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September 22, 2019

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Much ado about Winnipeg’s infill housing

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2019 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg is moving forward with guidelines for the development of “infill housing”, guidelines that will first work through the property committee, which I chair at City Hall.

No subject has caused more calls to my office in the past year than infill housing, almost all of these calls from the area north of Fermor in St. Vital ward.

The infill debate has caused a great deal of confusion and debate. Firstly, what is meant by infill? Urbanist thinker Jane Jacobs talked about “gap filling” in her 1960s writing, but the current understanding is rather different. Infill is usually used as a term for densification, that is in St. Vital’s context, tearing down one older house (usually on a 50-foot wide lot) and putting up two new ones on 25 wide lots. These new houses are often far taller than pre-existing houses.

The theory is that living more densely will: be better for the environment, save the City from servicing new subdivisions at the fringe of the City, and efficiently use existing services. The reality is more complicated.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2019 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg is moving forward with guidelines for the development of "infill housing",  guidelines that will first work through the property committee, which I chair at City Hall.  


No subject has caused more calls to my office in the past year than infill housing, almost all of these calls from the area north of Fermor in St. Vital ward.


The infill debate has caused a great deal of confusion and debate. Firstly, what is meant by infill? Urbanist thinker Jane Jacobs talked about "gap filling" in her 1960s writing, but the current understanding is rather different. Infill is usually used as a term for densification, that is in St. Vital’s context, tearing down one older house (usually on a 50-foot wide lot) and putting up two new ones on 25 wide lots. These new houses are often far taller than pre-existing houses.


The theory is that living more densely will: be better for the environment, save the City from servicing new subdivisions at the fringe of the City, and efficiently use existing services. The reality is more complicated.


People who want to live on a 50-foot lot (like I do) may well choose to live just outside City limits rather than in a smaller infill home. The City would still incur costs as people from the "exurbs" drive on city roads, etc. And as various people in north St. Vital tell me, the "existing services" (like lanes and transit) need more funding rather than more people using them. Additionally, arguing that the City’s great problem is servicing new suburbs when we have a $1.3 billion price tag to replace older sewer systems by 2045 (and another billion for the North End sewage plant) ignores the costs arising from simply maintaining the current city footprint. If we have more residents contributing towards these costs, including residents living in new suburbs, the burden will be more widely shared.


The term "infill" can cover many different things: the new Vogan’s Run street inserted in River Park South, a single home on an empty lot, to almost doubling the population on a block of Vivian. We need to be more clear about what infill means in different areas.


As a friend of mine said, "Sounds like you need some guidelines." I welcome people to join in this debate. The Glenwood Neighbourhood Association has been very active to date, and there is time to provide your input. Email me at bmayes@winnipeg.ca

Brian Mayes

Brian Mayes
St. Vital city council ward report

Brian Mayes is the city councillor for St. Vital.

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