Let’s Actually Be a Smart City

The proposal for the Wellington Street extension is predicated on a model which presumes that a vibrant downtown core requires more and larger road access to bring shoppers and tourists to downtown. Ironically, the building of a new road such as the Wellington Street Extension will take away from qualities that could be used to enhance Kingston’s tourist capacity: walkability, human scale, a historical vibe, and so on. And it is unlikely that suburban dwellers in Kingston are going to change their shopping patterns and suddenly start coming downtown, even if new roadways are built.

It is far more likely that the core of Kingston will be sustained and revitalized by an intelligent combination of encouraging urban density while maintaining the historic nature of the city.

This does run contrary to most planning (or lack of planning) since 1950 which has focused on urban expansion into suburban areas utilizing valuable agricultural lands so that everyone can have a fully detached home on their own plot of land. But advocates of the Smart City model, a hugely dynamic international planning philosophy, observe that going forward we will no longer be able to afford the cost of large spread-out cities, which are dependent on private ownership of fossil fuel driven vehicles. Over the last 15 to 20 years there has been a dramatic movement in cities around the world toward the concept of higher densification in urban cores.

Rather than focus on bringing vehicles in to the downtown core, Kingston should focus on bringing people into the downtown core to live. Having more people living downtown will enhance the economic viability of the downtown core to a far greater degree than new roadways. To some extent this is already happening, with new buildings on Block D, the Anna Lane condos, the Leuwarden building, and so on. More new apartments and condos are happening a little further up Princess Street, and imagined for the “North Block” as well. These developments are not without controversy from neighbours, and they must be designed sensitively. But when well done and combined with public greenspace, they can improve the quality of life for current residents hugely by increasing the demand for services, schools, and stores and thus bringing jobs and resources into the community.

The cost of the Wellington Street extension is estimated by the city as (at least) $35 million (quite separate from the cost of a third crossing). If we assume that if this amount comes from development charges it can only be used for infrastructure, which includes transportation, options emerge that can substantially enhance the capacity of the city to bring people into the downtown core without destroying valuable parkland and potential residential space. Frequent express buses from key points in suburban areas to the critical points in the downtown core such as the Princess Street corridor, the hospitals, the University and RMC could be accomplished by creating suburban parking and high end comfortable hybrid buses which may even have dedicated lanes to ensure their capacity to move people rapidly from the suburban areas to the downtown core. In 2012, the City of Ottawa budgeted hybrid buses at $600,000 apiece: we could buy 20 of them for less than $15 million. We would still have money left over for other parts of a green transit plan: bike lanes, a bike sharing system, bike lanes, appropriate parking facilities, better transit for the elderly and disabled, and so on.

Kingston apparently has the most PhDs per capita in Canada. Perhaps we should start to act smarter.

— Jim Docherty and Laura Murray

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One thought on “Let’s Actually Be a Smart City

  1. Precisely. To develop the downtown core, we need more people living here, not more ways for cars to take them out to the ‘burbs.

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