Architect says north downtown project has the potential to become “life-changing” for the city. The evolution of Saskatoon’s north downtown into a walkable and environmentally sustainable neighbourhood has the potential to become a “life-changing development” for the city, according to the firm in charge of the project.
“I’d say it’s very ambitious,” said Joyce Drohan, an architect with Perkins and Will, the Vancouver firm planning the new neighbourhood, which could see up to 15,000 people living on the edge of Saskatoon’s downtown. “This is not the same as downtown — it is unique.”
Drohan and her team of architects are looking to transform the vast swaths north of the city’s core — home now mostly to rail operations and the snowplows and graders of the city storage yards — into a model of modern urban living that would incorporate the heritage of the railway and warehouse district.
“People really enjoy that gritty, robust side of urban life and I think if we can capture that here that will go a long way to saying that this isn’t River Landing. This is something very different,” Drohan said.
There are no specifics yet on exactly how many people will live in the area or what kind of sustainable features it will have, but the new neighbourhood will likely be home to townhouses and apartments, not single-unit dwellings. There will be bike lanes and pedestrian paths. It will have a technologically advanced waste and storm water system and a railway crossing. There will also likely be elements of urban agriculture — such as community or rooftop gardens — according to Drohan.
Alongside the north downtown master plan, FVB Energy Inc. will complete a $100,000 study looking at a district heating and energy system for the area.
Drohan says even this early on in the planning stages, there is an optimism among the people involved to create a unique, transformative neighbourhood.
“They want to shift the thinking of people who live in Saskatoon and get them to think about urban living in a completely different way,” Drohan said.
The 240 acres of north downtown land is a giant triangle bordered by First Avenue and Idylwyld Drive and 24th Street and 33rd Street. The 25th Street extension and the new police station, which are under construction, are just the first step in an ambitious plan to connect the neighbourhoods of Caswell Hill and City Park with the city’s downtown.
The new neighbourhood could take as long as 20 years to complete and Drohan says it’s too early to say how many people it will eventually house.
“I mean you can fit 15,000 people anywhere if you try hard enough. I think we want to go about this in a full and considered way. … We have to understand where the sensitive points are and when is there too much density,” she said.
The team will hold public consultation sessions during the next year — both citywide and with nearby residents — to determine what type of neighbourhood residents want to see.
Perkins and Will is the firm responsible for the redevelopment of Victoria’s Dockside Green and Edmonton’s downtown airport area, projects that have been described as “unique in Canadian history.” The Edmonton airport project includes geothermal district energy plans and on-site sewage treatment. During public consultations, the firm’s architects have floated ideas such as mini street-level farms and garbage chutes that connect to an underground vacuum collection system, eliminating the need for garbage trucks.
There is even talk in Edmonton of using the geothermal energy to heat plazas and sidewalks in the new neighbourhood. The ground would be heated to about 10 C to melt away ice and snow, even on the coldest of winter days.
Even though Saskatoon residents would likely delight at the idea of snow melting on their sidewalks, Drohan says it’s likely not in the cards.
“Heated sidewalks? That’s a whole other kettle of fish,” Drohan said. “If you look at some of the Scandinavian countries they do it with a very extensive and expensive system with underlaying pipes, so I don’t think that’s one of the things we are going to be suggesting.” [ CLOSE ]