A Vibrant Core of Offices

On Monday November 15th, 2010 the Leader Post ran an article by Joe Couture called ‘Councillor envisions vibrant core’ regarding whether or not office space should be limited to the City Centre.   You may recall I posted about this issue two weeks ago.  The LP piece is an interesting read, I encourage everyone to have a look, just click on the name of the article above.

For my thoughts, follow me after the break.

Joe Couture’s article focuses on Mike O’Donnell, the councillor in question, who gives some interesting quotes regarding the proposed office on Tragarva Dr. (RPC10-46).  According to the article, Councillor O’Donnell feels, because the development looks like an office building, it did not fit into the area and thus was not indorsed.  Fred Searle, manager of the City’s development review branch, reinforces the idea that, in this case, residential and office uses did not mix, saying “problems [with Tregarva Drive] included that the proposed office development would be right beside a residential area.”

To be fair, in quotes near the end of the article, Fred Searle presses the point that the city will allow office as long it does not create negative market conditions Downtown.  Councillor O’Donnell also stresses that his comments are about a specific building proposal.

It was clear to me, having been at the meeting, that Councillor O’Donnell did tie together the body of office proposals and questioned the aggregate effects of approval.  It was also clear there was some doubt from committee members, in part coming from concerns raised by residents, that office space developed close to residential was appropriate.  The proximity of office space, however, was not, in my opinion, the decisive reason the proposal was not approved.  Yet that is exactly the assertion Councillor O’Donnell makes in the article.

To repeat from my last piece on the subject, I reject the idea that office space, of a certain size, does not belong among residential.  Allowing people the option to live and work in the same neighbourhood is a great boost to a city’s resilience.

In another quote from the article, Councillor O’Donnell praises the design of the proposed building then proceeds to say, “we can’t have a dead zone (downtown).  We need to have a thriving zone”.  In effect, the Councillor wants the building downtown.  New buildings downtown, covering parking lots is fine with me too.  Yet, even though a great deal of our commercial office space is already downtown, we continue to lament how poor our downtown is.  I do not believe office space is the key to downtown vibrancy.  The Walk to Work plan stresses residential density more than commercial/office density.

Office space is largely in use 8am-6pm, five days a week and far more likely, because of the City’s auto culture, to require large parking lots.  The argument that more office downtown leads to more transit users also falls flat.  Right now, the easiest place to take the bus to in Regina is Downtown.  It is perfect for commuting in “regular” working hours.  Yet, what is the major issue downtown?  Parking.  Of the parking space downtown, a great deal is reserved for office workers.

It seems like the city is fighting against the historical tide to retain downtown as the commercial/shopping centre without peer of the pre-war era.  At the same time, gutting the centre by expanding suburbs further and further, separating users and uses.  This promotes a car culture which becomes entrenched and influences the expectations of people regarding transportation.

In the centre of the article, Avison Young managing director Richard Jankowski argues that an upswing in construction means talk of limiting office development projects risks losing future prospects.  He points to the proposed office park in Harbour Landing as an example, where business with no desire to be downtown will have options in Regina.

I worked in an office park type environment in the past, at the little building out by SIAST; that was once  a nurses college.  You were stuck there unless you had a car or timed the bus to perfection.  There was nowhere to walk to, nothing to see.

Office Building by Avison Young (from Leader Post article online)

Mr. Jankowski would love to see an option, like above, available to potential businesses.  A collection of these buildings, connected by roads and parking lots, separated by berms, trees is the grand vision of this project according to the website of  Greenview Developments Ltd.  If the renderings are to be believed, all the mistakes have already been made.  The optimism about investment in office space, like this project, as though the money alone will blend the resilience and functionality required for success.

In the end, this article suggests to me that Council will condone office space outside the downtown if the development is not of significant size, the use is more warehouse-industrial and that it is desired by business.  I can’t see this council turning down business that would not come here without a suburban office park.  The argument I use about promoting neighbourhood employment opportunities might also be applied here.  The key is in execution.  A remote, separated office park with no density and little pedestrian access would be yet another car dependent deadend.

** Top photo by Martin Gourlie

A Vibrant Core of Offices

6 thoughts on “A Vibrant Core of Offices

  1. “Allowing people the option to live and work in the same neighborhood is a great boost to a city’s resilience.”

    Same goes for the downtown neighborhood right? More office jobs downtown potentially means more residents living in the core, which then spreads to more restaurants, possible grocery store and so on.

    1. wourliem says:

      I think office construction, anything above four stories, all need to go into the centre of the city, maybe not downtown as defined by the city, but within the centre neighbourhoods.

      You say more office will promote more residential, what about the huge amount of office right now downtown, why hasn’t it promoted more than, according to the City’s 2006 Downtown neighbourhood profile, 1109 people in The Downtown Business District as of 2009. Change is coming, more residential is being added to the core but generally large areas of offices have lower a population of residents.

      Basically, neighbourhoods lack offices and that option, downtown as a neighbourhood has a over abundance of office and that’s historical and totally normal. Going forward, though, this 20th century uni-centric formation (downtown, because of the built infrastructure will always have a different character) should be prepared for a change to a more poly-centric design.

  2. Not that the idea of having live/work design throughout a city isn’t a great idea but I’ve read some stuff that suggests that trying to rehab suburbs with work spaces doesn’t necessarily lead to less car-centric living. The reality being that many people will still leave one suburb where they live to go to another suburb where they work.

    I am not opposed to trying to create more well-rounded communities on the fringe, but I think efforts need to be focused to get the downtown on solid footing instead of exporting more jobs and business to the fringe.

    1. wourliem says:

      For me this all preparation for the future uncertainties of peak oil, transportation, infrastructure capital and (to some extent) climate change. I don’t know that when people can’t afford to drive across town to work anymore everyday, that there will be the multi millions of dollars needed to convert the suburbs into something useful. Having some office space, just like having other mixed uses in your neighbourhood, allows for options. It is possible the Tregarva Dr. office is a little too large.

      I guess I don’t see how the downtown suffers for office space. It certainly does suffer for livability, something I’m not sure office space mends.

      I do take your point that in current car relient conditions, a lot of office in the suburbs will keep people in the suburbs more so. I guess I wonder about the degree/amount of office to try to include in suburban areas.

      1. I think as the downtown is defined you are right – there is little residency (some condo owners, but it is limited) – however, the neighbourhoods right around there have lots of residents (including Transition/Centre Square). It is my understanding that the downtown plan was to increase residents on the edge of downtown (not necessarily spread throughout it). I get the impression that office space is at a premium downtown which is why the new projects. As far as peak oil etc goes, I wonder if infill is a better strategy to bring the entire city closer together as opposed to having multiple potentially disjointed centres. For the record, I didn’t think that the Tragarva plan was a bad one necessarily – it was certainly more pleasing and functional/and potentially multi-use than the one in Harbour Landing appears to be.

  3. […] The other office space application was more controversial.  RPC 11-28 concerned an office building in East Regina, Prince of Wales, Quance St. and Tregarva Dr. to the West (See the story about this development from last winter in Office Space and A Vibrant Core of Offices). […]

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