New kind of community

The concept of a self-contained, planned community such as proposed for Southpointe, adjacent to Red Deer College and west of the south end of Taylor Drive, sure looks good on paper.

The concept of a self-contained, planned community such as proposed for Southpointe, adjacent to Red Deer College and west of the south end of Taylor Drive, sure looks good on paper.

Building a self-contained community generously layered by parks and easily-accessed natural areas, including shopping and work opportunities, plus easy access to a new college campus — what’s not to like?

For students and staff at the college, Southpointe offers that wonderful amenity granted only to long-established universities in insulated communities: quiet well-treed neighbourhoods with almost zero through-traffic, where you can stroll or bike to work in minutes. Light, community-based shopping, cafes, pubs and boutiques likewise minutes away.

In real estate terms, those kinds of homes are not mere gold, they are platinum, or titanium or some other exceedingly rare and valuable metal, much more valuable than gold.

Once built, even if a major part of the housing developments there are fairly high density, they will be money in the bank, forever. Cities have exceedingly few “campus accessible” districts and they are practically immune from the laws governing other real estate.

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter have one section in The Rebel Sell, their intriguing book on consumer culture that examines the value of such places. Speaking about how much money people pay for status, one of the authors — a university professor living a brief walk away from his Toronto campus workplace — describes how he came to realize how much he pays for the privilege of being able to walk quiet, tree-lined streets to work.

Trip for trip, he could have lived almost anyplace else in the city and bought a Porsche (or more than one) to drive to work. But he still considers the cost worthwhile. Anyone with the money can have a Porsche; how many people can live in a quiet campus community?

Southpointe — on paper — has every possibility of becoming such a community.

But anyone who has travelled the urban dead zone that is the south end of Taylor Drive will quickly realize that Southpointe had better be a fully-planned, self-contained community.

The subdivision will be a triangle with Taylor Drive itself and its monstrous shopping complexes along one side, Hwy 2 on another and Red Deer College on the third edge. In urban planning terms, these are barriers as big as a river. You need bridges to cross them.

The draft planning documents look like those barriers have been well-considered. If you look hard, you will even see bike and pedestrian trails along the west edge of Taylor Drive, which lowers the dangers of north-south cycling in Red Deer considerably. Even so, from what can be seen, you are still safer riding to Penhold from Taylor Drive than you are to the Bower Place Shopping Centre.

One sincerely hopes street space will be sacrificed at strategic points in the district, so that any poor soul who wanders in along Taylor Drive can safely get out again, travelling east into the city.

Solve the problem of the barriers that exist all around the outside of the proposed Southpointe community and Red Deer will have gained a community treasure.

No doubt outsiders will someday find an appropriate term for the perceived snobs who live there — mostly out of jealousy.

And the city can begin looking for a place to build another one.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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