It’s not news to residents of central Winnipeg that our streets are in terrible shape, but it would be interesting to know just how bad the situation is overall. The Winnipeg Sun answered that question recently. The paper reported that, by the city’s own reckoning, more than 20 per cent of our streets are rated in poor condition, the lowest rating, meaning that the street must be completely rebuilt, or at least undergo major rehabilitation.
A few days later, the Winnipeg Free Press picked up the story and added some figures to show that the roads are continually getting worse and that the city isn’t anywhere near having the resources it needs to repair the streets quickly enough to keep pace with their deterioration.
Instead, the city has, in effect, given up on attempts to solve the problem. A public works official admitted to the Sun that the city’s priorities are shifting away from streets in poor condition to those that have not yet reached that state, on the premise that it is better to maintain what is viable than to salvage what is not. Since the streets in worst condition tend to be those in the poorest neighbourhoods, the neglect of downtown streets is tantamount to the ghettoization and decay so distressingly familiar in American cities.
Although it is claimed the city can’t afford to fix the old roads, there is always money available for new roads. And that is the nub of the problem. The city is spending so much money building and paving roads in the periphery that it can’t afford to maintain roads in older neighbourhoods. If Winnipeg hopes to accommodate its growing population without continually worsening its infrastructure deficit, it must do so, at least in part, by development within the the city, rather than at the periphery.
The reason fringe development worsens the infrastructure deficit is that the developers of new neighbourhoods are not being charged enough to cover the real costs to the city incurred by their developments. Part of the solution to the infrastructure deficit, therefore, is to raise development charges for new developments to the point where they are paying the bills incurred by these developments. Raising development charges to a sustainable level will reduce the incentive for sprawl development and correspondingly increase the incentive for development within the city.
A balance between edge-city and centre-city development that reflects the city’s real costs would not only be socially more just and financially more justifiable, it would make some money available to fix those roads.