Monday, 20 May 2013

Stop it with the 'burbs, Province!

Ridgewood South Precinct Area

Image Source:  Ridgewood South Precinct Plan
The Province is hiking the PST and Winnipeggers (along with the rest of Manitoba) are angry. Our Mayor has denounced this hike while renewing his call for one percentage point of the PST to go to the City so as to deal with the "infrastructure debt". Sam Katz keeps noting that this situation is desperate.

Meanwhile the City's in the stages of approving yet another suburban development: Ridgewood South. The City Council's Committee on Property and Development has unanimously approved this nonsense plan without debate.This development hasn't inspired protests like the PST hike or opposition on City Council, but it should.

Our increasingly rundown inner-city roads have inspired complaints and demands for something to be done. City Hall demands more money from the Province, critics of City Hall demand less administrative fat, and the odd guy/gal out calls for raising property taxes again. But if we're serious about long-term spending solutions than halting suburban and extraurban development is essential.

As a draft of the Ridgewood South Precinct Plan notes

As previously outlined, Ridgewood South has been identified as a New Community in OurWinnipeg. New Communities, such as Ridgewood South are large land areas identified for future urban development that are not currently serviced by a full range of municipal services. [My emphasis added]

City Hall seems well enough aware that this new suburb will cost us money. Yet they continue to support the fiscal drag of suburban sprawl, subsidizing these costly to municipally supply communities with services and further thinning out our road budgets. We simply don't have the tax base to keep playing this game.

Here's Wyatt!  He's terrorizing the inner-city &
hard-working poor Winnipeggers by axing city services.

Picture not actually of Russ Wyatt,
evident from guy looking too reasonable.

Image Source: Initially from film
The Shining, obtained by this blogger
from tumblr
For all the talks of "sustainable transportation" in the Our Winnipeg plan our city hasn't kept up with the need for bus rapid transit. After years of hassling and funding arrangements from other levels of government only a measly few klicks of BRT line are in operation. As well, our bikeway network is utterly disconnected and too geared towards recreational cyclists to be of use for Winnipeggers who bike to work.

What does the number two guy at City Hall think amidst all this? Well, Deputy Mayor Russ Wyatt is proposing deep cuts to the central city. Cuts that will disproportionately hurt hard-working poor Winnipeggers.

These nasty cuts include:

In this context, in which Wyatt thinks it's okay to hurt hard-working poor rapid transit riders, aboriginal youth, and those afflicted by crisis, we're seriously considering extending our infrastructure to a new outer suburb? This is madness. 

What half-baked rationalizations our councillors coming up with? Well, let's take a look. 

"These new subdivisions that are coming up are filling up quite quickly, and I mean, if it’s not in the city of Winnipeg, it's in the bedroom communities beyond," said Browaty.

("Committee OKs plan for new Winnipeg neighbourhood". CBC (May 7, 2013))

Those are exactly the type of bright ideas that went behind the Waverley West project. The sad thing is that providing so many facilities on the edge of the city only encourages fringe-outer suburban and extraurban development by cutting the distance between city services and extraurban communities.

Freep columnist Bartley Kives has some other perspectives, from the City Hall establishment, on why the development of yet another outer suburb makes sense:

So the task at hand for the city is to balance off the demand for more development with the need to create more density, which is simply more people living in any given portion of the city. And that means doing what may sound unthinkable to hard-core urbanists: Winnipeg is opening up vast new tracts of land under the premise developers understand these new suburbs must be denser than the city's existing suburbs.

("Growing pains: The debate over Winnipeg residential development". Bartley Kives (May 11, 2013). Winnipeg Free Press)
Oh boy, Ridgewood South.

Imagine the fortune it'll cost to run roads through

Image Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Yeah, stopping suburban sprawl by making a few denser outer suburbs totally makes sense. I mean, if people really want supersized yards and strip malls I'm sure they'll settle for denser habitation so long as it's farther away from the central city services. Dense outer suburbs make little sense and even if there's some improvement compared to other low-density developments (which Ridgewood South is classified as) it'll still likely be a financial drag for the city upkeep infrastructure to Ridgewood South and will still shift more services to the city fringes, closer to the exurbs.

City Council has trouble with existing road repairs.

Now it wants to build more roads!!

Image Source: ChrisD
It's clear that City Hall can't make proper decisions and is using the risk of flight to the exurbs as an excuse for creating outer suburbs. As flashy as the precinct plan is - and much of it will be compromised away anyway - this represents a serious threat to our city. Fiscal axmen like Russ Wyatt are scheming about cutting services to our inner-city, which suffers from dilapidated physical and social infrastructure already. Thus far the Province has supported outer suburban developments, like Waverley West in a bid to woo South Winnipeg suburbanites.

For the greater good of our city and our province this has to stop.

To perserve our roads in the central city, we have to focus on inner-city and inner suburban development and redevelopment. We need supports for cooperative housing, rental development, and mixed-use facilities rather than more roads to more outer fringe suburbs.

If the City's unwilling to deal with sprawl,
the Province must.

Image Source: Government of Manitoba
The Province still has some perverse political incentives that favour suburban development. As noted, there are many existing outer suburbanites who'd like further development along the southwest of the 'Peg. The form a critical swing demographic. Nevertheless, City Hall is still more beholden to the advocates of outer-suburbanization, with developers having unreasonable influence over City decisions.  As well, the Province is the only entity that has the power to deal with the potential of exurban flight. Thus, a serious solution to unsustainable sprawl must rely on our province.

The Province has many policy tools they could use to stop this nonsense. For one, they could impose a binding urban growth boundary around the southwest of Winnipeg. No undeveloped lands outside of the boundary are to be developed until existing inner-city, inner suburb, and outer suburb neighbourhoods reach sufficient density.

To prevent flight to the exurbs, the Province could also restrict the development of newer exurban communities and impose growth boundaries around existing exurbs.

Alternatively, a more permissive approach could be taking by simply taxing those in newer outer suburbs and exurbs in a way that aligns the social cost of servicing them with their tax rates.

Either way, the Province needs to change course in regard to outer suburbs. The concerned citizens of Winnipeg need to petition the Province and City about this matter. The sustainability of our city depends on it.

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