By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix
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Saskatoon has big city aspirations for its downtown.
Getting rid of the bus mall, allowing outdoor cafés along Spadina, building a more robust cycling network, allowing taller buildings and installing heated sidewalks in some areas are just some of the suggestions contained in a sweeping city report that charts a new path for the city core.
On Thursday, the city released its much anticipated city centre plan, which outlines a plan for growth in the downtown, Broadway and other core neighbourhoods.
“It has such a big city flavour to it,” said Alan Wallace, the city’s manager of planning and development. “There are lot of things in there that a lot of big cities have and we don’t have. Maybe it’s time we did some of those things.”
The plan marks a shift in thinking, providing more emphasis on cyclists and pedestrians, incentives for development on vacant lots and rejigging how the bus system is laid out.
The plan, which was prepared for the city by Stantec Consulting, estimates 15,000 residents will live in the downtown in the coming years.
In order to make the core areas attractive as places to live, the report says some improvements are needed. The city could address the need for public spaces by installing a public plaza in front of TCU Place along 22nd Street, it suggests. The city could also build rain gardens and replace parking stalls with sidewalk patios to help beautify downtown streets, it adds.
“It’s not a pie in the sky kind of thing. It builds on the strengths that our downtown has,” Wallace said.
One of the key features of the sweeping plan is the focus on creating a “west downtown,” he said. While a lot of attention has been paid to the south downtown — the home of River Landing — and more recently the north downtown with the construction of the new police station, the west downtown, bordered by Idywyld Drive, has been largely ignored.
“The time has come when we start to focus on our back door,” Wallace said.
Incentives for more dense development along Idywyld Drive and a focus on specific intersections like Idywyld Drive and 22nd Street will improve pedestrian access and make the downtown more accessible, he said.
“It starts with someone jumping out with a plan and saying, ‘This street can be different.’ ”
The plan also incorporates many of the city’s existing ambitions. A rapid transit system, for example, would make the much-maligned downtown bus mall a thing of the past, and 23rd Street could once again be open to traffic. Under the new system, rapid transit routes would circulate through the downtown.
Transit is just one element of the sprawling report, which aims to attract more young people and seniors to a more walkable urban landscape. It also focuses on providing incentives for businesses and encouraging more street-level investment. The plan also proposes new design guidelines that would allow for larger, taller buildings.
The city is also considering an incentive for developers to occupy vacant lots used for parking that currently make up more than a quarter of the total downtown surface space. The report suggests encouraging developers to build multi-level parking garages.