Proposed city budget cuts show need to densify mature communities

(for Press Release)

The City of Winnipeg is in a tough financial situation. Past property tax freezes, a growing City service area and growing demand for service are all putting pressure on Winnipeg’s Budget. In this budget process, City Departments are outlining possible cuts to meet budget caps that are drastic. For services like transit, these would have a profoundly negative impact on Winnipeggers’ day to day lives.

A key component to understanding Winnipeg’s perilous situation is its geographic footprint. From 1971 to present, the City’s land area increased 96 per cent while population only rose 37 per cent. This represents a strain on the City, as every dollar of service is stretched over a much larger area. While prairie cities like Winnipeg, Edmonton or Calgary have fewer geographic constraints on outward, suburban sprawl there are considerable fiscal costs to extending infrastructure and services further and further out. Our City must come to terms with this.

Specific life cycle analyses of greenfield and infill infrastructure use for Winnipeg are hard to come by. Nevertheless, there is a planning consensus that infill development is cheaper to service than greenfield. An analysis of an Australian city found that infrastructure costs for infill were a third of those for greenfield.

There are, further more, important climate benefits to infill. The City of Winnipeg’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Inventory notes infill will have to make up 50% of new residential construction if the City is to follow a low carbon path. Winnipeg needs to be a leader in climate change and encouraging infill will have to be part of the policy mix.

We know that there is great demand for infill homes in many mature communities. People want to buy infill homes. More infill homes would be build, sold, occupied and their owners paying needed property taxes to the City with less restrictive policies. The City’s current zoning policies are harming its own bottom line and contributing to climate change.

The City of Winnipeg is in the process of creating a Residential Infill Strategy. This presents a great chance to change. We recommend bold changes to put us on a more sustainable path as a city.

Our recommendations

  1. Abolish parking minimums in mature communities
  2. Eliminate Single family only zoning in mature communities
  3. Provide more resources and access to public information on infill
  4. No to phantom garages – The City should not include a provision for unbuilt or phantom garages in any lot coverage calculations.

These reforms would help generate need property tax revenue and contribute to population densities that can be more efficiently serviced by the City. In enacting bold reforms to densify Winnipeg, it is important that the City of Winnipeg recognize the needs of current and future mature community residents for key services that make urban life fun and sustainable. Frequent transit service is needed in densely populated areas to reduce congestion and car use. This makes life easier for urban dwellers as well as helps with environmental sustainability. Land use and transit planning go hand in hand.

If the City takes these realities to heart, we’ll be in a better position come future budget years.