Category Archives: What’s wrong with the way our communities are governed

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:

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“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

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.

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Are businesses more efficient and effective than governments?

A particularly disheartening feature of the world we’ve been living in since the 1990s is the assumption — widely held and expressed in many ways — that anything governments can do, private enterprise can do better. It’s not exactly a lie. There are indeed many things private enterprise can do better than government, but the generalization of that proposition to any and all government programs doesn’t hold water.

My August 12th (2014) entry in my Passing Scene column points — too cryptically, I’ve decided — to two examples of the misapplication of market principles to governance — one from a recent newspaper article and another from a study a student and I did a few years ago. The newspaper article is written by a competent journalist and is self-explanatory.

The academic article is a different matter, Continue reading