This week, the media was full of stories that mayor said that we have a goal to increase the population of the city to 50,000 by 2025 - an increase of about 30% over the next ten years. He has since amended his terminology to say that it's a target, not a goal, which is probably wise, considering that in the thirty some years that I've lived here, the population has only increased by about 5,000. It also doesn't fit with what we've been told by various experts - that Prince Albert is unlikely to have a huge growth spurt, unlike Saskatoon. The city is likely to remain just a small city for the foreseeable future. And that's not a bad thing - there are lots of benefits to living in a city where rush hour is only five minutes. So let's not get caught up in the idea that growth for the sake of growth is what we want.
The intention behind the target/goal is that with a larger tax base, the tax burden has more people to share in it. Unfortunately, costs rise though - as an example, more people means more streets, and more cars on those streets, so maintenance costs rise. A larger industrial base is actually a greater help in reducing the tax burden, as long as we don't turn around and give tax breaks to industry in hopes of luring them here, as has already been done with Paper Excellence, although the mill opening date just seems to keep moving further and further away.
The idea of being prepared, though, is a good one, rather than playing catch-up after the people are here. But we have to remember that we're playing catch-up right now, just to bring things up to where they should be, in a city this size. Remember, we still have unpaved streets, and I'd like to see a plan for getting streets paved, and old water pipes replaced, before we start worrying about building new roads for potential new subdivisions.
Now that the target is out there, I hope that we use this as impetus to start organizing our thinking. Let's start with figuring out what work needs to be done to make the infrastructure all over the city up to standards that one would expect in a city in this century - paved streets, sidewalks, new water mains where they're needed. Figure out where the need is greatest, and focus our efforts there. I get annoyed when I see areas that have long been neglected continue to be overlooked, but work going on in areas where the need isn't as great, but perhaps the taxpayers are more vocal.
Then let's look at where we should be planning for growth, and start setting aside money for these efforts. I think that most people would agree that a second bridge is high on that list, even without massive population growth, so let's stop waiting for other levels of government to build us a bridge, and start investigating what sort of partnership involvement those other levels of government expect from us, and budget for that. It's not going to happen if we just keep talking the same talk - let's try changing the conversation.
But when we do talk growth, let's not just throw out random numbers - let's figure out what's feasible, and figure out how to get there.
"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." - Edward Abbey