally ingest online. In which case, maybe you should look elsewhere for reading material.

  3. Chris, if I’d been on the receiving end of your criticism I would have thanked you for your input and used it as an opportunity to remind everyone that Prairie Dog’s web site isn’t pure journalism but is actually a mixture of blogging, conjecture, link aggregation and some journalism thrown into the gumbo.

    I’d point out that a story like this offers two opportunities: one for interactions with readers who may share the observation or respond, and the other as a possible jumping off point for an actual journalistic piece.

    In a way your default impression of PD is a compliment to the good journalistic pieces that do appear, many of which have been courtesy of Paul Dechene.

    I’d like to think Paul is having a bad week, and on reflection he would regret slapping you with wet sarcasm and telling you to leave. My view would be we don’t have to agree with each other, but we should at least respect each other.

  4. I, for one, enjoy reading about subjects that the other media has not covered, refuses to cover, or all cover using a pre-ordained script.

    Long live The Prairie Dog!

  5. As a city we supposedly have a goal now to promote active transportation options like walking, cycling and whatnot. So I don’t consider the health of our pedestrian realm to be a mundane topic. Also, the grinding that’s being done in the vicinity of downtown is fairly extensive. The cost of this service, I imagine, is significant. It’s just another reminder, as if any more are needed, of the wisdom of promoting sustainable urban planning to limit our exposure to the horrendous costs of building, maintaining and ultimately repairing and replacing our civic infrastructure.

  6. Actually, sidewalk grinding is another reminder of the soil conditions Regina is cursed with; if hell has soil, this stuff is it. It’s hard to see how “sustainable urban planning” could get around that.

  7. The less sidewalks (and roads, overpasses, expressways, and water, sewer and gas lines) you build by limiting sprawl and enhancing density through sustainable urban planning the less you have to deal with infrastructure headaches. That’s especially true in Regina with our gumbo soil and equally challenging climate conditions with extended freeze/thaw cycles in the spring and fall.

  8. Mr. Beatty, your walk was in the middle of town, where there is density and where there will be more, and yet there is still infrastructure to be repaired. Your urban-sprawl argument seems to be somewhat off target.

  9. Are you implying that areas of Regina that have reasonable density have access to dedicated pools of cash to maintain their infrastructure independent of the rest of the city? For the past 50 plus years the vast majority of Regina’s growth as been on the periphery. This has had the obvious effect of stretching the city’s resources to well beyond the breaking point in terms of repairing and replacing infrastructure in older parts of the city as well as properly maintaining (and ultimately repairing and replacing) the ever-growing amount of infrastructure in outlying neighbourhoods where density levels are much lower. And a lot of that infrastructure, as in neighbourhoods like Whitmore Park, has deteriorated badly.

  10. No, but you seem to be implying that if neighbourhoods like mine didn’t exist, yours would be better off.

    Whitmore Park, as is well known, has a particularly bad problem of clay shifting in a city notorious for same, exacerbated by the dense and mature urban forest. (Trees also interfere with infrastructure: their roots invade sewer and water lines and cause streets and sidewalks to heave and crack and sink.) Is it your contention that it should never have been built in the first place? As gumbo underlies all of Regina, what then?

  11. Barb – the recent outbreak of heaving sidewalks may actually be a symptom of sloppy privatized construction and repair.

    This industry has been masterful at promoting the evil soil as the cause (so much so that people like yourself spread it on their behalf) but that’s largely a myth. While the soil conditions are challenging, proper techniques and care can minimize the effects.

    They did sloppy outsourced sidewalk repair here a couple years ago. The crew cut up the whole block and then neglected to finish one section.

    The city never supervised the sloppy work or lack of completion. Through many frustrating contacts I learned the city outsourced this important job and there’s nobody accountable.

    Finally, the desk jockey contacted the company who did the sloppy job and the company assured her they did a great job. Of course each call to the city includes a a lecture about Regina’s special soil, even though the actual cause of the current problem is sloppy unsupervised work, not soil conditions.

    Now it’s gone to back of the line to wait years for re-prioritization. But since most of the block got repaired, they candidly admit their scoring system will ensure it may never get back on the list. So now there’s a dangerous gap between the repaired section and the part that was left unfinished.

    Paul’s piece seems to indicate the city recently got a new toy for dealing with these dangerous tripping hazards. Even if grinding edges is hardly a substitute for the competent care and repair that the city has abandoned, at least it gives us something else to ask for regarding their screw up on our street. The problem is they’ll end up grinding down brand new sidewalk to match the chopped up piece that the private contractor neglected, and the chopped up section will continue to float and bob around.

