PRESS RELEASE: Residential Infill Strategy an opportunity to create dense, sustainable & affordable neighbourhoods

The City of Winnipeg has started it’s latest, and likely last, round of engagement on the Residential Infill Strategy. The Strategy had its origins in a motion coming out of Winnipeg Council’s Property & Development committee that directed the City’s Public Service to plan for a Residential Infill Strategy. This Strategy would have the goals of creating a policy framework to encourage infill, coming up with planning & design guidelines for residential infill, and devising a communications plan to share information widely with residents and builders.

Sadly, the initial rounds of consultation in 2017-2018 were not extremely well known by Winnipeggers. Many proponents of mixed-use density and a more walkable Winnipeg were paying close attention tot the Portage and Main referendum for much of 2018. Meanwhile, significant organizing was done by very vocal critics of infill and opponents of increasing density. This had considerable impacts on the early suggestions in the report the Public Service gave Property & Development in January of this year.

There was hope that there would be course correction, with a more robust consultation process that reached a broader cross-section of society. Infill development is crucial to the future of Winnipeg. The Residential Infill Strategy could affect development in our city for decades to come. The Public Service estimated in 2019 that it would cost $650K to do high-quality public engagement on infill. They looked at the City of Edmonton and its widely recognized infill policy framework for inspiration.

Sadly, Council did not grant the Public Service $650K to do high quality public engagements. This means we’re witnessing a shoestring process that could come up with less than solid policy. Further hampering the inclusion of diverse voices and a broad perspective on this strategy is the fact this round of Infill Strategy engagement was announced close the provincial election day and much of it will occur during the Federal election campaign.

While it may be hard to get broad public attention on this Strategy, infill is broadly important to the public. It can create affordable housing in areas well served by transit. This can reduce car usage and lowers greenhouse gas emissions, which is critical to meeting Federal and municipal climate goals. Winnipeg’s 2011 Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory makes frequent mention of the importance of mixed-use density and infill in reducing our carbon emissions. The Winnipeg Capital Region is heading towards one million residents by 2033. If much of them live in lower density developments many kilometres from Winnipeg’s downtown, we’ll be facing an environmental & fiscal disaster.

Infill developments can be more efficient and beneficial to the public treasury in the long run. Sprawl development is costly to the City and will get increasingly costly as it moves from outer suburbs inside city limits to exurbs many kilometres away, with more people driving into the city and not contributing to local taxes. In this context, denying more housing opportunities, in older neighbourhoods where the market is signalling high demand, is foolish.

YIMBY Winnipeg acknowledges that there are many references in City policy documents and plans to the importance of encouraging mixed use, dense infill. Unfortunately, the City often fails to update the zoning code to reflect this. This results in many controversies and a difficult process for builders to get land rezoned in our mature communities. This absolutely undermines the rational goal of increasing dense, mixed use and walkable developments.

YIMBY Winnipeg believes that, if done right, the Residential Infill Strategy can address this. Some items we would like to see in the Infill Strategy, and recommend Winnipeggers advocate for, include:

  • Abolishing Parking Minimums in Mature Communities: These make developments more costly & mandate valuable land be spent storing cars. Given our need to move away autocentric development because of the climate crisis, mandating storage space for cars is very counterproductive.
  • Eliminate single-family only zoning in Mature Communities: Cities in Oregon, Minneapolis and Edmonton are abolishing single family only zoning. We, more modestly, call for Winnipeg to follow suite just in mature communities. This would entail rezoning single family only lots to R2 (Two family), RMF (Residential Multiple Family), RMU (Residential Mixed-Use) or other codes. This would allow for more affordable units, denser development and lower carbon lifestyles in much of Winnipeg.
  • More resources and access to public information on infill: The City should dedicated staff and funds to providing the public information on infill, including the benefits of infill, as is done in Edmonton.
  • No to phantom garages: The City should not include a provision for unbuilt or phantom garages in lot coverage calculations. This proposed City policy, which again is centred around mandating that we allocate or reserve space for cars (even if more hypothetically), is the wrong way to go given the climate crisis.
These recommendations, if incorporated into the Residential Infill Strategy, would set Winnipeg on the path towards a more affordable and sustainable future.

Dylon Martin