Category Archives: City Politics: Issues

Winnipeg City Councillor Janice Lukes is right about Bridgwater Forest, but that’s not the half of it

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.

The fortress theory of urban design: How have the neighbourhoods we live in changed?

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:

Continue reading

“Growth isn’t paying for growth…” At last the Mayor’s office (sort of) faces facts

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

Jane Jacobs: How not to wreck cities

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

What does Winnipeg need in a mayor? I

With the mayoral election approaching, (it’s Wednesday, October 22nd, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock) it’s time for an assessment. For a change, Winnipeggers are blessed. In past races it has not been unusual to have a choice between a mere two candidates who appear to be both serious about wanting the job and capable of handling it. This time, I count five such candidates among the seven who remain in the race. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you who they are.) Continue reading

What does Winnipeg need in a mayor? II

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

Here’s an audit that would help us know how well we’re governed

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.

Continue reading