Downtown, Where We Belong
Mayor Charlie Clark
Councillor Cynthia Block
Director, Planning & Development
CEO, Downtown Saskatoon
Downtown, Where We Belong
The Downtown is the heart of any community. It is the hub of business and industry, a key commercial area, a destination for residents and visitors, and a signal to the rest of the world about the values and priorities of the city. The Downtown needs to be accessible, inviting, and serve a wide range of ages and interests. It cannot just be the Downtown for some, but it needs to be the Downtown for all.
If the Downtown of a city is doing well, it’s a strong indicator that the city as a whole is doing well.
In Saskatoon, the success of the Downtown is related to so many of our other goals: increased density in the core, improved transit usage, economic investment and diversification, greater numbers of people choosing to walk and cycle, smarter growth, and better use of our existing resources. Taken together, this means a higher quality of life for citizens and a better use of tax dollars.
How do we get there?
Building the perfect conditions for a strong and vibrant Downtown isn’t easy, and there is no perfect, universal formula for success. However, we know that we will find out what works best for Saskatoon through collaboration and bringing people together. If the Downtown is going to thrive and work for everyone, then different people will have to come together to problem solve, find creative solutions, and work with the best interests of the community in mind.
If we’re going to crack the code to what will make Saskatoon’s Downtown be all that it can be, the only way that we can do this is if we work together as a community.
Signs of progress.
Over the past year, this sort of cooperation has already led to some pretty remarkable results. All of the different groups that have been brought together—business owners, transit users, residents, developers, shoppers, cyclists, students, seniors, and civic staff—have contributed their expertise to work through these issues. Although they all came from different experiences, the hopes and goals that they shared for the Downtown were remarkably similar. People wanted a Downtown that is inviting, accessible, and appeals to all ages.
In fall and early winter of 2017, the City and the Downtown Saskatoon Business Improvement District teamed up to build on this wave of renewal and interest. We employed human-centred design thinking to look at the complex, thorny issues—such as safety, cold winter months, parking, transportation, and accessibility—in new and creative ways to improve peoples’ experiences in the Downtown. By studying how people interact with the Downtown and what their goals are for the area, we can learn what small changes would have a big impact.
And that’s exactly what we did. The City is now implementing some pilot projects that will help to make our Downtown thrive and be more inviting, such as a plan to revamp back alleyways, a grant to provide seed funding to businesses and groups wanting to add vibrancy to the Downtown, and some work geared towards the current and future residents of the Downtown. It’s a small step for sure, but it’s part of a much larger shift in how we view and talk about our Downtown core.
Cutting the red tape
Another element of creating a stronger Downtown is making sure that new developments can happen easily so more residents, stores, and amenities can be brought to the area. There were growing frustrations with many developers about the bureaucracy of City Hall and the amount of time and effort it took to get approval for new developments. We reached out to the Home Builders’ Association to learn how these processes could be improved, and this resulted in the Cut the Red Tape initiative which has streamlined the process and incentivized. City employees and developers collaborated and solved a huge problem, and the results have been celebrated by those wanting to create new developments in our Downtown core.
In Saskatoon, we have a history of innovation, problem-solving, and collaboration, and this is how we will create a stronger Downtown. We have all of the pieces in Saskatoon to make our Downtown a success, now it’s just a matter of putting them all together.