Couture On The Cathedral Safeway

In today’s Leader-Post, City Hall columnist Joe Couture writes about resistance to the Cathedral neighbourhood’s proposed Safeway expansion:

It’s the same mentality that leads some neighbours in newer suburbs to even oppose more single-family houses going up because they’ve become used to having a field for a backyard. And it’s really the same basis for people complaining that roads are deteriorating and then becoming upset that the work needed to fix them is too loud or taking too long. We all have our routines and we often don’t like when they’re interrupted, regardless of the big picture. In the case of the Safeway, the community opposition has been outlined using different reasons, though “it won’t fit with the neighbourhood” is still dominant. Others have expressed concerns about the loss of the store’s particular type of architecture and the mural painted on its west side, and about the impact of a bigger store on small businesses. While the opposition might be flavoured with the attitudes of the Cathedral neighbourhood – generally considered to be progressive and concerned with issues like heritage, conservation and protecting small businesses — the reality is that, like in any other area, dislike of change seems to be the real issue here.

He’s right to question community backlash to this new Safeway — I agree with Joe that it’s a project that will, on balance, make that neighbourhood better — but I think he’s a teeny bit too tolerant of the proposal’s ugliness. Ugly developments are bad for the soul, and this is an ugly-looking building.

Having said that, it might be a moot point: This report says Safeway’s taking the design back to the drawing board. Great news! My advice for the architects: just make it as beautiful as you can. And — and I’ll get in trouble for this — as long as the design is amazing, maybe featuring an epic, lively and meaningful mural commissioned to a legitimate artist (i.e. no dancing vegetables!)… I think it’s okay to let the old Marina roof die.

Although it’s okay to keep it, too, or recreate it. I like it too but it’s overrated.

The real issue is there should be no “fortress suburbia” style  buildings in Cathedral. Frankly there shouldn’t be any anywhere. (Hey, how about painting the new building a gorgeous Safeway red, with monumental Keith Haring-y murals in large, recessed squares and a complementary piece of public sculpture? Beige must die.)

Good, succinct  headline on that column, by the way.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth will never, ever pass up a chance to make a Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo pun.

25 thoughts on “Couture On The Cathedral Safeway”

  1. Really? I found the column extremely patronizing. He claims “the reasons for opposition just don’t stand up” but he only addresses the reasons he’s made up or assumed.

  2. I agree that the column is patronizing, when it’s not just plain wrong. Setting up straw men and knocking them down isn’t that hard to do.

    Below is an amended version of an email I sent JC. As the LP restricts reader’s letters to 250 words, JC had a lot more space to discuss this issue than readers and I wanted to respond to his column in some detail.

    Most of the people I’ve heard on this issue support expansion in principle. What they have an issue with is the specific plan that is being proposed. This is certainly my position. JC’s article doesn’t acknowledge this.

    JC writes, “new development actually usually means improvements in traffic flow, parking, crime, property values and the attractiveness of an area.”

    This is an absurd blanket statement. There are many areas in Regina that directly refute it, areas that have terrible traffic flow and areas that are aesthetic nightmares: the East End of the City along Victoria Avenue East, Harbour Landing, the North West corridor. I would go on but it just depresses me.

    JC writes, “A modern and energy-efficient replacement with better fresh-food offerings should be welcomed in the area, especially as grocery stores are rare in Regina’s inner city. And Safeway has tried to ensure the Cathedral store will be different than others in the city and will look good in the neighbourhood.”

    The reason so many people are responding negatively to this proposal is that there is no evidence that Safeway has really looked at the neighbourhood and thought about what would be appropriate in terms of scale and aesthetics. The fact that they didn’t even realise that the mural they were destroying was by Bob Boyer is an indication of how little effort Safeway has made into crafting a store that fits in the Cathedral.

