There has been a lot of talk recently about how we need density in our city. Density gives us a more urban environment in which to live. It reduces the cost of infrastructure. It helps us deliver better and more efficient public services like transit, community centres and parks. If we respect urban planning principles, we will have a city that is exciting, more diverse, and more affordable - it’s the kind of city our younger generation wants to live, work, play and invest in.
The City of Montreal has more than double the population of Winnipeg, yet covers a smaller land area. Winnipeg is set to reach one million residents by 2033. We need to decide as a community how we want to grow. I’d like to see us build up and build in, especially in existing and mature neighbourhoods.
There has been a lot of attention recently on a few high profile developments; Crescentwood, Tache, Maryland. Some residents have come out to oppose these projects. One thing that strikes me, is how similar the objections are one project to the next. Parking, traffic, neighbourhood character.
Is this the way it has to be? Is density doomed to be opposed wherever and whenever it comes forward? What reforms might be possible to make this smoother? Is less conflict possible?
Councillors are faced with a common dilemma when they hear infill development applications at their community, property and appeal committees. The applications (usually) conform to our planning documents (Our Winnipeg, Complete Communities). They provide an immediate benefit in new taxes for the City of Winnipeg because assessed property values are increased. They regenerate neighbourhoods and fix old housing stock and raise local property values… but are often strongly opposed by the local voters.
What’s a politician to do? Is a City Councillor’s job to lead and make the correct decisions, based on their own conscience and on the evidence? Or is their job to represent their constituents and execute their wishes. Personally, I think it’s both, and we need to find a way to make these twin mandates complementary, rather than conflicting.
The politically expedient thing to do is to vote against every infill development, every time. However, the easy road isn’t always the best. I believe political pressure has led to Council and developers generally favoring growth in new subdivisions, over infill. The fact is; there is little, if any, opposition in approving development on the edge of town, when there are no neighbours to voice their opposition. In fact, recently in Sage Creek, I approved an entire subdivision with no opposition from residents. Only a few weeks earlier, in the mature neighbourhood of Old St. Boniface, a much smaller application was the subject of huge controversy.
In that project, industrial land was converted to mixed use residential and parkland. It had the support of our urban planning division and our neighbourhood secondary plan. In spite of this; 40 or more people registered in opposition, for a variety of reasons. I now understand why most growth happens in new suburbs, and not in mature neighbourhoods; Politics.
We need to reverse this trend. Winnipeg is facing over a 7 Billion dollar deficit and that number keeps going up. Every kilometer outwards our city grows, the less taxpayers there are to pay for each length of road. The growth fee that was just adopted at council is a step in the right direction; it applies only to brand new areas. It flips the equation and makes it relatively less expensive to develop housing in older neighbourhoods.
On this front, I think we need to do a better job making the case with the public for good city planning and the benefits of having a denser city. I’m not sure the Winnipeg public is on board yet.
We also need to better communicate individual land planning applications. I recently passed a motion to ask our administration to look at just that; let’s get drawings and images and plain language, so that people can understand what’s being proposed!
Process changes aren’t everything though. We need a culture change.
The fact is, I can’t do this on my own. To keep taxes low, services strong, millennials here, and communities thriving, we need a denser city. I want to start a conversation with the people of my community about the big picture, so we can move forward together on sensible, strong redevelopment which supports our businisses, our property values, and our future.
What do you think?