According to the Winnipeg Free Press, smart, hard-working Winnipeg City Councillor Janice Lukes
estimated there are over 200 shrubbery beds in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods that the city isn’t maintaining. Grass mowing of open fields has also suffered…
It’s not just an issue restricted to the Bridgwater area, she said… “It’s happening in Amber Trails, in Sage Creek. If we don’t change the way we’re doing things, we’re going to have a much bigger problems than the bushes in Waverley West.”
But then Ms. Lukes misses the mark:
This issue is not part of the “who pays for growth” debate, she said… “People are paying for this and I don’t know where the money has gone.”
The problem is that Winnipeg taxpayers aren’t paying for growth. Successive city councils agree to proposals for new subdivisions without properly considering the real costs. For a fuller account of the problems Winnipeg faces, and a discussion of solutions, click here and here.
I’m registered as a follower of Policing, Politics and Public Policy, a blog by Menno Zacharias, a former Winnipeg police official. Over the years, I’ve read quite a few of his posts and found his commentary to be intelligent, sensible and progressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his former police colleagues consider him a dangerous radical. His views about policing make a lot of sense to me, but when he recently turned his attention to urban design , my former fellow traveller in blogging morphed into an advocate of the worst in city planning.
He advocates an approach to the achievement of safe neighbourhoods that he calls Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Over the decades, this monicker has acquired so many conflicting meanings that it really means nothing unless the meaning is spelled out. I call Menno’s version the fortress theory of urban design, but don’t ask me, because he explains his theory very clearly. He says we can make urban neighbourhoods safe by:
In his year-end interview with the CBC, Mayor Brian Bowman offered a belated acknowledgement on behalf of the Mayor’s office that the city is building too much infrastructure, and providing too many city services, that returns too little revenue to cover costs. (Click here, and skip down to the section entitled “Big bad budget.”)
Asked how the city could address that problem, the Mayor retreated into vague generalities about “sustainable, smart” development and “stakeholders from multiple levels of government…” In reality, making development pay for development boils down to two issues — issues much more clearly identifiable than Mayor Bowman’s generalities. The first is development charges, and the second is phasing development so that existing empty spaces are filled up before new areas are opened to development. I dealt with the second issue in a post a year ago last August. I’ll look briefly at development charges in this post. Continue reading
My favourite writer about cities, and a favourite of generations of my students, is Jane Jacobs, a sharp-tongued critic whose polemics were grounded in a strongly positive view of cities. She wrote her best-known book, The death and life of great American cities, when she was a New Yorker, but within a few years she had moved to Toronto, where she spent the rest of her life.
She loved cities and thought that the preservation of their livability and attractiveness was a key to the well-being of society as a whole. It’s central to Jacobs’s concept of cities that they are natural, that they grow organically out of the ways people choose to interact with each other.
As a result, in Death and life, she was scornful of the visions of planners and architects who wanted to create buildings, neighbourhoods, and parks in response to their ideas of what would look good — a philosophy we now know as modernism. (I’m not being entirely fair to modernism, but today’s topic is Jane Jacobs.) Continue reading
In my previous post, I made an exception to my usual rule that my commentary will be research-based, and offered some comments on homelessness and crime –— both spheres within which I claim no expertise beyond that of a concerned citizen. In this post, I return to a topic within my expertise: urban growth and development. Continue reading
The rules governing Winnipeg’s growth are rigged in favour of growth and against the city’s ability to pay its bills. The city is like a drunk who keeps ordering refills, hoping someone will be found to pay the tab. But unlike the drunk’s pals, Winnipeg’s taxpayers must pay up or face the consequences.
The neglect of the public interest is evident throughout our system of urban development. In Winnipeg – and, unfortunately, in many other North American cities – the development of new areas of the city is governed by the proposals of developers, not by the public interest. Developers have a responsibility to their shareholders to make proposals that maximize their bottom line. It’s up to the city to ensure that the proposals that are accepted are in the public interest.
A minimal definition of the public interest would be that development be phased to minimize the burden it imposes on the public purse. If we were serious about governing land use appropriately, that could mean many things, but at the least it would mean that city infrastructure and services were extended to places that produce significant tax revenues. What we have done instead is to extend infrastructure wherever a developer wants it, even if that means extending it across vast green fields, which produce minimal tax revenue. Let’s take a look at an example of what that means in practice, with help from Google Earth.
I’m taking a leave from my blog for a month or so, to pursue other professional and personal duties and pleasures. In the meantime, some of you might be interested in taking a look at some blog entries that I think are worth reading, but that are buried in the nether recesses of this blog, and an earlier version of it.
“Radar Dogs” remind me that all is not (yet) lost
Take a deep breath, St. Clements, and get a whiff of chaotic development Continue reading
The title of this post — “Preventing urban sprawl” — is likely to provoke, in some readers, one of two reactions, the first driven by good old Winnipeg complacency and the second by antagonism:
- What are you talking about? That’s impossible.
- You can’t tell people where to live.
The second reaction is easily refuted: Yes, the government can tell people where to live. In fact, everybody takes the power of government to tell people where to pursue all their activities for granted. Continue reading
Last week Winnipeg City Council endorsed a proposal to ask the provincial government to allow the imposition of new fees on residential and commercial development. It was the latest turn in a decades-long struggle by the city to overcome an infrastructure deficit of at least $7 billion. The proposal, followed by a quick refusal from Broadway, unleashed a flurry of news and commentary, accompanied by more than 200 letters from readers. (See links at the end of this post.)
From the start, the fees were referred to as “taxes”, and for the most part, comments, by both writers and readers, focussed on taxation. Absent from the discussion was a recognition of the fact that the infrastructure crisis wasn’t caused by insufficient revenues, and will not be resolved by the imposition of additional fees or taxes. A major, but completely overlooked, cause of the crisis is the city’s failure to draw up a coherent growth plan and stick to it. Continue reading