Quality of Place

Hi All – sorry it’s been quieter than normal around here (today is the first partial day off I’ve had in weeks).

I wanted to quickly stop in and share a little something I found in my inbox this morning. It’s part of a weekly newsletter from CEOs for Cities and today’s touched on the importance of place when it comes to recruiting young, talented people to a city or region.

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Last week, Rustwire posted a crushing letter by the owner of a growing business who lamented his inability to recruit young talent to the “unpleasant” and “visually unattractive” sprawling suburb where it is located.

His message, while harsh and at times downright flinching, offers this important insight:

“We’d like to stay, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes. Our problem is access to talent.”

And further:

“There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor “quality of life.” A better term might be poor “quality of place.””

…People with talent don’t have to live anywhere. They can pick and choose.  And increasingly there are better, more attractive choices. When you are up against harsh winters or, in this case, a legacy of bad planning, you have to work even harder on Quality of Place.

That requires leadership.

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This short snippet, and the idea of quality of place, really stuck with me. It made me a little more mindful of how place greatly impacts how a city develops and whether or not it will prosper. I think in part it also sat with me because of the past (and some present) out-migration of young people from the province and the city. It’s a trend that has slowed, but it does still happen and we need to be mindful of ways to keep talent here in the long run.

Now, obviously, Regina is different from Michigan (where this business owner is from). But the issue of providing quality living options is important and spans all cities. At present, a lot of housing is tied up in single family detached homes with little real aesthetic value and most new development still happens on the fringe. As Regina grows and changes, we need to plan and build for more variety  –  housing types, sizes, and prices – as well as focus on quality design. It goes hand in hand with increasing walkability and revitalizing downtowns, and is essential for attracting young talented students and professionals, as well as accommodating small families and seniors who want to age in place (and anyone else who isn’t looking to buy a house in the ‘burbs for that matter). Hopefully through the development of the Official Community Plan these issues will be addressed and local developers will start steping up to meet these needs.

The other thing that sat with me from reading this little excerpt was the idea that when a place can seem a little inhospitable (i.e. harsh winters) it takes more effort to create quality of place and draw people in. Regina, and Saskatchewan does decently in this regard (in particular with social interaction and community), but it’s something to be mindful of. How can we, as citizens and leaders, make active choices that will improve quality of place – both in the physical forms that we create, but also the communities and connections that we build with our neighbours? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Ok – this post is already waaaay longer than I’d planned. I just needed to share those few thoughts. Now I have to get back to work here – I’ll try to post more regularly soon.

** Mouse over image for credit info.

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Quality of Place

6 thoughts on “Quality of Place

  1. Martin Gourlie says:

    Thanks for the great post Laura,

    I don’t have much to say on building community-connections side, that’s something I’ve yet to really figure out.

    I feel that as far as buildings-structures-infrastructure it comes down to what people wish for, what people expect and what they can find.

    I love the picture you’ve included with this post, because it’s what I wish for, completely. 3-4 story, buildings that could be residential, commercial, even some light, modest industrial, artist centred and/or entertainment spaces, possibily some/all of these at the same time. Other people I’ve met in Regina would hate to live in something like these, they prefer a detached house, yard and driveway located in a residential neighbourhood.

    What people can find here is some multi-use spaces, and probably more suburban spaces. If someone is like me an likes a more urban environment they may move to get that in a larger city. Others move here to get a suburban space.

    What they expect might be what draws people to move here: If people know the city for suburbs, suburb seekers will be attracted to Regina.

    I think the city should promote mix-use building forms that are resilient to change, modest in height (ie you wouldn’t mind climbing the stairs) as a infill priority. I think that these spaces could outlive their built purpose, and be re-purposed. The downtown plan works at this, perhaps more regulation in other central areas can be discussed-encouraged.

    One example of a structure that in my experience might do all the things you ask about is my local elementary school hockey rink. The boards and shack meet an expectation we have from our city for providing recreation. It is a busy and attractive winter space, that people who wish for a pick up hockey game – skating surface are happy to find. And luckily, there are many throughout the city so there’s not over-crowding and their easy to find. This space also brings various people together of various ages, during the nasty winter no less!

    The important part of this hockey rink is that it’s used. It is a very limited space, dog run in summer, hockey-skating in winter, but its popular. I think its important to meet a demand for spaces. There a soccer fields, Davin – Thompson schools that have goal posts but no grass, how useful is that space? While in my Tuesday Post I have a picture of Haultain’s soccer field, a dream of a space for soccer, but I saw no evidence it’s been used lately.

    My understanding is there’s a demand for affordable appartments and office space. I would suggest making spaces that can accomplish that now, and be designed for flexibility in the future would help provide spaces, people could imagine for their needs and build better expectations for the city.

    The gambit is once people are organized around each other, if the built forms allow for informal, 3rd space, meetings, community – communication – connections will result.

    1. Martin Gourlie says:

      Thanks for the spelling spot Barb, sorry to Thomson School for the error. I went back on google maps to see the Thomson soccer field and on their street view images it looks green. Maybe my memory isn’t so great, or things have changed in the last few years.

      The goal posts are still too far apart in my opinion. The distance, however, is probably consistant with a design of the time.

  2. Barb Saylor says:

    Tangential to your topic, but FYI, what looks like a schoolyard may actually be city property. This tends to vary from school to school; for example, the Regina Board of Education owns the entire block on which Martin Collegiate is situated, but at Walker School, in the same neighbourhood, city property begins where the tarmac at the rear of the building ends. At Scott Collegiate, the Board owns the south half of the block where the school is, and the city owns the north half. Off the top of my head I don’t recall what the situation is at Davin or Haultain, but I’d bet that much of these yards would be city property. That means that, if there are soccer pitches or baseball diamonds there, the maintenance thereof is the city’s responsibility. Ditto for some playground structures which may be on city property.

    1. Martin Gourlie says:

      Thanks for the follow up Barb. The city-school property difference is a great point and one I am familiar with from my time at McVeety. The rink I mention above is on what looks to be the school grounds but is actually city property. At least one ball diamond, a sandbox and at least one swing set are also on city property.

      I had a look at the zoning maps for some of the schools mentioned. Davin, Haultain and Thomson all seem to be completely zoned ‘I’ (Institutional). McVeety, however, has a sharp divide, ‘I’ for the East side and ‘PS’ (Public Service) for the West. You find ‘PS’ zoned for public parks and green spaces.

      I’ll just finish by saying Walker School has a lovely soccer field (South of the school building), which I think is within the ‘I’ boundary from the zoning map. The Flood Way along Wascana creek creates interesting boundary issues in that section of the city.

      1. Barb Saylor says:

        Yes, there are boundary issues — sadly, the large public access south of Walker has led in the past to a high incidence of vandalism. What the situation is now, I couldn’t say, no longer being privy to that info. As to the institutional zoning, I could be mistaken, but “where the tarmac ends” was relayed to me by someone who should be in the know. As I understand it, too, that’s behind the inability to expand the small and steep staff parking lot on the east side.
        All of that said, the issue of schoolyard maintenance is rather fraught, more so now that school boards are unable to set their own millrates and raise their own taxes.

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