This Is The Problem With Development in Regina

1800 block Hamilton Street,  1963. What have you got to say about that? (prairie dog)

Author: Carle Steel

Carle Steel was a simple moisture farmer on a barren, sun-baked world who, through fate and destiny, brought the mighty Galactic Empire to its knees. She likes cats, bats, mice and you.

13 thoughts on “This Is The Problem With Development in Regina”

  1. Considering the population was around roughly 120k in 1963 there wasn’t as much need for office buildings for people to work or condos for people to live.

    The picture is a little quaint,I suppose, but not really making me yearn for the glorious yesteryears of the Lasalle Hotel. I mean, you have to admit it was no Plain’s Hotel, or even an Empire Hotel. Good God, what if the Empire goes down next?! I’m hoping on the next bus out of here with you if they tear down that sacred cultural landmark.

    Sarcasm aside, I’m just a little confused – we don’t want urban sprawl in the East and other areas of town, but then when something new is built downtown this is something to protest? We want to make the downtown somewhere to live, work, and eat, and when a condo building is to be put up, this is terrible?

    If it’s just a design issue, I can understand as we all can’t agree. But if it’s a big box/condo/office towers vs. independent businesses/small apartments/downtown buildings issue, well this is not confined to Regina, it is everywhere. Not sure where this utopia is located, but in North America all I’ve seen is bigger the better, Walmarts and Duane Reade/711’s, skyscraperrhea, and I imagine this will not change anytime soon. Better chance of Reggie Slack making a comeback.

  2. Yeah, but neon clutter w/ groceries. Tackiness > No downtown grocery store

    And I don’t think anybody could argue that this block looks better now (check it out on Google street view if you need a reminder!).

  3. Neon clutter, my sweet pickled ass. (No offense intended Barb. I am curious though as to what downtown vista does meet your ideal.)

    A little history lesson is in order, I think…

    Downtown Regina 1963 actually had plenty of residences; many were in dual-purpose buildings, with street level retail/service and above-ground apartments. There are still a few downtown today, such as on the 17 block Hamilton, directly to the north of the Alvin Hamilton Building. My grandma lived in one, the Jarvis Block, which is where the TD Building is located now. My mom grew up in an apartment located where the Roots Store in the Cornwall Centre is now.

    Starting in the mid-late ’60s, coinciding with the major construction wave that brought us The Bay, the Regina Inn, the Avord Tower, the first CIBC tower etc. many of these downtown residences were torn down, repurposed or abandoned. This was nearly simultaneous to the development of the area around the Golden Mile and its many, many apartment blocks. The destruction of most of the downtown residences in what we call Market Square was completed by the early ’80s.

    When the economic bust of the late ’90s was clearing out many of the tenants of the older towers, such as the old CIBC building and the TD Building, several floors started to be redeveloped as condos. There was still interest in living downtown during the ’80s and ’90s, but nowhere to do so…until the economy tanked. And in the ’60s and ’70s there were many who still wanted to live downtown, but were encouraged to get the hell out because of the massive amount of apartment development going on at Golden Mile, near the Northgate etc.

    Now, what makes Regina’s downtown somewhat unique is that, historically, for decades it had fewer workers coming in and out of the area, even compared to Saskatoon. The decision made by the CCF to build much of their civil service infrastructure in Wascana Centre in the 1950s meant that many middle-class workers would not have to commute as far, as they lived in Lakeview or some of the newer areas spreading south of 25th Avenue. But for a smallish government town, a major employer that does not build its offices downtown means that a large part of the white-collar workforce that would otherwise spend more time and money in the centre of the city, doesn’t. And thus, Regina’s downtown as a hub of activity actually started its slow decline in the ’60s, accelerating in the ’80s and ’90s.

    So when the sprawl did finally hit, as it had to so many other places, Regina’s downtown had taken several self-inflicted hits beforehand and was in a uniquely weakened state.

    (And funnily enough, I’m not opposed to Hill 3 in theory. If there’s a need for a new office tower, what the hell. If it’s built and remains half-empty, or winds up clearing out a building that’s been built only in the last 20 years, then my pickled ass will be mighty steamed.)

  4. The “neon clutter” isn’t very easy on the eye but it does suggest business advertising (neon) in a concentrated area (clutter). Now concentrated businesses, open after 6pm (this picture appears to be taken in the evening) providing people and light to downtown sidewalks, looks aside, is far better than the towers on Hamilton St. today.