    I would certainly welcome a Safeway with “better fresh food offerings” but there is no link between the size of the Safeway and “better fresh-food offerings.” This Safeway has done a terrible job. Stores with much smaller footprints than the existing Safeway are much better at offering fresher produce and a wider range of items such as organic, small producer items, bakeries, delis etc. Stores such as Fiesta Farms in Toronto, or in Regina, the Lakeshore Sobey’s or Lakeview Fine Foods on Hill Avenue are the same size or smaller than the existing Safeway but they offer much better selection and quality products. That 13th Avenue Safeway has such poor offerings has nothing to do with its size and everything to do with the way the store is run.

    JC writes: “The Safeway isn’t a heritage building. It’s an old grocery store”. What kinds of buildings does he think are worthy of heritage status? Vancouver and Butte, Montana have designated their Marina style Safeways as Heritage building so clearly his statement has been refuted in those two cities.

    JC writes, “As for the building’s allegedly historic architecture and mural, it’s tough to imagine anyone would put the 13th Avenue Safeway on their list of Regina’s most architecturally significant buildings.”

    How many buildings would JC include on Regina’s most architecturally significant buildings? 10? 100? 500? Shouldn’t the question really be what are Regina’s architecturally significant buildings? The 13th Avenue Safeway certainly belongs on a list like that as it’s representative of a specific type of North American retail Modernism and it’s the only building of its kind left in the city and one of the few left in the country.

    And what’s JC’s point? That we should only preserve our most architecturally significant buildings? (Again, how many buildings does he have on that list?) Even with that very limited brief, Regina has done a terrible job of preserving its heritage buildings: McCallum-Hill Building, City Hall, the Capital Theatre, The Rex Theatre, the Metropolitan Theatre…. Soon to be added to this dismal list Scott Collegiate and perhaps the RPL Central Library.

    A local architect who focuses on identifying heritage buildings has made the observation that the 13th Ave Safeway is as iconic a building in the Cathedral as Holy Rosary Cathedral. I agree with that observation.

    I grew up in Regina and have had the opportunity to travel widely. I’ve yet to see a city that has done a worse job of maintaining its notable buildings than Regina. JC’s attitude reflects a commonly held one in Regina and the consequences of that thinking are all around us. This is a city dominated by bad design and a city that lets developers do whatever they want.

    JC writes that murals are rarely intended to be permanent. That reflects a very shallow understanding of the history of murals. The Bob Boyer mural can be preserved, Safeway just needs to do a little more work on their design.

    The Safeway on 13th is undoubtedly a profitable one for Safeway, even at its present size. They obviously believe they can make even more money by being bigger. They’re not in that neighbourhood out of goodwill, they’re there to do business and it’s good business to listen to the community one is doing business with.

    Most people are not saying “no expansion”.
    Many people are not happy with the current proposal and they’re letting Safeway and the City know. It’s a shame JC thinks these efforts are misguided.

    I think JC is doing a good job of covering local politics and developments in the city and I wish the LP had someone as diligent as him covering the cultural scene in this city.

    However, I disagree with JC on this issue. Using straw men to make his argument suggests he hasn’t really bothered to think about the issues actually surrounding this plan. Kind of like Safeway.

  3. I found the Couture opinion piece demeaning.

    There are very few people saying they want no expansion to the 13th Avenue Safeway at all.

    Couture makes it sound like we’re collectively yelling “Get off my lawn!” while shaking our garden rakes at the well-meaning corporation. I’m offended at the idea that the resistance to Safeway’s plan is written off as a fear of change. On the contrary, most of the people in Cathedral are for expansion in varying degrees. What a lot of us are asking for is a smart, well-thought-out plan for development. Regina, on the whole, is not good at smart development, so we are understandably interested in voicing our concerns instead of just hoping it will work out okay.

    It’s a good thing for the residents of this community to ask for what we value. Personally, I’d like to see the façade and the Boyer mural preserved, but ultimately we all know that this process will have to come down to negotiation.

    It’s also a good thing if we are concerned about the local business people whose services might be duplicated in the expansion. I definitely see some conflicts and would hate to see people I like go out of business. Here’s an idea: How about we have a retail impact study done? And an even better question: Why hasn’t one been done already? Perhaps Mr Couture could put some energy into reporting on it. It might be a more production pursuit than making assumptions and belittling his fellow citizens.

