A key planning document unfairly blames the suburbs for Winnipeg’s financial challenges, one city councillor charges.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) says the preliminary Complete Communities strategy paints a picture of a city struggling to cope with massive urban sprawl.
For example, it states the city’s "settlement area" grew 92 per cent larger between 1971 and 2019, while the population only grew by 37 per cent. Shortly after that figure, the report notes: "Winnipeg is struggling to keep up with the needs of a growing city."
That 92 per cent growth figure is misleading, Mayes said Tuesday. It includes both the Assiniboine Forest and Bois-des-Esprit — green areas covering hundreds of acres he believes should not be seen as sprawl.
"I think we’re blaming the suburbs for all of our financial challenges, and I think the data we’re using is inaccurate or we’re presenting half the facts or we’re exaggerating it," said the chairman of the environment committee.
Including preserved forests in settlement areas is a concern, especially since Complete Communities will serve as a citywide secondary plan to guide development, once it is finalized, Mayes said.
"If we’re going to include all sorts of things like green space, it overstates the extent to which we’ve built up," he said. "My position here is not to be the defender of sprawl. My position is… let’s put out accurate data."
The councillor noted maintaining existing infrastructure in older neighbourhoods has also proven expensive for the city, including a combined sewer system upgrade that’s expected to cost up to $2 billion.
Among the report's findings is the population of Winnipeg’s "mature communities" fell by 82,000 people between 1971 and 2016. Mayes said that figure lacks context, since the population decline stopped at least 15 years ago.
The councillor said he’s concerned the strategy could raise the risk forest land and other green space could be replaced with new builds, since a key goal of the strategy is to ensure that half of all new homes are built in existing communities.
City planners, however, say the document relies on national standards for its definition of the settlement area, which also includes cemetery and park space.
"That was defined as land within the city that’s used to support all the daily activities of the city for its residents, including living, employment, leisure, (and) commerce," said David Jopling, Winnipeg manager of urban planning and design.
Jopling said he believes it is clear some green space is included in those areas, which should limit any confusion.
Michael Robinson, a lead on the Complete Communities strategy, said the strategy primarily aims to show how the city’s footprint has grown faster than its population, not overstate the impact of sprawl.
Parks and forests are not being targeted for development, he said. "The plan actually talks about prioritizing the protection of open space for the continued enjoyment of Winnipeggers."
The planners said population figures are highlighted to note existing infrastructure has capacity to serve more residents in mature communities, since the population in those areas is still lower than it was in the 1970s.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.