By Stefano Grande (photo by Brian Burke)
Our city is changing. Developers and decision makers are realizing that there needs to be better balance between urban sprawl and creating more density and infill in our downtown and older neighbourhoods.
And our city has elected a new mayor who is fully aware of this and is prepared to make bold investments in rapid transit, creating development opportunities that will benefit everyone.
There are certain financial realities that are now clear. Density creates more taxes per hectare – anywhere from 10 to 25 per cent more for a city – and as a result, city operating costs are less. In a time of government budget crisis, proper land use development is the key to the future sustainability of our city, in every sense of this word.
All city infrastructure is already in place in neighbourhoods like our downtown and the inner city. But there is more than this.
Density and great design creates vibrancy and great neighbourhoods, more small and unique businesses, and cooler places to spend time, leading to increased property values and, yes, increased property taxes too. The research is there. But still there’s more to think about.
Creating affordable housing is a challenge as construction costs and land development costs continue to rise. Car ownership costs are climbing, and despite a recent downturn, gas prices are high, too. Have you noticed even the car congestion lately?
Baby boomers are downsizing and millennialism will lead the way to new markets, too. Building dense neighbourhoods around rapid transit is a solution where people of all incomes can take full advantage of vibrant neighbourhoods built for the movement of people – a city where rapid transit complements and is at the core of people’s values for live, work, and play in their neighbourhoods. This is known as TOD: transit oriented development.
This is the bold vision, and we need to give our mayor a chance. TOD plays an important role in cities by addressing significant and pressing transportation, housing and environmental issues, benefitting citizens as well as communities by capitalizing on the sustainable goals of government, and in turn, creating more vibrant and exciting places for people.
And it’s not a far-fetched dream. In fact, cities that people fall in love with today like Rome, Paris, Denver, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton – and many more – are capitalizing on what people want and where they want to live.
And the pieces are falling into place as Winnipeg pioneers have slowly been pressing for TOD and rapid transit in today’s marketplace. Winnipeg and downtown is in a good position to capitalize on these trends.
Take for example:
• Rapid transit is back on track
• Graham Avenue Mall, Downtown’s Transit Mall, is evolving and is now home to the largest drivers of economic growth in our city:
-MTS Centre: 1.5 million visitors per year
-Millennium Library: Home to over one million visitors per year
-The expanding RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg
-Some of downtown’s largest employers are located on its doorstep: Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Public Insurance and the Winnipeg Police Service
• Downtown’s largest housing development, SkyCity Centre Winnipeg, is on its way (a condo project by MADY and Fortress Real Developments)
• SHED is being developed, the city’s sports, hospitality and entertainment district
• The Forks Renewal: Redevelopment of Parcel 4 lands will integrate The Forks with its surrounding neighbours into one of our city’s most incredibly designed mixed-use neighbourhoods. Greater ease of movement and continuity of development with the area is necessary for The Forks to become an integral part of our city.
Where we are headed depends on our ability to focus in on best practices and understand the TOD lessons from other cities as opposed to pursuing our dreams based on opinion and local interpretation.
Where we are headed depends on a new breed of developers, from within and out-of-town, realizing the market opportunity for such an approach and in turn, helping to create and realize the vision for our downtown and city of tomorrow.
Local and national experts discussed implementation strategies at the inaugural Transit Oriented Development Summit. A full report will be made available on the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s website.
Are you ready to learn, listen, and dream about a changing city? Are you ready to help make a difference?
Stefano Grande is executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.