  4. This is a great topic . The city has hopefully read the responses, and should take some direction of thier deisions from the vox public.( election 2012). I don’t give a hoot if S’way wants to expand. but are there going to be more delivery trucks going through the C hood?

    Solar anything? Water saving anything? in the design? Electric Semi Trailers mandatory? New Roads? Think Bigger Pat.

    Fresh food delivered from Mexico has a short shelf life.

  5. I take issue with this statement, as do, I’m sure, Emmet and Leslea: “But they also should choose their battles wisely.”

    Ummm, who the f*ck is Joe Couture?

  6. to add to Mark: WORSE — We may be losing RPL Central AND the old Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, both Izumi buildings, while in Weyburn, they have managed to build the Library around the existing Izumi building.

    If we have no cultural memory, we wander the earth as cultural amnesiacs, caring little about what happens.

    A better Safeway with good produce is a great idea. For a Safeway which makes the most money per square feet in all of Canada (I learned today), why would they want to destroy that winning formula??

    I am for the Marina style building (as Heritage, as well as for its Cultural Memory and geographic memory) and for the glowing Safeway sign in the night sky. After David Margoshes’ poem, even the parking lot has a haunting resonance…..

    We have ruined Victoria Park. Do we have to ruin the local neighbourhood Safeway, too??

  7. Anyone know the stance of the Cathedral Community Group? Nothing on their web or fb group aside from last week meeting notice. The board is elected by the neighbourhood so will have some clout at city hall hearings.

  8. Jeannie Mah said “If we have no cultural memory, we wander the earth as cultural amnesiacs, caring little about what happens.”

    I’m just wondering why you think we haven’t already lost our cultural memory? Most commercial buildings today are just large cubes that aren’t designed to last. Name me a good building design that has been put up in the city in the last 20 years. I personally can’t think of one I liked.

    Also I have to admit I don’t even like the current Safeway store design as it doesn’t have much to bother keeping in my limited opinion other than lots of natural light. Perhaps they can add that into the new store when they go back to the drawing board.

  9. “Name me a good building design that has been put up in the city in the last 20 years. I personally can’t think of one I liked.”

    An interesting question. I can think of some buildings I think are OK: the new Lab building on the U of R campus, the atrium between the Riddell and Education buildings on the U of R campus (not really a building but certainly a structure and a space). The new RCMP museum isn’t great, but at least it’s trying to be something, ditto First Nations University (not Cardinal’s best building, but in Regina even a mediocre Cardinal is better than almost anything else).

    Struggling to think of anything else. If we push the 20 years back to 40 years, i.e. buildings built since 1971 I would still struggle to come up with much of a list: CBC. I think Wien’s U of R power plant was the late 60s. Not a huge fan of SaskTel, SGI, City Hall, or the Hill Towers but to be fair the 80s were not a period of great architecture in many places (I hope I’m corrected here). Can anybody else think of some good buildings in the last 20 or 40 years?

  10. Jeannie, Victoria Park is not “ruined”. That’s waaay over the top, to the point of comedy.

  11. Here’s a thought; is the unstated meaning of the fact that so many people are so upset about the loss of Safeway’s pretty roof the clearest possible sign that Regina is utterly impoverished in architecture?

    I think it is. That’s a real problem.

  12. Stephen why doesn’t the PD blog start a section inviting people to submit some of their favourite buildings in Regina? Photos, descriptions, histories, all would be welcome. Let’s hold the line that they have to be buildings still standing.

    We’ll see how many we can think of. It probably won’t be a long list, but it might be nice to celebrate something as a break from the despair.

    How about one of the PD regulars starts us out and we’ll see how many we can think of?

  13. @ Stephen Whitworth Re: “Regina is utterly impoverished in architecture?”

    Agreed, that is the real problem. I also like Mark’s idea of a building column. It would be neat to learn a bit more about nice houses/buildings that exist around the city. Should I start emailing you a list of ideas? *evil grin to the overworked editor*

  14. In his first state of the city address in 2005, Edmonton’s new mayor Stephen Mandel said his famous line: “The time has passed when square boxes with minimal features and lame landscaping are acceptable. Our tolerance for crap is now zero.”

