Downtown Saskatoon still lacking grocery store, safety concerns remain: study

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WATCH: A study by USask and the City of Saskatoon looked at what would attract more people to live downtown. USask researcher Ryan Walker joins Global News Morning to discuss – Dec 7, 2021

The two most significant barriers to having people move to downtown Saskatoon are perceptions of safety and the lack of a grocery store in the city’s core, according to a recent study.

Ryan Walker, a University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher, said the reservations aren’t insurmountable – particularly concerns about safety. Increasing population also increases safety, he told Global News Morning.

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“People tend to feel safest where there’s a lot of passive surveillance,” Walker said. “So people walking around, looking out their windows, coming in and out of doors at all hours of the day.

People are most attracted to living downtown because of the convenient lifestyle, whether for work, nightlife or access to the Meewasin Trail and South Saskatchewan River, Walker said.

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The study involved an online survey of 470 people, including those in downtown Saskatoon and ten other neighbourhoods. There were also five focus group discussions as part of the initiative funded by Research Junction, which is a joint effort between the city and USask.

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There appears to be no single solution for bringing a full-fledged grocery store to downtown – an area commonly viewed as a “food desert” by experts in the field.

“We often find food deserts in downtown cores,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

Grocers tend to set up shop closer to suburban neighbourhoods where land is more affordable and consumers have more time to shop for groceries on their commute home, Charlebeois said.

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Because of work-from-home measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlebois said more people are leaving downtown areas.

“That’s going to discourage grocers from building in downtowns because there’s going to be less traffic,” Charlebois said. “That could actually lead to more food deserts, not less.”

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Global News contacted numerous grocery store chains for this story. None of them provided comment by deadline.

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