Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ditch the 1960s: Build in, not out

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An urban planner by trade, I try to keep current with best practices in city planning, urban policy and city development in all parts of the world.

Recently, an email was sent to me from Calgary's re-elected mayor, Naheed Nenshi, in which he talks about how it has cost Calgary $1.5 billion over the last decade to subsidize the cost of new homes in new neighbourhoods. Who pays for it?

"Currently, all Calgarians subsidize development of new communities by approximately $4,800 per home. In 2012, this subsidy cost Calgarians close to $33 million," Nenshi writes.

Nenshi has promised voters he will negotiate a new agreement with the development industry to eliminate this subsidy and promote thoughtful growth in central Calgary.

In Winnipeg, too, taxpayers subsidize urban sprawl -- at the expense of downtown and the inner city real estate markets. It has come to the point where those markets need incentives to balance the playing field. While the cost to taxpayers has not been quantified, Winnipeggers are becoming more aware of this serious issue.

Terracon Developments, which plans to build a 593-unit subdivision on a 74-acre site at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and King Edward Street -- a development known as Castlebury Meadows -- has been recently approved by city hall, despite significant opposition from the city's own planning department. A deal was reached to subsidize Castlebury Meadows at $1,200 per home for a total of $700,000.

Yet we often hear how "broke" our city is. There's not enough money to fix and maintain roads -- yet we build more. There are escalating sewer and water infrastructure costs -- yet we build more. New fire and police stations are expensive to build -- yet we build more. Cost of transit continues to rise even though it's minimally used by suburbanites -- yet we buy more buses and build more bus shelters in distant neighbourhoods where there is no demand.

This should be a wake-up call to Winnipeg taxpayers.

We need to revitalize and strengthen our inner city and downtown instead of continuing suburban sprawl that leads to an unsustainable, less vibrant and expensive city.

At the end of the day, homes will be built, and neighbourhoods will come alive, and developers will make money, and so they should. They drive our economy. But there are questions that continue to evade our city. What's best for our city and its people? What makes good business sense for taxpayers? What are your kids' visions for our city?

Critical decisions made by politicians with regards to how land is used by developers can either lead to an average city that can barely sustain itself, or to a great city, one that is fiscally sustainable, vibrant and a place where you want your kids to live. This is a challenge to our political leaders: Ditch the 1960s approach to building cities. Winnipeggers want and deserve more from their city, and it starts with leadership.

 

Stefano Grande is the executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2013 A13

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