As I wrote last time, most of Winnipeg will be essentially unchanged by the time the city hits a population of one million, because of poor planning, uninspired development priorities, and simple resistance to change. However, my crystal ball (which looks a lot like a bottle of Newcastle, incidentally) also shows some exciting things to come. In fact some encouraging signs can be found already if you look for them:
1) There has been a shift in thinking about how to develop a city. It started small with city planning students, urbanist bloggers and alike, and it slowly began to grow into a mainstream concept.
The City made the mistake in the past of relying on development mega projects, optimizing areas for cars rather than pedestrians and, as architect Brent Bellamy put it, removing the “texture” from the streets. Some of this is still happening, but we’re also seeing more discussion about developing surface parking lots, opening up Portage and Main to pedestrians, and promoting walkable neighbourhoods. We even hear talk like this from City officials and councillors.
Example: Embedded in the design of Waverley West, the most suburbist of sprawling suburbs, is a “Town Centre”. The vision for this Town Centre is torn right out of a Paris tourist guide: shops and stores built to the sidewalk, sheltered walkways with trees and flowers, and patios for relaxing and sipping non-fat half-caff lattes with your pals Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. The expectation is that developers will strive to build this kind of environment.
Will it work? No. While it is well intentioned it is poor in execution. The Town Centre they speak of is entirely encircled by the north and south-bound lanes of south Kenaston Blvd, which will become increasingly busy as it evolves into the gateway to the Perimeter that it is intended to be. This design will discourage people from walking to the ‘walkable’ Town Centre. Still, the right concepts are being discussed. With a bit of trial and error we will eventually get better at doing it.
2) Downtown Winnipeg has some momentum. A dandelion seed drifting in the breeze also has momentum. We have to be careful not to exaggerate the progress of our city centre, after all this past year we have seen shops and restaurants like Arkadash Bistro, Moi Boutique, Juss Jazz and The Tallest Poppy hang up “Going out of business” signs.
But amid the vacant storefronts and half-conscious pan handlers there is indeed progress. More people are living downtown, the Exchange is much cleaner and more vibrant than it was 20 years ago, The Forks has developed into a gem of a place, developers are building or planning to build mixed-use developments, and the Red River waterfront has been completely transformed.
The evolution of downtown is a one-step-forward, one-step-backward affair, but I believe the steps forward are bigger. I see this continuing, and if it does then maybe … maybe … one day we might even see an actual grocery store downtown.
3) There are some underutilized areas of the city that have great potential. Two in particular that I want to pick on:
– South Point Douglas. It wasn’t so long ago that South Point Douglas was low-track hookerville. The only reason you would ever go there was to get your car out of impound. That is about to change in a big way, and by the time Winnipeg hits one million this area of town will look nothing like what it does now.
This historic area has so much going for it: proximity to downtown, character houses and buildings, river frontage, green space, and more. North Point Douglas has been turning around recently, and the revitalization of the waterfront to the south has been sneaking ever closer to Higgins and South Point Douglas. Before too long people will begin to see the value in the run down properties and will redevelop them.
In fact, the process has already started. Community residents have been consulted, proposals to rezone industrial areas to residential have been floated, and plans are slowly being drawn up. Get in early while it’s still affordable!
– Kapyong Barracks… Twenty years from now the legal wrangling over this plot of land between the Government of Canada and a group of Manitoba First Nations should be almost over.
Tucked in between desirable River Heights, posh Tuxedo, and the new IKEA shopping development, this is ultra prime land.
The winner of the legal tug of war should, in my opinion, matter little. If whoever it is has any sense at all, the land ought to be developed into a relatively dense residential and commercial area that integrates well with the adjacent neighbourhoods. To do any less with it would be squandering its value.
– What about the Canadian Pacific Rail Yards? You had best forget about this overblown development opportunity. The likelihood of CP going through the expense of moving the yards is low, and the cost of remediating all of that contaminated land would be astronomical. Furthermore, people seem to forget that this land is sandwiched between the two highest crime jurisdictions in the city, so even if we do acquire the land and clean it up, its redevelopment value may be limited.
4) I don’t know where global warming stands vis-à-vis all the predictions, but I will optimistically predict that people will continue to pollute the bejeezus out of planet Earth, thus raising global temperatures to some degree. I will further predict that Winnipeg’s seasons will become slightly warmer. Spring will start a little sooner most years, fall will last a little longer, and summers will tend to be dryer.
This may help keep people in Winnipeg, and it may encourage Winnipeggers to be more active and ride more bikes. We know that the City is on a bike path building kick right now, and is formulating plans for a more extensive network. This, plus slightly warmer weather for walking and biking could slowly transform Winnipeg into less of a car-oriented city. There are very definitely limits to this, but over time we may see more residential development in core areas of the city that are more bike friendly.
Okay, maybe I’m stretching a little bit with that last one. I’m really trying hard to be positive about where this town is going, but being positive just doesn’t come naturally to me. Negativity is so much easier: the province is going to go bankrupt, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be a flop, crime rates will skyrocket as low income demographics grow leading to more gangs and as educated professionals continue to leave for greener pastures, Saskatoon will steal our title as Slurpee Capital of the World, and sink holes will open up all over the city because of leaky 130 year old pipes that we could never afford to replace. You see? That just spilled right out of me.
So perhaps at my core I’m not as optimistic as some, but in spite of all the challenges and the less-than-stellar track record of the current and previous mayors, I find myself being hopeful that good things can happen here. This can be a great city of one million people! We just need to carefully steer the ship in the right direction.