Winnipeg doesn't have Vancouver's majestic seawall or Calgary's mountain backdrop. It doesn't have a Maritime harbour or a hulking, big-city skyline.
Winnipeg is flat and remote and often way too cold.
In a city like ours, not blessed with any natural advantages, it is vital to nurture the qualities that make Winnipeg unique and work to enhance development that has already been done successfully. Too often, we fail to recognize and build from our strengths while allowing our successes to be eroded through short-sighted development.
An important example is the Exchange District, a neighbourhood that defines Winnipeg's urban character and is one of the most important turn-of-the-century commercial areas in North America. It has been passed down to us through an anomaly of good fortune, but instead of cherishing and protecting this valuable urban asset, the area routinely finds a place on Heritage Canada's Top 10 Endangered Places List. It continues to lose buildings such as the Shanghai Restaurant, the Grain Exchange Annex and many others to make way for parking or empty lots. This is slowly eroding the area's cohesive character, reducing its allure as a catalyst for growth.
Across downtown, the density and character of Osborne Village stands as one of the few truly urban experiences in our city. The area was recently voted the Best Neighbourhood in Canada by The Canadian Institute of Planners. At its southern end, Osborne Street again becomes a unique urban strip, forming the heart of the Riverview/Lord Roberts neighbourhoods. In 2007, the vacant rail land that divided these two dynamic areas became available for development. Instead of capitalizing on existing success by extending the street's pedestrian-oriented, urban character, what occurred was a sprawling, suburban-style office building set in a sea of parking that envelops a gas station and fast-food restaurant. The opportunity to enhance, connect and expand two unique Winnipeg neighbourhoods was lost.
These are only two of many examples in Winnipeg's development history that demonstrate the importance of learning from and building on our city's successful urban qualities as it grows. These lessons will be particularly important for a large-scale, urban infill opportunity that has long loomed on the horizon.
Currently stalled in a high-profile legal battle between the federal government and four Manitoba First Nations, the Kapyong Barracks site holds the potential to become a model infill neighbourhood that sets the highest standards for design, sustainable growth and economic opportunity.
One of Winnipeg's greatest assets is its magnificent, tree-lined residential neighbourhoods. Wedged between Tuxedo and River Heights, Kapyong presents an opportunity to build on the success of these communities, connecting, enhancing and growing from them.
The redevelopment of abandoned military barracks is not unique in Canada, and there are many extremely successful precedents from which the Kapyong developers should be able to learn.
CFB Calgary began redevelopment in 1998 with a neighbourhood called Garrison Woods. The site has been transformed into one of the most desirable areas of the city. All three phases have been designed to encourage pedestrian circulation through "new urbanist" planning principles of traditional grid-pattern streets with sidewalks, back lanes, close-set houses and tree-lined boulevards.
Big-box retail developments have been rejected in favour of walkable, centrally located retail streets with smaller-scale coffee shops, corner stores, offices and restaurants. Most residents live within a five-minute walk of a park, transit stop and mixed-use commercial street. The residential neighbourhoods are characterized by mixed-density development of single-family, townhouse and apartment buildings, with existing military housing refurbished and relocated as an affordable option.
The Village at Griesbach, being constructed on the former lands of CFB Edmonton, is an example of how environmental sustainability can be incorporated as a forward-looking feature of the Kapyong development. Receiving a LEED Gold certification from the Canadian Green Building Council, the Griesbach master plan preserves existing trees, refurbishes existing buildings, recycles demolished materials and incorporates energy-efficient housing.
Possibly the most appropriate precedent for Kapyong is CFB Rockcliffe in Ottawa. Just beginning the design phase, this development was also stalled by a First Nations land claim to the site. After many years of negotiation, the developers (Canada Lands Company) resolved to work together with the Algonquin people through all stages of development to ensure it embraces their cultural, spiritual and ecological sensitivities. A financial settlement will be invested into the project by the First Nations people and qualified Algonquin companies will be used during construction.
Similar to Kapyong, Rockliffe is surrounded by existing residential communities. The design focus will be to integrate a contemporary neighbourhood into these areas by establishing connections to surrounding streets, bike paths, transit routes, green space and commercial centres.
The development will look to increase vibrancy by deviating from the homogeneity of many modern suburbs, accommodating a diverse social, economic and cultural demographic by offering a range of housing, employment and commercial opportunities within the community.
These examples of urban military land redevelopment across Canada show what is achievable at Kapyong Barracks through sensitive planning with a socially responsible mandate. Wonderful residential neighbourhoods are what define Winnipeg. They are this city's mountain backdrop, our Maritime harbour and our seawall. New, uninspired suburban development, typical of every Canadian city, has eroded Winnipeg's unique residential character.
The developers of Kapyong, regardless of who they are, will hold a special responsibility to all Winnipeggers to create a modern, mixed-use commercial and residential neighbourhood that recalls the spirit, character and tradition of Winnipeg's great communities, serving as an example of how we can build on past success to create a modern, dense, beautiful and sustainable city of the future.
Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.