    Later that year, the Edmonton Design Committee (EDC) was created. Its purpose is simple: all applicants for new major developments, including public projects, must make a public presentation to the committee.

    The requirements for the presentation are extensive — from showing how the project addresses the Principles of Urban Design, to maps & diagrams of adjacent buildings, roof plans, even a sun shadow impact study.

    The EDC is a volunteer coalition of experts from private industry, from the public sector, and from the city at large. Though the committee has no real power, rarely has a project been approved by the City that was not first supported by the EDC.

    EDC’s design principles:
    http://bit.ly/9ZNkwf

    Presentation requirements:
    http://bit.ly/mYmOPB

    Design committee members:
    http://bit.ly/r4zG18

  15. Victoria Park: in my mind, if you take a Frederick Todd designed park, our only victorian park, planned down to the paths and plants, and take a big bite oft of it, so the flag design is is no longer in tact, it is pretty ruined. if you rip out a great section of the trees (with more planned to be taken away), if the city ignored its own plans ‘ to pave from the park to the buildings” and place those weird lights, take away the street so all traffic flow around the park is goofy… well, there is not much left of what Office for Urbanism called our “good bones”. Victoria Park is in the Municipal Heritage preserve, but it did not help the park!!! We had a plan to activate the downtown without destroying (or cutting into) the park,, and then something else ‘happened’!! It makes me very very sad…… yes, in my opinion, ruined!

  16. I can live without a landscaped British flag in the middle of our downtown, but that’s a valid criticism. “Ruined” is still too much.

    Mark: this Regina building photo blog sounds clever. We can do that. Maybe we can do more than that. (Plotschemethink)

    Also I spent a 1/2 hour Googling photos of Marina Safeways thanks to your huge honking comment essay. It’s baffling that Safeway would develop such an iconic image for itself then abandon it. Bottom-line, bean-counting thinking at the expense of your company’s strong brand identity is bad business in the long term.

  17. What’s most disturbing is that there has been minimal effort by Safeway into the design itself and then minimal effort into consulting with and learning about the neighbourhood. No bike racks? Really?

    In Oakland, California, Safeway spent 5 years and went through an intensive community consultation process to design their upgraded store there. What I don’t understand is why it is wrong for people here in Regina to expect a fraction of that kind of attention. Are we less deserving?

    We’re being treated like a bunch of cud-chewing hicks, and according to Mr Couture, we don’t deserve better treatment.

    Here are some things we should have: Input on the design. Studies on the impact on existing local businesses. Studies on traffic and pedestrian safety issues that will be affected by the upgrade. Impact studies on how homes adjacent to the new expansion will be affected (property values don’t go up when the view is now a loading dock). Other neighbourhoods in other cities do not have to demand these things, they are de rigeur. It is not unreasonable to ask for them.

  18. All great comments here – it is an important conversation to have.

    I know I’ve been toying with having and ‘urban literacy’ and ‘architectural literacy’ feature on the Regina Urban Ecology blog for awhile – perhaps this is a good time to start it (maybe tie it into this building feature idea).

    This whole process needs to be slowed down, reassessed and Safeway needs to do a better job making this building or any expansion fit better with the community (large expanses of blank walls do not support a pedestrian environment which Cathedral has and needs to build).

  19. A good building built in the last 20 years?
    The Early Learning Centre is nice! (it is an addition to an addition, behind Sacred Heart Academy.

    will keep thinking…..

  20. As you may know, Safeway is re-developing their 1960s-style store in Vancouver and a gullwing swoop is in the new design.

    The City of Vancouver’s site has tons of info on the project — from the drawings and floor plans — to traffic/loading and landscaping — to heritage designation and shadow analysis:
    http://bit.ly/qk4Rfw

    And wouldn’t you love to see this in Regina? — one of the “Changes from Original Proposal” is “Added Trees on Roof.” See page 4 of this pdf:
    http://bit.ly/pZe4BB

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