    As far as the Hill’s newest legacy project, I’m resigned to the building. I think it’s a question of design not that the office space is required or not. I have no regard for the building currently on Hamilton and 12th, it’s disposable. I do not think, however, giant towers are the way to go. It maybe the doomer in me, but buildings that are reliant on electricity for heating, transportation (elevators) and cooling without much hope of retrofit in the future is straight from the 20th century.

    There has been a lot of talk on this blog about the composition of the downtown and how we compare to other places. Montreal is mentioned often, probably as an example to emulate. My impression of Montreal, which I’ve visited briefly, was that from Rue St. Denis looking back at the rather drab downtown core there was a connection between arts and commerce. It seemed to me that those towers represented the financial and commercial weight that could support the creative people around living around the plateau.
    In some ways I wonder how important the move from Montreal of corporate HQ in the 1960-70s to Toronto changed Toronto’s past image as an English, stayed, pigpen to a global cultural hub.
    In this way, hopefully, corporate interests will in time promote and allow more culture in Regina. The jobs and new people are very welcome.

    One last thing, I take the point of the fellow who says there’s no buildings in Regina 100 + because of the gumbo. I would have to say the reason for so few 100 + buildings is more affected by the timing of a building boom, the improvement to more permanent structures and the financial growth to make it happen. This period was just before the First World War and thus soon a century old. Some downtown buildings a century old or going to be a century old in 2-3 years are Land Titles Building, Knox Met. Church, First Baptist Church, Casino Regina/Union Station, Northern Bank Building, Willoughby and Duncan Block, Old Post Office, and Canada Life Assurance Building to name most.

  5. Bear in mind that the photograph is a long exposure, making the lights appear brighter than they actually were and the lens is flattening the apparent depth of the image, so the neon looks more prominent and the signs closer together than in actuality.

  6. Nice nostalgic photo, though I was only 3 at the time.

    Instead of Hamilton Street in ’63, imagine a night-time photo of the Cathedral Village’s 13th Avenue tonight (with a Safeway on the same left-side of the photo.)

    Allow downtown to shoot upwards. 13th Ave 2012 will be our Hamilton St 1963. (From Hippy to Hip.)

    P.S.
    Darn interesting history lesson, Mr. Bell. I am fascinated by everything Regina.

  7. No offence taken, Brett, but I am a bit boggled by the possible combination of pickled and steamed…Anyway, thanks for the backgrounder, though as I’ve lived here for over 20 years, I haven’t entirely ignored the social history of the place.

    I have no ideal downtown vista; I view every town/city as the product of its particular evolution. As to neon signage, I know why it was adopted, and I appreciate the artistry of some signs, but there is such a thing as sensory overload, not to mention light pollution (and talk about reliance on electricity….).

    The aesthetic conflict evident in some of these posts is grounded, I think, in an apples-oranges comparison. We have proportionately fewer and smaller heritage neighbourhoods than Montreal because we’re much younger and sparser and less touched by waves of immigration. We were clobbered by 2 depressions in a row, the effects of which are alluded to by Martin G. We are not a port, and we aren’t an inland commercial crossroads like Winnipeg (but if we do become one, we will not parallel Winnipeg’s development). We have a Warehouse District, but not a Pointe Ste. Charles, and I fail to see why we should beat ourselves up because we don’t. We have a very different history, which doesn’t make us inferior.

    This is a good discussion. Thanks, dogblog.

  8. Hi Barb: I hear what you’re saying and I agree with some of it. Up to a point.

    I’m not content with the idea of seeing a city as the result of evolution. It may be a useful way to consider things when looking back at a city’s history (nice backgrounder, btw, Brett). But we can all be agents of what our city looks like going forward.

    Mind you, that’s assuming discussions like these lead to people getting engaged with the process. (By, say, getting in touch with your councillor by going to this page http://regina.ca/Page1105.aspx)

    To that end, then, discussions of what what we like and want to preserve, what we regret losing and what we think works in other cities are pretty important. Even if they sound a little shrill at times.

    That said, I’m not sure I buy your point about the aesthetic hand wringing on the blog being grounded in an apples and oranges comparison between here and other cities. I suspect many of the people who object to the way development has been going forward in Regina see things that make us unique or different (the Plains or Vic Park, for instance) being turned into more generic, cookie-cutter, glass and steel architecture that other cities already have in spades. (I’m not defending either of those examples, by the way. I’m just saying that’s why some of the people I’ve spoken to are alarmed to see changes there.)

    Personally, I’m not going to lament the loss of that corner of 12th and Hamilton. Those buildings weren’t exactly top notch examples of 20th century architecture. The stuff on Hamilton I think has been worth preserving is either being preserved or has already been torn down.

    Plus, single-story buildings are a waste of space.

