“The goal was to understand, from people who live downtown or would consider living there, what about the area makes it an attractive option and what barriers exist to people from falling in love with the idea of living a downtown urban lifestyle,” said University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher Ryan Walker.
The project, which involved an online survey of 470 residents in downtown Saskatoon and 10 other neighbourhoods, as well as five focus group discussions via videoconference, was funded by Research Junction, a joint initiative by USask and City of Saskatoon.
“Sustainable growth is a strategic goal for the city, and enhancing downtown as a residential environment and getting more people living there is a priority,” said the city’s Director of Planning and Development, Lesley Anderson.
Among the key findings:
- The South Saskatchewan River and Meewasin Valley are downtown’s biggest assets, and people want to live within a few blocks of them. Amenities such as an expanded network of public spaces should be programmed with interesting things to do in all seasons.
- The convenient lifestyle of proximity to work, school, retail, businesses, services, and action at venues such as restaurants, bars and other public amenities are top reasons to live downtown.
- Diversified housing options in terms of architectural style, on-site amenities, and price points, especially in the mid-range suitable for families, are in short supply. A push to develop barren lots and underused buildings is needed.
- The art gallery, theatre, and public library facilities are important public and private investments for a downtown urban lifestyle.
- Downtown respondents felt they aren’t in close community contact with business owners and are often not perceived as a target market.
Building an environment that attracts more people to live downtown can make residents a key target market, and change the debate around issues such as transit, bike lanes and parking, said Walker, principal investigator and professor in the Department of Geography and Planning in the College of Arts and Science. Graduate student Zoe Hagen was co-investigator.
While the lack of grocery stores and feelings of being unsafe in the area remain predominant concerns, he said these challenges, especially about safety, aren’t insurmountable.
“The best way to resolve the perception of a decline in safety is to be persistent and continue to really promote residential development,” Walker said. “When you have people living downtown in higher numbers, there’s more passive street surveillance and a sense of community. The issues of safety perception sort of resolve themselves.”
Anderson said the City will use the findings from this research to help in the planning of major and minor projects downtown, including streetscape and public realm projects, as well as the upcoming Downtown Arena and Entertainment District Master Plan.