WITH at least nine different strategic plans currently under review or in development, no one can ever accuse the City of Winnipeg of not planning.
Each of these is at a different stage of consultation and approval. OurWinnipeg and the Complete Communities Strategic Plan are heading to city council for first reading; the Transit Master Plan is expected in the next couple of months; public engagement is ongoing on the parking strategy; and on and on.
Other plans on which the city has been seeking public input include the Transportation Master Plan, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Urban Forest Strategy, the Residential Infill Strategy and the Road Safety Strategic Action Plan. The Pedestrian and Cycling Strategy is supposed to be under review, as well. Those are just the citywide strategies under review or development. On top of all of those are a host of smaller local plans.
Strategic plans are good; involving the public to discuss them is important, and each has had some degree of public engagement. I have participated in the public engagement on a number of them, and have appreciated the opportunity to do so. In the time of COVID-19, city staff have worked hard to find other means to hear from the public rather than the typical open house.
They have also worked hard to keep people on track, working to address what is specifically before them.
The vision for Winnipeg is expressed in the OurWinnipeg plan for 2045. It is meant to be the most aspirational of plans, and will give the city clear targets to work toward. OurWinnipeg, as it currently stands, is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — laudable goals, the SDGs provide solid guidance for growing a sustainable city.
But strategic plans can’t work in isolation. They must work together to achieve a common community goal and vision. You can’t plan a transit system without considering urban density. Preserving our urban canopy is clearly linked to the overall development plan. A parking strategy is directly affected by transportation and transit plans, and vice versa.
The need to address climate change is inherent in each plan, and transportation, transit, walking, urban growth and our trees are all part of achieving our meagre greenhouse-gas reduction targets.
And here is where it all starts falling apart: OurWinnipeg, while espousing laudable goals, is remarkably tepid in its targets and measures, if there are any at all. The document contains a vision that has no targets to let us know if we are on the right track. A plan needs to contain checkpoints to ensure we can achieve the vision, to know we are heading on the right path.
Search as you might, in OurWinnipeg you will find few. This could doom all these strategic plans to failure, and the countless hours of public consultation and staff time will be for naught.
Each plan is being developed in isolation. Rather than specifically supporting each other, they seem to be intentionally ignoring the other work. The Transportation Master Plan is not really about transportation; it is about cars. The other modes of transportation are left to the Transit Master Plan and the Pedestrian and Cycling Strategy.
Complete communities, by definition, contain what residents need for their day-to-day living. Another expression of this is the "15 minute city" we hear about. But the Complete Communities Strategic Plan does not plan for bikes or walking, only transit. A parking strategy divorced from the capacity of the road network and an effective and efficient transit system is useless. Abundant and cheap parking is a significant hindrance to building out a transit system that works for everyone.
These are but a few of the glaring disconnects. The lack of cohesive and clear direction is dooming all of this work — work that has been undertaken in good faith by all involved. Residents are coming to the table to help the city plan for the future. City staff are guiding the discussions and working to come up with documents to present to city council. They are committed to developing the plans as directed.
The overall direction of this work is set by senior leadership. This lack of measurable outcomes can be attributed back to council and senior city staff. And senior leadership is accountable for achieving our community vision. City staff look to senior administration and residents look to city council for guidance. And when there isn’t any, you can be sure you won’t achieve your goal.
If you don’t have a mechanism to evaluate your progress toward a goal, you won’t achieve it. That is a basis of accountability. If no one is accountable, then the plans — no matter how admirable the vision — will join so many others on the bookshelf collecting dust.
Brian Pincott has lived in Winnipeg for nearly two years; prior to that he was a city councillor in Calgary for 10 years. He is executive director of Vélo Canada Bikes.