Strengths and weaknesses across City’s architectural landscape

Landmarks are funny things. For thousands of years human beings have used landmarks in a variety of ways. We use them in navigation, in historical contexts, for inspiration of literature, songs and poetry, and frequently plan trips around such attractions.

New York without Central Park? Paris without the Louvre? Moose Jaw without the big Moose? Don’t think so.

But what do we have in Red Deer that could qualify as a landmark that would draw people to our fair settlement and entice them to bring out their cameras and snap away?

We have Fort Normandeau. We have the Michener Building atop Michener Hill. We have the ‘Onion’ watertower on South Hill. We have the Cronquist House at Bower Ponds, and for those with a hankering for 1900 architecture, 56 Street filled with the handiwork of Mr. Gaetz and family.

We have Heritage Ranch, and the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. Downtown boasts a beautifully restored bank turned jewelry store, and a refunctioned railway station. Douglas Cardinal weighs in with our best known architectural icon, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on 39 St. After that, what else?

Where are the bold, designers whose visionary concepts shaped our city? Where are the revolutionary thinkers who, given license and responsibility to create a plan that incorporates both function and form in perfect balance?

We have seen flashes of such creativity recently, with the Fourth Junction project. Paul Pettypiece and team have assembled an attractive/functional blend of past, present, and future for the Riverlands area.

The River Valley and Tributaries Park Concept is bold and deserves broad support and encouragement. Rivers have always been the lifeblood of any community, and always will be.

The City of Red Deer is to be commended for their efforts to make City Hall Park an attractive place to gather and relax. Our park system is extensive, well maintained, and readily accessible for the majority of citizens.

All is not well however.

Consider our most recent additions to the city. Sweeping vistas of natural prairie have been replaced by cookie cutter houses. Downtown can now boast a 13-story office tower with a small amount of style.

Our new neighborhoods often appear to be carbon copies of other areas, right down to the house designs, fit and finish. The new city yards at Three Mile Bend are beautiful and ‘modern’ to the core, but I really wonder how soon a century flood will render the whole area unusable, and how desperately the ensuing reclamation efforts will bankrupt Red Deer?

And then there is the Sorenson Station.

The long term plan to rebuild a downtown bus station complete with parking above is admirable. The green concept built into the roof and sides is timely and appreciated. Even the shiny side panels are interesting, and attractive.

Form aside, the creation of a parking facility downtown without support from a vibrant, private business, traffic generating small scale economy is short sighted. In truth, the Ghost Project statues generate more tourist interest than a bus terminal and are more sustainable in the long haul.

Mr. Mann will forever conduct his beloved Red Deer Royals while our downtown bus terminal becomes just another building that will someday be replaced by an office tower, or phased out as public transportation services fall out of style.

Creative architectural design should be our halcyon, not our epitaph. Buildings, communities, and features should compel, rather than repel public interest. We are best served by our communities when our surroundings challenge us and not lull us into a false sense of cosmetic security.

Tim Lasiuta

Red Deer

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