EDITORIAL – More walkable city a laudable goal


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A Steinbach group is hoping to inspire a change in how development occurs in the future.

Called Strong Towns Steinbach, the local chapter is hoping to encourage investment in the downtown, creating a walkable city that does not just cater to drivers.

They point out that after the Second World War, suburban sprawl began to be common in North America.

That enabled people to live the dream of owning their own home, have a lawn, and live away from the “city life” even if they were still attached to the city.

That meant of course, they needed vehicles, also part of the dream, which enabled them to go to work, access goods and services, and take little Johnny to his weekend hockey or baseball games.

It seemed like a great idea.

Unfortunately, it also had the effect of depopulating downtown areas. Local shops closed their doors, offices moved into those spots, and downtowns across North America died, or at the very least became a pale image of what they once were.

Gary Snider and Chris Krahn are heading up the local chapter of a much larger movement.

Strong Towns was founded by engineer and planner Charles Marohn who analyzed municipal developments across North America.

He concluded that most practices were unsustainable, detracting from what once made cities attractive such as walkable downtown cores, businesses which attract customers on foot and high-density neighbourhoods close by.

While it’s easy to point the finger at municipal planners of old, it’s important to realize that segmenting communities into different zones was and to some extent still is best practice.

Separating industrial, commercial and residential sections benefit residents who don’t have to live next to the noise and smell of an industrial operation, or deal with the traffic a commercial development can bring.

And it simply wouldn’t make sense to turn away big box stores when they come looking for land, just because they won’t locate downtown.

In fact, the City of Steinbach has done many things right, thanks in part to their planning but also to developers with vision.

The city has realized the importance of trails and sidewalks and have even stepped up snow clearing in the winter after COVID hit and usage increased.

Planned developments such as the one on Old Tom Road and Millbrook Market also boast a mixed-use plan.

That would ensure that people would have access to different levels of housing and businesses to meet their needs.

Having a more diverse downtown, and a more walkable city are goals that shouldn’t find detractors.

But it turns out there’s many out there who fear change of any kind.

The reaction to 15-minute cities for example is one that’s mind boggling, even to those who have witnessed a wide array of conspiracy theories being accepted as fact.

The concept of a 15-minute city is simple. Coined in 2016 by Carlos Moreno, a university professor in France, the idea is basically a goal of giving residents access to the essential services they need within 15 minutes. In other words, they should be able to walk or bike to work, get groceries or access healthcare within 15 minutes.

When Edmonton city council proposed exploring the concept, they were greeted with those who believed 15-minute cities would lead to a situation where citizen movement was monitored through surveillance and people would be fined for leaving their neighbourhoods.

These fears are likely inspired by Oxford City Council in England, who proposed banning travel from certain neighbourhoods to the city’s centre at certain times of the day, using vehicle monitoring cameras to ensure compliance. That has never been suggested by any jurisdiction in North America.

Dr. Jordan Peterson also weighed in with his misinformation. “The idea that neighbourhoods should be walkable is lovely,” he said in a tweet. “The idea that tyrannical bureaucrats can decide by fiat where you’re allowed to drive is perhaps the worst imaginable perversion of that idea – and, make no mistake, it’s part of a well-documented plan”.

Even the community of St Pierre had to respond to these ridiculous theories.

Mayor Raymond Maynard referenced the fact they had applied for a SMART city grant, along with the RM of La Broquerie and a village in Quebec. Had they received it they would have had $5 million to install geothermal heating and reduce their carbon footprint.

In the March newsletter he addressed the ludicrousness of the conspiracy theories.

“Just the sheer factor that St-Pierre-Jolys is one-mile square automatically makes us a 15-minute city,” he pointed out. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your vehicle anytime you want. You are free to do whatever you want whenever you want, as long as it’s legal, and no one can stop you from doing that.”

The basic idea of working towards a more walkable city is laudable, and one we should all support.

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