We’ve had some discussion lately about the current state, and possible future fate, of Regina’s new $13 million City Plaza. Living and working downtown as I do, I’m well aquainted with the desolate reality of the plaza and life in general in the supposed heart of the city.
As I’ve noted previously on Dog Blog, my sister and her Quebec City-based family are in the midst of an extended visit to France and Spain. The last few days, they’ve been posting from the southern Spanish city of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Their experience there is the polar opposite of our life here.
Here’s an excerpt from their blog:
So many plazas with tables and chairs, not lined up like soldiers as in Québec, but circles inviting conversation and lingering over espressos, beers, and cocktails. The city scape is a testimony to the lifestyle and values of the people. People here rent or own small apartments with small terraces, courtyards, or balconies. Certainly no pools, garages, or private lawns. They spend a greater percentage of their time and money on socializing, with drinks and food. Tapas, smaller servings of breads, salads, fish, potatoes, prepared in spicy, oily, tomatoey ways, eaten slowly and shared with friends.
Valencia has one advantage over Regina, of course, a temperate climate that makes outdoor patio/cafe culture a lot more practical than here in the dead of winter. But that’s only part of the equation. Whereas people in Valencia place a high value on socializing with friends and neighbours in public settings, we place a huge priority on private domestic life. Over the last 50 years, the size of the average Regina house has probably tripled. With each incremental increase in size and grandeur, the bar for what we deem to be an appropriate symbol of our status rises accordingly — to the point that the latest “dream home” in the Hospitals of Regina Lottery is some million dollar 2,765 sq. ft. monstrosity in Harbour Landing.
We invest massively in our private living (and transportation) arrangements, then plead poverty when it comes to making the necessary investments to enrich our public realm. Indeed, the low-density lifestyle we worship makes it virtually impossible to provide public services in a convenient and cost-effective manner. We whine incessantly about municipal taxes. But the simple fact of the matter is that we have so few people using a given unit of civic infrastructure compared to other cities with greater densities that costs can’t help but be higher. According to the 2011 census, because of the growth Regina’s experienced in recent years, our density has actually dropped from 1,500 to 1,300 per sq. km. Vancouver and Paris, conversely, have densities of 5,000 and 20,000 per sq. km.
Not only is our current “cocoon” lifestyle massively expensive, it’s also exacting a toll on our health. In Saturday’s Leader-Post there was an interview with Toronto nutritionist Carol Greenwood who’s in town to speak at an Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan event at Delta Hotel Tuesday at 6 p.m. (admission is free, but you need to pre-register at 1-877-949-4141). Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Greenwood is concerned that in this age of fast, fatty foods, people are putting their brain health at risk. But she noted, lifestyle factors such as regular exercise and social interactions are also important for healthy brains.
“All of those things are falling apart in our generation, so I would argue that we’re coming into our retirement years much less healthy from a brain perspective than our parents,” Greenwood said. “That could have horrible predictive issues as it relates to what our cognitive health is going to be like at 80.”
People are free to live as they wish, of course. Just recognize that low-density suburban sprawl with a hollowed out urban core isn’t a pre-ordained future for our city. It’s a choice that we’re making for ourselves. Whether it’s the right one or not, I guess time will tell.