Category Archives: Urban growth and development

Rural areas may not stay that way: Think sprawl before it’s too late

I received an e-mail from a development officer in a large rural municipality in northern Alberta who hopes to persuade his council to reduce the minimum permissible size of residential lots from the current minimum of 72′ x 110″, and wanted a second opinion from me.

He’s looking ahead, as rural municipal officials and politicians everywhere should. Here’s my response, more or less, to his query:  Continue reading

Wal-Mart: Feeding off sprawl and giving it a push

An article in a developers’ house organ, Urban Land, brightly relates stories of empty retail spaces being filled by such innovative uses as medical clinics and libraries. The article says the empty spaces are a result of “recession and prolonged economic stagnation”.

That’s not the whole story… Continue reading

The price Winnipeg pays for subsidizing new roads

It’s not news to residents of central Winnipeg that our streets are in terrible shape, but it would be interesting to know just how bad the situation is overall. The Winnipeg Sun answered that question recently. The paper reported that, by the city’s own reckoning, more than 20 per cent of our streets are rated in poor condition, the lowest rating, meaning that the street must be completely rebuilt, or at least undergo major rehabilitation.

Wayne Glowacki, Winnipeg Free Press

A few days later, the Winnipeg Free Press picked up the story and added some figures to show that the roads are continually getting worse and that the city isn’t anywhere near having the resources it needs to repair the streets quickly enough to keep pace with their deterioration.

Instead, the city has, in effect, given up on attempts to solve the problem. A public works official admitted to the Sun that the city’s priorities are shifting away from streets in poor condition to those that have not yet reached that state, on the premise that it is better to maintain what is viable than to salvage what is not. Since the streets in worst condition tend to be those in the poorest neighbourhoods, the neglect of downtown streets is tantamount to the ghettoization and decay so distressingly familiar in American cities. Continue reading

Rural fundamentalism

North American society tends to glorify rural life, seeing it as the repository of clean living, family values and community stability. Sociologists used to refer to this as rural fundamentalism.

As a result of these ideas, it’s common, in this country and across the continent, to regard cities as, at best, necessary evils, characterized by noise, dirt, crime and moral degeneracy: pornography, illicit drugs, drunkenness, violence, degenerate art and music – with the conception of what’s degenerate changing from time to time. I’ve seen it go from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones to the Ramones to hip hop – probably with a few stops in between that I’m forgetting at the moment.

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Walmart supercentre: Are we asking the right questions?

Walmart wants to turn its big-box store on Winnipeg’s Regent Avenue into a supercentre. Councillor Russ Wyatt says the city should require improved access for motor vehicles and bicycles, as well as trees to soften a bleak parking lot vista. The city’s chief administrative officer, Phil Sheegl, says he’s concerned about the developmental fallout from a negative decision.

In the city’s interest, Mr. Sheegl should perhaps be more concerned about the fallout from a positive decision. A series of studies covering Walmart and similar big box developments, summarized here, suggest that neither Mr. Wyatt nor Mr. Sheegl are taking a sufficiently critical look at this development proposal.

According to these studies, big box stores: Continue reading

The bait and switch: Whose fault is it?

In a previous post, about the bait-and-switch, I quoted a specialist in the economics of sport as saying that it has become standard practice in bidding for the Olympics to start by low-balling the cost, and then, once the city is hooked on the idea of being an Olympic host, to add new features that balloon the cost. Dennis Lewycky commented on the post with two questions:

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Winnipeg’s slippery slope: Giving up control of our water system

Winnipeg has agreed in principle to extend its water and sewer systems into an adjacent area of the Rural Municipality of Rosser. The land in question is next to the Winnipeg Airport, and could eventually be part of a multi-billion dollar centre for manufacturing, warehousing and distribution – potentially a huge property tax bonanza.

A precedent is therefore set that will inevitably lead to demands for other such extensions. Already plans are underway for a similar extension of infrastructure into another adjacent municipality, West St. Paul, this time to support residential development outside Winnipeg’s boundaries. Both deals are contingent on service-sharing agreements that have not yet been negotiated.
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The bait and switch: Is it just business as usual?

In previous posts, I’ve called attention to the bait and switch, whereby developers and public servants persuade our political representatives to go along with development proposals by offering what appears to be a huge public benefit for a small public investment. This is the bait. Once the politicians have been lured into a commitment, the switch takes place: The price to the public purse rises progressively, while the benefit is lowered.
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In both Canada and the United States, we have largely left urban growth issues to local governments, and many local governments have failed to manage them. Many will never succeed because local councils are not, in general, able effectively to resist development interests.
As a result, the growth of our cities is, in practice, primarily responsive to the interests of developers. These interests are frequently at odds with the considerations that bear on preservation of the environment, maintenance of agriculture, an efficient infrastructure network and a transportation system that serves the population as a whole.
Therefore, in a series of posts on the multi-level governance of land use I’ve argued that:
• In urban growth policy, unlike many other policy domains, too much local control is a recipe for bad policy.

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Does mixed-income housing amelioriate poverty?

One of the most troubling features of the way North American cities have developed in the past quarter century is social isolation, as our own desires and the dynamics of the real estate business sort us into spaces exclusive to ever-narrower slices of humanity. Separate spaces for people of different incomes, places reserved exclusively for the elderly, spaces from which children are barred, and more.

There is much to worry about in this trend, but most worrisome of all is the social isolation of the poor – the formation of neighbourhoods largely or wholly populated by people who live there only because they cannot afford to live elsewhere; ghettos, defined by poverty and often race, and marked by deteriorating public services and facilities, as well as limited opportunities for jobs, recreation and education.

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