Category Archives: Slow-growth cities – problems and possibilities

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.

“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


This is the second in a series of two posts about the findings I’ll be presenting next week in Toronto at the IPAC-PPM Cities and Public Policy conference. The previous post dealt with the mismanagement of homelessness in Winnipeg. This one focuses on the achievement of deep federalism in the administration of immigration and settlement in Winnipeg. In both entries, the overarching theme is that slow-growth cities have policy problems that are very different from those of cities that are growing rapidly, and that these differences are not being given the attention they deserve.

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I’ll be at the IPAC-PPM Cities and Public Policy conference next week in Toronto, reporting on some of the things I’ve learned about the impact of federal government policies on Winnipeg. My overall theme will be that slow-growth cities have policy problems that are very different from those of cities that are growing rapidly, and that these differences are not being given the attention they deserve.

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The perennial “Is IKEA coming to Winnipeg?” story recently took a new twist. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, an IKEA spokesperson characterized Winnipeg as “the market that we are taking the most serious look at right now for expansion.” She said IKEA has identified a location, but refused to say what it was and fed the air of mystery that has surrounded this story from the beginning by adding: “It is very premature for us to say anything at this point.”
Still, it was enough to leave Winnipeg’s legion of IKEA fans bubbling with enthusiasm. A typical comment on “The fact that this city is even on the radar shows that we are not some deadwater city with no potential, as these kinds of stores don’t set up in places like Sudbury.”

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Here’s an excerpt from an article that ought to be required reading for anyone who is involved or interested in the proposal to turn Winnipeg’s water and sewer services over to an independent regional water utility. It raises questions that require careful consideration. The complete article is available at
Thanks to Tom Christoffel for pointing this out to me.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Wrong Regionalization: The Oneida County Sewer District
[This article was originally published in the October 2008 “Utica Phoenix”:]
Over 40 years ago Oneida County made the first “regionalization” effort in Greater Utica by forming the Oneida County Sewer District to serve 12 area municipalities. The goal was noble: build a system of sanitary sewer interceptors, pumping stations and a treatment plant to clean up water pollution in the Mohawk River, and make it affordable by spreading the cost over all system users by charges attached to water bills. The goal was accomplished, but flaws in the scheme have produced harmful results.

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Mayor Sam Katz wants to create a regional water utility, to run Winnipeg’s sewer and water systems, possibly taking over garbage disposal and recycling as well. The agency would operate independently of city council and, if it wished, market Winnipeg’s water to adjacent municipalities.
The agency would set rates for the services it provides, applying to the provincial Public Utilities Board for permission to raise rates. Katz told the Winnipeg Free Press that “Handing this power over to the board would take politics out of the process.” Good idea, eh? No more interference in these services from low-life politicians: just good, honest, business-like governance.

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Everyone agrees that Winnipeg’s spending on infrastructure maintenance is seriously short of what is required to maintain the streets, sewers and water lines in good condition. Anyone can confirm this by taking a drive or a walk around some of the older neighbourhoods and observing the potholes and cracks in the streets. Winnipeggers who keep an eye on the news will observe more fundamental ills, including sinkholes that open up suddenly, sometimes swallowing automobiles or construction machinery, because of the deteriorated state of underground sewer lines.
The causes of this problem are obvious, if you think through what’s happening, and they can be fixed. This is a tad complex, so bear with me.

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Multi-level governance distinguishes itself from the traditional federal system by treating cities, and sometimes communities, as visible and significant partners in the interplay among levels of government, and not simply as the lowest level of government. The emergence of this change in the way the federal system is conceived is related to the enhanced economic and political importance of cities in a world marked by greatly increased freedom of movement for goods, people, ideas and money. In a world marked by free movement, cities become magnets for wealth and production on one hand and problems on the other. In the process their political importance is magnified.
If she were still with us, Jane Jacobs might appreciate the irony that it has taken the economic realities of globalization to force a recognition of the centrality of cities to the national economy. Long before anyone was talking about globalization, she led the way in making the case, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, that running a country as if it constituted a single economy was a sure way to get governance wrong. And since the economy is intimately interconnected with all other areas of national life, there are many policy domains in which national uniformity is a good recipe for failure.
Each city, or at least each urban-centred region, is a different economy, and should be governed differently from other cities. I have used the term “deep federalism” to describe policy that succeeds in respecting community difference. How can we accomplish that? There is no easy way to understand community difference, no simple set of generalizations that will allow us to say that a community of type A has characteristics B, C and D, while a community of type E has another set of readily definable characteristics. If there were, there would be no need for deep federalism. The federal government could develop a different policy model for each of a finite number of well-defined community types and administer everything from the centre. But there is nothing finite about community difference.

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In a post entitled “Are You Tired of the Sprawl Game?”, I argued that we miss the essentials of the problem of managing urban growth by focusing instead on images and ideologies – arguing, for example, about New Urbanism vs. modernism, or liberalism vs. conservatism, instead of doing what needs to be done. In this post, I follow that argument up with some practical suggestions for Winnipeg.
I focus on a particular city because that’s really the only way growth problems can be addressed. Each city is unique, and there is no universal template. That said, each city displays many similarities with many other cities. My suggestions for Winnipeg will resonate with many who are familiar with the problems of other mid-size, slow-growth cities in North America.
In Winnipeg, as in many other slow-growth cities, the essence of the problem of sprawl is that we extend roads, sewers and water lines much farther than we need to to accommodate our slow population growth. As a result, the costs of these facilities spiral out of control for want of enough property owners to pay for them. There are a lot of simple, straightforward planning practices that we could be following to help bring our runaway infrastructure and servicing costs under control, while making the city a more interesting and pleasant place to live.

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