    It might seem disturbing that a municipality would abandon core services like water, garbage and sidewalks. But on the bright side, the city is becoming a center of excellence for election manipulation and football stadium operations.

  12. Barb – the same demon soil rests beneath many older homes that remain square and true. It surrounds city hall and dozens of other towers. You’ll also notice that the owners of home construction companies have nice square homes because they make sure the foundations are done properly for the conditions.

    You have to dig a little deeper, use layers of materials, and pack them more carefully. This costs a bit more, so unscrupulous companies realized you skip all that and pocket the difference since the effects of their greed won’t show up for a couple of years, by which time a deluded community will blame it on ‘the curse’.

    It is imminently possible to build here, as long as short cuts aren’t taken.

    Unfortunately they’ve been successful in convincing almost everyone that the soil is “cursed”.

    Sloppy, cheap, shortcut construction methods with no inspection is the actual cause. But spreading the myth of a supernatural cause with a pseudo-scientific sounding explanation is more profitable for these companies. They’ve effectively brainwashed the last couple of generations of the public and civic officials of this profitable excuse.

  13. Gregory, Barb may have a point in the fact that the sprawl areas seem to have eschewed sidewalks, parks, fire halls and schools.

    One might wonder how the rich and powerful developers of these areas convinced the city to let them build neighborhoods and milk the rich profits without providing these basic features. But then one would also wonder which companies donated heavily to the election campaigns of real estate conflicted councilors and a mayor who ran the construction association.

  14. Hi, Reader. First of all, it’s Greg Beatty’s piece above, not Paul Dechene’s; “may be a symptom…” is not the same thing as “is”; if the shifting clay is a myth, as you claim with no proof, why is the SGI building apparently sinking at one corner? And as Greg Beatty has referred to Regina’s “ever-shifting soil”, does that make him a dupe of the myth-makers?

    Check the dictionary definition of “supernatural”.

    In partial answer to your last comment, when a new residential area is being developed, land is always set aside for schools (in this province, both public and separate). It is up to the school division to decide whether to apply to the province and get in the queue for a new school ASAP, or to have neighbouring schools take the new area’s students until it becomes obvious that the numbers warrant construction. The province has a great deal to say about school division capacity. Sometimes the division decides to let its designated land revert to the city, because existing schools are handling the new numbers. The separate school board made such a decision in NW Regina just a few years ago. As to fire halls and parks, I would think that the city has formulae and requirements; maybe you should ask them.

  15. It’s my contention that limiting sprawl and boosting density reduces the amount of greenfield development that occurs. This lessens the amount of infrastructure that needs to be built to support the new neighbourhoods (not to mention all the services like transit, police, fire, garbage pick-up, recycling, snow removal that also needs to be provided, along with amenities like schools, libraries, community centres, parks, playgrounds etc.)

    It also lessens the amount of maintenance and repair that needs to be done to the infrastructure in the decades to come. With increased density, existing infrastructure is used more efficiently, and more resources are available to maintain it in first class condition as opposed to the sorry situation that exists in Regina today. As was noted in an article in today’s Leader-Post, Regina currently faces a $1 billion infrastructure deficit.

    I’m not suggesting existing neighbourhoods be razed to bring that deficit down, but as has been the case for the past 50 years, the bulk of development that is occurring in Regina continues to happen on the outskirts. That’s just laying the groundwork for more infrastructure woes down the road.

    And just for comparison purposes. Regina’s density is around 1327 per sq. km. Paris, meanwhile, has a density of 21,000 per sq. km. Those figures come with a lot of fiscal implications.

  16. Barb, I referenced Greg because you and he were discussing the issues of sprawl and infrastructure, look above.

    I understand the boogeyman soil is a very deeply ingrained myth – it’s just not factually supported.

    The common urban story of SGI building “sinking” underscores that point, and would make for a lively discussion of its own.

    The better question is how are all the other towers still standing tall? I’ll answer – it’s because the owners have a long term investment to protect, and they independently made sure proper building techniques were used, and materials such as concrete were tested. These are steps the city used to use when it did construction and repairs, and which have been neglected during the privatization era.

    In the meantime, consider that SGI building remains fully occupied on a daily basis and is currently up for sale – “cursed” soil included.

    I await someone to post the urban story of a library which was supposedly constructed without consideration of the weight of books.