    At the same time, I’m not thrilled that what we’re getting will be more of that generic, cookie-cutter, glass and steel architecture that bores me to frickin’ tears.

    But, I’m also not surprised by it. Architects are very skilled at causing disappointment.

    Although, if you look at the drawings, that corner when complete is going to be a much improved space for pedestrians. Of course, it looks like the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan was the motivating force behind those changes and without it all we’d have had was a squared-off wall of glass and not much in the way of public improvements.

    So, Yay Downtown Plan! Yay Regina!

    Oh, incidentally, you mentioned in another post about people coming here from away and pining for what they’ve left behind. Only speaking for myself, much of what I complain about on the blog urban-design-wise is substantially the same stuff I complained about when living elsewhere.

    So, this isn’t pining. It’s consistency.

  9. The neon sign discussion ultimately is a red herring. Personally, I prefer the look of 1963 downtown Regina to what’s there now and it’s not to do with neon specifically (and city council passed a bylaw at least a couple of decades back stating that new businesses can’t have signs hanging over sidewalks, so this really does amount to a “you-can’t-go-home-again” scenario). As Martin G alludes, this photograph speaks to street-level activity. It’s evening, there’s cars, a variety of local businesses, it looks like a place where I’d want to hang out.

    Yes, every city has a unique history. And no city has a perfect record dealing with its heritage (hell, if Rome and Athens can’t get it 100% right, what hope do the rest of us have?) But I am not comparing Regina to other city’s plans, I am comparing it to what it had in the past. And with some foresight and appreciation for what we had that worked, a lot of it could have still be standing. I understand that many mid-size downtowns have been emptied out, but several haven’t: Saskatoon has done a very good job with sustaining downtown activity. Fargo has managed to keep many of its downtown buildings intact, maintaining many local stores and services, along with a box-store strip toward the edge of the city…there’s even some pretty chi-chi places downtown; not that I wish to be an advertising shill but check out online what they did with an old railway hotel called the Hotel Donaldson. Now picture what could be done with the La Salle if it was still standing.

    Regina’s Achilles heel is that development decisions are made which seemingly do not take into account the disproportionate amount of impact on a city of under 200,000 people. Two great examples in the 1990s: after the last tower building boom, much of this new class “A” office space remained vacant for years. If you were looking from the upper floors of one such building throughout downtown, you could see it with your own eyes (or you could get confirmation from one of a number of property managers). Fortunately, I believe that lessons were learned and the development of new class “A” space slowed to more realistic expectations. The second example, which many of us deal with regularly, is the unmitigated sprawl of the east end, giving the city a much larger footprint than merited its population growth (and despite my reservations about the development, I do believe that there is an effort being made in Harbour Landing to keep the commercial development in a more confined area).

    My dilettantish observation is that one decision made in Regina has a greater impact than in a larger centre. Look at the Centre of the Arts: when it was proposed, I believe in 1964, it was to be one of many buildings in and around the south lakeside, opposite the old power plant. The initial Wascana Centre plan had dozens of buildings planned, including the new Regina campus of the U of S. But when the Centre was completed, almost everything else around it was put on hold or cancelled. The assumption was that the CotA was going to anchor a development nearly as great as downtown, which it never did and thus was placed so far away from the city centre.

    So, yes, we do have proportionately fewer heritage buildings. Therefore, when one of them gets knocked down I believe that the impact is greater in a smaller city.

    My wish is if Regina’s downtown once again becomes as dynamic as it once was, that the powers that be take note of what’s making it so and work to maintain it.

  10. It was a great shot for me and brought back great memories as I bought the LaSalle from the Kangles back in 1980. Now I look out my window here in Zhuhai and see the neon clutter of Macau so things haven’t changed that much!

  11. When we moved to Regina in the spring of ’63 I was nine, and the tallest building in town was the 13 story Sask Power building. I’d forgotten the Balmoral Cafe but remember the Blue Boy on Broad St. I explored the city centre a lot (remember the
    underground mall beneath 12th ave at Scarth St?) and though there is obviously more downtown than there used to be it doesn’t seem as accessable. The lack of a grocery store, too few parking spaces due to the city taking away part of 12th ave and making 11th 2-way again (and $2/hr to park!) mean that unless you work there or live in an adjacent neighbourhood downtown is just a place to transfer busses. High property taxes mean that anytime a building is torn down it can only be replaced by some multi-million dollar project by a large corporation or be another Impark parking lot. Is downtown bigger? Of course; but better I’m not so sure. Too bad someone couldn’t have stepped in and stopped the Kims from buying the Plains Hotel, it would still be making money and paying taxes today.

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