One of the main causes of energy waste is the design of cities. Cities are designed for cars and are often impossible to live and work in without them. Better urban design policies that ensure that homes are situated closer to workplaces and shops, results in fewer and shorter car trips, which saves energy.
While Saskatchewan cities seem dedicated to increasing urban sprawl, by building suburban neighbourhoods and big box stores on the urban periphery, there are also signs that environmental policy is beginning to affect urban design.
The plan for the new Willowgrove neighbourhood on the eastside of Saskatoon is a case in point. Willowgrove will incorporate several design elements that may reduce the need for frequent car trips. Willowgrove's plan is more community oriented. It provides people in the neighbourhood with a place to go and a way to get there other than by car. In addition to pocket parks, a network of pedestrian and bicycle trails will lead to a village square surrounded by housing and a variety of services.
The village square concept offers residents an attractive destination or focal point in the neighbourhood, a place to meet friends or to do business. In conventional suburban design, the neighbourhood is usually focused around a core park and elementary schools. In this case, the community core will serve as the primary service and public activity centre, with a mix of uses such as a coffee shop, a convenience store, small-scale retail boutiques, health clinics or law offices, neo-traditional townhouses and an attractive village square. A village centre, from which the neighbourhood radiates, creates more of a community core-a place for adults as well as children.
Willowgrove will also have a higher population density-at 5.6 housing units per acre-than most of the city's suburban neighbourhoods, which have an average of 3.74 units per acre. Older neighbourhoods like City Park have an average of 8.5 units per acre. Higher population density provides a more efficient use of land resources and reduces urban sprawl.
In Willowgrove, drainage areas are used as linear parks and pathways, which provide aesthetically pleasing routes to the village centre-and good places for exercise. One benefit of this approach is a reduction of conflicts between vehicle traffic and pedestrians or cyclists.
While far from incorporating a full range of environmentally sensitive elements, such as alternative energy use, Willowgrove's design is clearly a step in the right direction. Although the use of solar power is not built into the project, for example, the neighbourhood is designed with the streets oriented east to west wherever possible, which would facilitate the use of roof mounted solar power or passive solar heating.