Massive Polo Park development plan offers positive change for people instead of cars, architect says


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A local architect is hopeful the proposed multi-unit residential development proposed for the Polo Park area can be a showcase for building a development not dependent on vehicles to get people around.

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A local architect is hopeful the proposed multi-unit residential development proposed for the Polo Park area can be a showcase for building a development not dependent on vehicles to get people around.

Brent Bellamy, an architect and frequent commentator on transportation infrastructure and civic planning, said with thousands of vehicles already in the area daily, and thousands of residents who could be living in units above what are now parking lots around the shopping centre and nearby vacant land where Winnipeg Stadium was located, the project is a chance to show not only what can be done there, but in other areas of the city.

On Thursday, Shindico Realty and Cadillac Fairview, the real estate arm of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the owner of the shopping mall, announced the plan for the $1 billion transformation of 84 acres of vacant land and surface parking lots between Portage and St. Matthews avenues over the next decade.

The proposal also includes new parks and open spaces, as well as pedestrian and cycling transportation infrastructure.

“As a significant new population centre, this development gives us the opportunity to think differently about how we move around the area and the city itself,” Bellamy said Friday.

“Imagine this development acting as a hub for light rail and public transit.We could have a rail line running down the centre of Portage Avenue, connecting it to downtown in the east and to St. James in the west. Instead of spending half to three-quarters of a billion dollars widening Kenaston (Boulevard) we could build a bus rapid transit corridor connecting to the Kapyong development, IKEA and Waverley West.”

Shindico and Cadillac Fairview were able to make the announcement after the provincial government amended maps that restricted new housing construction near Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport. The restrictions had been put in place years ago to prevent complaints about noise from aircraft landing or taking off, potentially jeopardizing the airport’s 24/7 cargo and passenger operations.

“For more than 60 years, (Polo Park) has served as a second downtown to Winnipeg and our redevelopment plan extends our long-term vision to further expand the community,” Wayne Barwise, Cadillac Fairview’s vice-president development, said in a statement.

The first step will take place next month when the developers ask the city to rezone the area where the football stadium was located in order to construct buildings up to 45.7 metres (150 feet) high.

Bellamy said until now, the area has been designed with vehicles as the top priority and the belief traffic can be controlled.

“Look where what has gotten us,” he said. “You build for cars and you get more cars. It’s as simple as that. It’s obvious that worrying about the cars doesn’t work, so let’s worry about the people instead.”

A city spokeswoman said no one would comment about any impact the proposed development would have on traffic until the rezoning proposal is studied. But the most recent map of weekday traffic flow in the area shows the stretch of Portage Avenue from Erin Street the shopping centre is the busiest section of the entire street, with 62,100 vehicles passing daily in 2019.

The only streets with higher volumes of traffic are the nearby St. James Bridge, which sees almost 79,000 vehicles daily, and Queen Elizabeth Way, between downtown and St. Boniface, with more than 69,000 vehicles.

St. James Street sees 21,000 vehicles per weekday and Empress Street gets 11,200.

Bellamy said unless something changes it will only get worse because the number of vehicles on city roads increases by one per cent every nine months.

“It will never reduce unless fewer people drive,” he said. “We have designed a city that requires a car. This proposal is a big step forward to changing that. It puts shoppers within walking distance of the shopping.

“It’s the way we used to design cities and the way we should again.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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