Category Archives: Slow-growth cities – problems and possibilities


A lot of genuine experts in problems of urban growth assume that urban sprawl is a big problem for cities that that are growing rapidly, but that it is much less of a problem with slow growth. This is only one of many illustrations of how the problems of slow-growth cities are neglected, because a little bit of reflection is all it takes to conclude that the opposite is true. In a nutshell, the problem of slow-growth cities is that, unlike the proverbial growth machine, they are a machine for the creation of empty space.

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The City of Winnipeg has a series of reserve funds for investment in heritage properties, housing rehabilitiation, improvements to Assiniboine Park, perpetual care of city cemetaries, and much more. The purpose of these funds is to ensure that the city will be able to meet its obligations in the face of the inevitable fluctuations in budget allocations and costs.
In the 1980s it used to be an annual ritual for city council to balance the budget by raiding these funds. Mayors Susan Thompson and Glen Murray, who were the city’s chief executives from 1992 until 2004, had the good sense to put a stop to that practice. Now the city is reviving it.

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Cities that are growing slowly are often thought to be in trouble for no other reason than slow growth. The residents and leaders of slow-growth cities often sound as if they’re apologizing for themselves. In reality, it’s not slow growth, but mismanaged growth that’s likely to be the problem.
Take the example of Winnipeg, which has a very modest growth rate and, and, in terms of collective self-image, an ego to match. The word “decline” is often, and inaccurately, used in describing the city’s economy, or population. In self-characterizations, harsh winters and mosquitoes are invariably mentioned, salubrious summer weather and Winnipeg’s acknowledged status as the “performing arts capital of Canada” almost never. If self-deprecation is charming, Winnipeg is Charm City. Continue reading


I’m a professor of politics at the University of Winnipeg. I’ve spent most of my adult life doing research, writing and teaching, first about African politics and, more recently, city politics. Before becoming a professor, I was a journalist, writing for daily newspapers.
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