standing up for what we value
A Highway Runs Through It
The Saskatoon Freeway is a eight-to-ten-lane truck route around and through the city, currently being planned by the provincial Department of Highways and Infrastructure. A “functional planning study” for the northeast section of the project (Phase 2) has been completed. As a result of pressure from the public and conservation groups, the proposed route of the highway was altered to partially avoid the major wetland in the Northeast Swale, and the plan includes provisions for wildlife crossings. However, the route still bisects and fragments both Swales as it cuts cross country toward a river crossing less than a kilometer from the new Chief Mistawasis Bridge.
A functional study of the western portion of the highway (Phase 3) is currently underway. Swale Watchers are concerned about the impact of this portion of the route on important wetlands in the West Swale.
The estimated cost of the Saskatoon Freeway is well over $2,000,000,000 (2015 estimate). That is a lot of money to spend on infrastructure that will cause irreversible damage to our last, best natural areas. The provincial government remains committed to driving this project ahead.
A Neighbourhood in Nature
Saskatoon City Council has instructed its in-house developer, Saskatoon Land, to design a new residential and commercial neighbourhood in the area between the Northeast and Small Swales. At the same time, Council has acknowledged the living presence of the Swales and has pledged to protect them.
On first hearing, this may sound like a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it, too. Swale Watchers are on record as opposing urban expansion on this site. Saskatoon has significant opportunities for renewal- and infill-developments that would make a lot more sense.
That said, we understand that more and more people are living in cities, both globally and here at home, and that cities have a critical role to play in conservation. Designing cities that meet human needs—including the need to be surrounded by and participate in healthy ecosystems—is a pressing challenge and an exciting opportunity. Other cities, here and here and here, are showing us the way, by creating inspiring, sustainable, and affordable neighbourhoods that support and celebrate biodiversity. At the same time, they are prioritizing the protection of water, the basis of life.
If University Heights 3 goes ahead as planned (as it likely will), we need to insist that it is Super-Natural. Swale Watchers are committed to staying at the table to advocate for ourselves and future generations, as well as for the other creatures with whom we share this beautiful earth.
Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design
Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design, or BSUD, is an approach to urban planning that views cities as habitat for people and, equally, for other species. It positions humans as a “keystone species,” capitalizing on our ability to enhance living conditions for other beings at the same time as we meet our own needs.
To minimize the impact on the Swales, Swale Watchers urge the planners at Saskatoon Land to take the following steps:
- set clear biodiversity targets supported by ongoing monitoring
- plan for increased residential density to save land for nature
- honour the boundaries established by City Council in February 2023 to ensure the reserves are as large as possible
- provide ample buffers around designated reserves to protect core areas from disturbance
- connect the Swales with generous corridors of habitat to support animal movement and dispersal
- conserve natural woodlands, and sloughs and create new plantings and naturalized wetlands
- ensure that roads are wildlife-friendly by designing curbs that small animals, like ducklings, can climb and providing safe crossings (underpasses and overpasses) for creatures great and small
- prioritize active transportation and public transit over private vehicles
- reduce traffic speeds in the interests of human and animal safety
- require dark-sky lighting on all public and private spaces to allow animals to move around in natural darkness
- mandate the use of native plant species in public and private landscaping
- plan for active control invasive species
Water Is Life
Water is the medium of life and the underpinning of economic prosperity. Without adequate supplies of quality water, everything we have created here will dry up and blow away. It follows that protecting water in all its interconnected forms—whether as stormwater (precipitation), groundwater, wetlands or our beautiful river—needs to be at the top of our TO DO list.
Cities draw in quality water and return it in a degraded form. To minimize the negative impact of the new University Heights 3 neighbourhood, Swale Watchers encourage the planners at Saskatoon Land to adopt the practices of Low Impact Development and/or Water Sensitive Urban Design and to take the following steps:
- locate storm ponds outside the Swale Protected Areas
- ensure that there is a generous vegetated buffer around all zones of all the natural wetlands within the Swales
- include constructed wetlands within the linear parks and habitat corridors throughout the neighbourhood
- design bioswales throughout the neighbourhood to collect and naturally treat stormwater
- install permeable pavements rather than hard surfaces in the subdivision to maintain natural infiltration. This is especially important because the new neighbourhood will overlie the Forestry Farm Aquifer.
- protect natural stands of trees, and plant native species of trees and bushes in public spaces
- design a system to collect rainwater for watering and other non-drinking uses
- monitor groundwater for fertilizer residues and other contaminants
February 2023 Swale Watchers Recommended Boundary
February 2023 Council Endorsed Boundary
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The Swale Watchers gratefully acknowledge that we live and work on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation.
© 2023 Swale Watchers
Photos By: Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen & Meghan Mickelson