  17. You haven’t busted the “myth” yet; you’ve just restated your belief. Proof, please. Documented.

    SGI didn’t have a long-term investment to protect? Really?. And as to the current building being up for sale, properties with evidence of foundation shift are for sale all over Regina, houses included.

    I can’t give you a story as per your last sentence, but I can tell you that the former Bay building was rejected as an alternative to the present central library building because of the lack of floor support for the weight of books.

  18. Reader, it happened at the Univeristy of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Architecture no less. While I was a student there, they had added stacks in the basement of the library. The library proper was fine, as was the building itself, but the basement floor under the library where the stacks were had sunk (very evenly) 18 inches by the time I started to attend in the late 80’s. Books are heavy…

  19. Hopefully the city can take out those grinders and get rid of the stage-that-can’t-operate-as-a-stage on the city square.

  20. http://www.snopes.com/college/halls/sinking.asp

    Barb, SGI (C.M. Fines) Building had structural issues about 10 years ago, but it was because the steel post tension cables were rusting due to water. The base was dug out and water proofed and drainage added:

    http://www.gov.sk.ca/news?newsId=97908ceb-15c4-4b6e-aa32-66c5525a525b

    That’s just a couple of techniques the owner of a construction company will use when building their own house, though not necessarily the house or condo they sell to someone else.

    You excavate a little extra to reduce the amount of clay against the foundation (costs only slightly more) you backfill with less absorbent material (very slight cost), you use piles and thick rebar instead of wire mesh (slight costs). You test and reject weak concrete. You waterproof the foundation and install (cheap) plastic drainage.

    These measures aren’t that expensive or difficult, but skipping them nudges up the builder’s profits. And since they are invisible and industry self-regulated, buyers don’t know better.

    Lack of these simple aspects won’t show up in the first few years. And the fake ‘home warranty program’ run by a cartel of Saskatchewan builders excludes all the early symptoms,and only covers huge measured movements. So by the time the problem is obvious, the builder is free and clear.

    And besides, nobody even blames them because of the “cursed” soil myth.

    The myth is reinforced daily by parties who directly or indirectly benefit from perpetuating it. Whether it’s home builders, inspectors, builders, or engineers, they all benefit the more we fear gumbo. They supply one-sided commercials that lazy media run as stories:

    http://www.leaderpost.com/real+dirt+Regina+gumbo/7513205/story.html

    Gumbo poses construction challenges, not only here, but everywhere else it can be found. But all locations have their own challenges. It’s imminently possible to accommodate these challenges, and the only evidence you need is to look at the skyline. But as long as most people believe the soil myth, nothing will change, and profiteers will profit from that fear.

  21. Chris – are you sure about the University of Manitoba story? It seems that every university in the world has the same story, and it’s always about some rival university being too dumb to consider the weight of books in their library:

    http://www.snopes.com/college/halls/sinking.asp

    Barb cites The Bay being rejected as a library, but again I don’t think that would hold up to fact checking. Sometimes the true story is more nuanced, like someone had the idea to turn a store into a library by adding floors on top, but the structure couldn’t support more floors, which then gets spread around as not having the strength to support books.

    Occasionally there are rare cases of other faulty building issues which are fun to portray as absent-minded architects overlooking something obvious. But they are nowhere near as prevalent as the urban myths would have us believe.

  22. Reader, Yup, I was there, I daily (almost, well not really, I did not spend nearly as much time in the Library as I should have…) descended the steps to the basement stacks and then onto the makeshift extra wooden stairs before reaching the actual basement floor.

    and

    Just for the record, I am not the Chris that started this comment thread, guess I will have to come up with a more unique handle.

  23. By the way, back to the original topic, the grinding of the sidewalks will reduce their lifespan (makes their top surface more porous, which will lead to water absorption, then the freeze-thaw action of our weather will eventually cause spauling. We will all likely find that after this coming winter that the hard work of grinding the sidewalks smooth with their neighbours will all be for naught anyway, as they will have shifted farther up or down from their present position. Now, if the City put rebar in their sidewalks then this type of differential shifting would not happen as often or severely. Coming from Winnipeg, where the use of concrete and rebar is well understood, but the soil conditions are equally ‘severe’ I do not recall this type of issue occurring with the frequency that it does here.

  24. Reader: I know that the Bay was rejected as an alternative site for the Central Library, because I was on the RPL board at the time it was being considered. There were already floors enough; they just weren’t up to book support.

    Chris: you’re absolutely right about Winnipeg and its floodplain gumbo, as well as its better sidewalk construction. Still, wasn’t there an issue re: the Richardson Building leaning a bit?

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