Friday Feature: National Infrastructure Summit

Hi everyone! Today’s feature is the National Infrastructure Summit that has been happening for the last few days here in Regina. I know it isn’t as exciting as some of the cool art and DIY posts we usually feature on Fridays, but it’s an important event regarding the future of cities in Canada and we owe it to ourselves to stay in the loop. As a consolation though, some of the Tweets coming out of the summit are actually quite of fun to follow – I’ve been particularly enjoyed a couple from Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary (people in positions of power with a sense of humour and self-awareness = instant endearment)!

This tweet of his was getting passed around a lot on day 1 of the summit:

Tonight’s event is at Casino Regina, which gives me a great idea for funding the airport underpass and rec centres. #allonred #badidea#nis

There has been some great coverage by the local media outlets that readers should be checking out. Prairie Dog contributor Paul Dechene has a number of posts on the summit and some short podcast interviews that are worth a listen, including one with Mayor Nenshi. Also over at the Prairie Dog, Greg Beatty recently wrote a post to re-cap the session on Citizen Engagement. A lot of the ideas expressed are similar to discussions and projects we’ve covered here (new engagement methods, the importance of citizen dialogue, etc).

The piece that Leader Post contributor Joe Couture did detailing some of the ideas expressed by Jennifer Keesmaat, of Regina Downtown Plan acclaim, is also great. She is one of the panelists during the summit and provided some thoughtful perspective on how to deal with the infrastructure gap, namely cutting back on low density development. I really appreciate her honesty and candidness about this issue. I think it is likely the most important conversation to have at this summit – closing the infrastructure gap will take more than finding new sources of money. It will require a shift in the way we view development and they way we plan cities, and it needs to be with density and sustainability in mind.

Low density developments result in fewer people paying for each portion of a given utility or service (i.e. km of pipeline, added transit route, or recreation centre) leading to higher individual costs than if it were shared between more homes and families. And unless cities are willing to increase property taxes to truly match these high costs (which few municipalities want to do), infrastructure deficits are inevitable. These issues recently came to the surface with Regina’s recent property tax hike to deal with our water infrastructure and the infrastructure deficit overall.

Over the years we’ve increased the geographic spread of our development, creating more infrastructure to maintain, but we haven’t adequately matched this type of development with the actual costs. Paul Dechene wrote a great piece about Regina’s water infrastructure needs in the Prairie Dog a few issues back. It includes a great interview with planner Charles Mahron of Strong Towns and deals with a lot of these same issues- it is worth a read.

Paul also just posted a piece this morning touching on the sprawl discussion at the NIS, and the somewhat ironic press-release he just received. It was to notify people that a public information session about another development in Regina’s northwest would be taking place. Paul says it’s odd-ly timed, which it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of developers bring forward these type of projects in the near future to try and get the ok before our citizens and council do something ‘crazy’ (read: responsible) and really looks hard at sprawl and its impacts.

So – take a bit of time today or this weekend to check out articles about the National Infrastructure Summit, follow the #nis feed on Twitter, and become a little more informed about the infrastructure issues that all cities are facing. We as citizens need to be having this honest discussion about what we want for our cities just as much as our leaders do.  We need to identify what type of communities we want to live in and how we are going to get there.

For what it’s worth, I think we all need to sober up and realize that we can no longer have our cake (mini-acerages) and eat it too (low property taxes) if we want to live in vibrant, sustainable, financially stable cities… where we “thrive in opportunity”. It just isn’t feasible. Planning and development that favours higher density can provide a really lovely quality of life, so this transition won’t be much of a sacrifice and will likely be a win-win for us and our cities.

Have a great weekend!

** Parks and public gathering spaces are fantastic social infrastructure!

Friday Feature: National Infrastructure Summit

3 thoughts on “Friday Feature: National Infrastructure Summit

  1. Great post about infrastructure and the NIS, Laura. And thanks for all the mentions of the p-dog coverage.

    There was actually a pretty good media presence at the summit. Me, Joe Couture from the L-P and Patrick Book from Newstalk attended most of it and covered it throughout. The CBC, French and English, were also out for most everything.

    Still, I get the feeling that the NIS went almost unnoticed outside of the conference centre. And I find that irksome. How cities are going to cope with the infrastructure deficit will likely have a massive, direct impact on all of us. And yet, you mention infrastructure and people’s eyes glaze over.

    And I can’t figure why no one’s been able to raise much public concern over it. I don’t know if I buy the argument that it’s too boring or too technical. I mean, the big political controversy of the past year was the long-form bloody census. Can you find a blander subject for a big news story?

    Of course, with the census, the opposition parties had a pretty clear way to make it a partisan conflict and, thereby, sexy.

    I doubt any federal party wants to stake out a clear position on infrastructure because they understand the enormity of the problem and don’t want to get stuck having to answer for it. And without someone willing to take a stand, there’s no conflict to report on and, thus, no sexiness.

    As a side note, I wish you could have attended Dr Penny Burns’ keynote address. It was fantastic and really pulled together a lot of the ideas you raised above. I posted an excerpt on the p-dog blog.

    1. Thanks Paul – yeah, I wish I could have attended the whole summit. I listened to the Dr. Penny Burns excerpt while I wrote this actually and was so happy that someone was addressing the need for more efficiency and creativity in addressing the issues (not just more money). It seems like with a lot of infrastructure service delivery we are simply wasteful and not taking advantage of the resources that are being used, so even if we get more money, unless we change the way we develop it won’t make much of a difference. I think if we focused on designing new systems that increase efficiency of resource use/infrastructure use we could lessen the burden and create truly sustainable approaches to development. I also was glad to see people address the issue of sprawl and how that greatly reduces efficiency and increases overall infrastructure costs.

      That is too bad that the NIS didn’t seem to get much attention outside of the circle of people involved – especially when everyone was up in arms about property taxes increasing due to infrastructure! I wonder if politicians and the media just didn’t re-inforce that connection for the public. Like you, I don’t think that the topic being “too boring or too technical” is true. I think infrastructure is something that is so woven into every aspect of a city that we forget it’s there until it is gone (save roads… people will always notice how good their road is for driving). Most people don’t think about where water from their tap comes from and where their toilet water goes (aside from: ‘in and out of a pipe’) let alone making the connection between sprawling development and the stress it puts on the infrastructure of an entire city… I could keep going.

      One session I attended at a conference last year was about how to help people make these sort of connections – i.e. perhaps if people received a breakdown with their property taxes (X dollars went to pay for new sewer, X dollars went to water treatment, ….) it would reduce the ‘more service but less taxes’ entitlement complex, or at least get people thinking about how a city operates and how we all contribute to it… anyway, just some thoughts.

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