Challenges & Opportunities of Future Infill Development in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG, MB. – While there is still a significant inventory of land for suburban development in the City of Winnipeg, it has already approved what will likely be the last large-scale suburban neighbourhood in our city.  Effectively, the last tract of open land has now been allocated for development and unless Winnipeg’s boundaries expand, the City has reached its outer limits.

The City’s population is expected to grow by some 180,000 over the next two decades. How will the City accommodate newcomers without following an unaffordable, sprawl favouring development path? How will the City manage to maintain what is already built while providing new infrastructure for a growing population without going broke? Winnipeg infrastructure costs are borne by about 137 residents per square kilometer whereas Toronto relies on nearly a thousand residents per square kilometers.

As the city faces the prospect of accommodating new residents within its boundaries, downtown densification and revitalizing old neighbourhoods will take on added significance. Attention will naturally shift to older neighbourhoods and smaller tracts of land for infill projects. As with any other commodity, as land becomes scarce, prices will increase.

As attention shifts from developing vast tracts of land on the outskirts of the city, the challenge for city planners will become more complex. Residents and smaller scale developers will start looking at infill opportunities and at purchasing old housing stock for renovation.

While the pending shift from large-scale suburban developments to renewal and infill is a positive development, there is a significant risk that development may become more ad hoc and local area plans don’t catch up to the shifting development focus as well the pressure to supply more housing. That is, city planners and elected officials will be under pressure to approve individual projects before local area plans are fully developed with due and full consideration of the inventory of available spaces and how everything will fit together.

Without detailed plans, neighbourhoods could end up with a mish mash of developments that don’t create functional, multi-use neighbourhoods that become self-contained communities. When dealing with infill and neighbourhood renewal, local area plans need to be more micro level and focus on smaller neighbourhoods. A city comprised of multiple neighbourhoods such as Osborne Village and Corydon Avenue lays down the foundation for successful, cost-effective and healthier outcomes in the long term.

As the City of Winnipeg experiences increasing competition for residential housing within its established neighbourhoods, success will depend on how effectively it develops a master plan composed of local area plans to encourage high density, mixed use neighbourhoods. Cities do not get a mulligan on planning after shovels are in the ground and buildings take up open space. Careful planning must precede building. The City missed critical opportunities over the past four decades. By favouring larger suburban developments over denser, mixed-use inner-city neighbourhoods, Winnipeg became one of the least dense, high-cost cities in Canada. Simultaneously, Winnipeg remains home to one of the oldest housing stocks in the country as cheap suburban land incentivized urban sprawl at the expense of maintaining inner city neighbourhoods.

The paradigm will now shift. With no more space to grow outward, the focus will slowly shift to infill housing and there will be significant effort to revitalize the aging housing stock. There will be the new opportunities. Along with more complex development challenges, there will be other social implications as new residents compete for residential space.

Many cities across North America have experienced changes, which resulted in old inner-city neighbourhoods becoming coveted and exclusive residential areas. Toronto’s Cabbagetown and Baltimore’s Remington area have experienced “gentrification,” defined by Governing Magazine, as “the arrival of a more affluent class of residents into a poorer neighbor- hood, often resulting in displacement.” Revitalization is the process of existing residents renewing their neighbourhoods as their economic state improves; gentrification is the result of incoming residents pushing people out of their homes.

Many neighbourhoods surrounding downtown Winnipeg have experienced varying degrees of economic depression. The state and age of the average home in these areas are reflective of the poverty they contain. If Winnipeg experiences what many other cities have, some of the residents of these neighbourhoods will come under pressure to yield their space to more affluent residents.

As Winnipeg begins to experience growth in its old and established neighbourhoods, civic leaders must actively plan for the economic inclusion of residents who make up these neighbourhoods. Otherwise, Winnipeg will gentrify some neighbourhoods but create others that with an even greater concentration of poverty and frustration than exists today. Cities such as Baltimore experienced intense social upheaval, driven at least in part by these factors.

There are two established axioms in planning for the economic viability of neighbourhoods; give the neighbourhood what no one has but everyone would want and second, create inclusive economic opportunities for residents. Successful neighbourhoods have significant internal trade and resident interaction as well as trade and interaction with other neighbourhoods. Osborne and Corydon Avenue remain Winnipeg’s best examples.

Opportunity and risk are two sides of the same coin. As Winnipeg shifts from building new suburbs to finding new room for an increasing population within existing neighbourhoods, it will have an opportunity to curb the expensive and unsustainable development practices of the past. Through necessity, this will present an opportunity to build denser and more affordable neighbourhoods.

At the same time, it will face the risk of development getting ahead of the planning process. It also faces the risk of increasing land values and displacing residents out of old neighbourhoods as they become more attractive for revitalization and renewal.

With careful planning, Winnipeg can avoid the mistakes of other cities and actively plan for inclusion, affordability and vibrancy to create neighbourhoods that will serve as focal points of activity for area residents.

SmartBiz for MyToba News

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