I don’t have the exact statistic at hand, but I remember reading in an urban planning magazine a few years ago that since the 1950s the size of the average house in North America has more than doubled. At the same time, the size of the average family has probably been halved.
Here’s some more numbers. At the National Infrastructure Summit last January, Regina was identified as having a density of around 1500 people per sq. km. Vancouver’s density, in contrast, is around 5000 people per sq. km. And the density of Paris, France is around 20,000 people per sq. km.
Pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Real Estate Association are always tossing around property tax comparisons and using them as a lever to lobby for tax freezes. Yes, the property tax model for funding municipal services is in need of drastic revision. But because of Regina’s low density, the number of people who use a given unit of infrastructure ie a road, sewer or water line, bus route, fire and police services, etc; is far lower than in other cities with greater densities. And that has a HUGE impact on city hall’s ability to deliver cost effective services.
In the past couple of years, several downtown residential developments have been announced. Capital Pointe, Gardens on Rose, a condo tower on Broad & 15th and another condo development on Scarth & 15th. So far, they seem to have been a pretty tough sell for Reginans — the vast majority of whom seem wedded to the suburban ideal of a detached home with a two car garage, big-ass deck and yard and whatnot.
For decades, the city charged developers an artifically low rate for servicing greenfield developments. That meant older areas of the city were essentially subsidizing urban sprawl. In the last few years, the rate has increased from around $68,000 per hectare to $238,000 per hectare. The mantra now is that growth pays for growth. That might be true as far as the initial development is concerned (although I hesistate to say that the provision of transit service, fire and police, community centres, etc are adequately accounted for in the development fee). Once installed, though, infrastructure starts to degrade almost instantly in Regina’s severe soil and climate conditions. Taxes on the new suburban homes and businesses can fund some of the needed repairs and upgrades, but the expense is massive.
At a news conference a month ago, a city official said Regina needed to invest $1 billion in the next few years to upgrade its water delivery and treatment system. Other infrastructure needs are just as great. And unless we downscale our lifestyle expectations, or at least start paying the true cost of low-density living (which, again, is in the billions), we’ll continue to dig ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole.
Hopefully, when people go to this expo at Evraz Place this weekend they’ll keep all that in mind. But I’m not holding my breath.