The City of Winnipeg is surrounded by a city (Selkirk), a town (Stonewall) and 13 so-called rural municipalities. Despite the designation “rural”, many of the residents of these municipalities are urbanites, whose objective is to enjoy the benefits of both country and city life, at a more moderate price than they would have to pay for similar properties in the city. (After clicking on the link, scroll down for price comparisons.) That’s why planners refer to these communities as “exurban”.
In effect, they are enjoying the benefits of city life without paying their share of the cost of the social, physical and security services required to run a major city. We shouldn’t hold that against them. They are only trying to pursue their own best interest and that of their families, as we all do. The blame belongs to the government, not only of Manitoba, but of most if not all jurisdictions across North America, because it is standard practice to pursue urban development policies that, in effect, subsidize sprawl.
We all pay the price for these policies, because as more affluent urbanites move outside the city, and the city itself encourages sprawl within its own boundaries, the city becomes increasingly unable to pay for the maintenance of its older infrastructure. Anyone who drives in Winnipeg knows that the practical result is rutted, potholed streets and, disquietingly often, sinkholes – like the one pictured above – that suddenly open up, sometimes swallowing automobiles and the people in them, as well as construction equipment.
Occasionally, the chickens come home to roost in the exurbs themselves. People who flee the city often have to do without municipal water supplies and sewage systems, relying instead on wells and septic tanks. Septic tanks only work on relatively large properties, and sometimes exurbanites want to economize on land, and rural municipalities, caught up in a cut-throat competition for property tax revenue, let them do it.
As a result, according an engineering report “there are failing on-site septic systems located throughout the Red River corridor…” Included, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, is the rural municipality of St. Clements, which suffers from a “reeking, unsanitary, river-polluting septic problem that has given this capital region neighbourhood a black eye…,” and turned the “clean country air” exurbanites seek into something very different: The smell of chaotic urban development.
St. Clements, according to the Free Press, has now obtained $6 million in funding to instal a sewer line, and further expenditures will likely be necessary in future. Owners of the homes that will be hooked up to the sewer system will have to pay $14,000 to $19,000 each. In the end, everyone pays and — we hope against hope — learns that cities cost money to run, and that, if we try to dodge the bills, they cost even more in the long run.
All of this would be unnecessary if North American provincial and state governments could find the political courage to enforce sensible development regulations, including rules to ensure that new development is adjacent to older development, and — if urban development is permitted in rural areas — that exurban residents pay their fair share of the costs of running the city that provides them with jobs, places to shop and places of entertainment.