New Residential Infill Strategy
The City of Winnipeg is developing its new residential infill strategy. Winnipeggers who live in one of the City’s older neighbourhoods or who plan on moving to the City within the next few years should understand what this means to them. What’s more, if you live in Winnipeg, you can have your say and influence the strategy. We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, though, so let’s start by explaining exactly what residential infill is.
What Is Residential Infill?
Urban planning is complex. The difficulties inherent in urban planning are particularly obvious in a city like Winnipeg where much of the infrastructure wasn’t planned from the top down. What’s more, our City, like most cities on the Prairies, was developed with a mentality of almost infinite space; large, wide houses spread out in order to maximize the size of our yards. That’s problematic from the perspective of municipal governments. The further apart your citizens live and the more widely spread your residential developments, the harder it is to get essential services to your citizens. Fire halls, police stations, utilities - the more centralized everything is, the better. Given that service providers almost always aspire to be centrally located (it makes it easier to get around the City), you might even find your furnace company or appliance repair service will arrive quicker than you’d thought.
The scenario in which everything develops away from the centre is known as urban sprawl and it has a lot of negative consequences. Residential infill is a bid to fix these problems (impact fees are another). In short, it’s the process of building new residential developments in well-established neighbourhoods instead of developing new neighbourhoods away from the city’s centre.
What Are The Advantages Of Infill?
As we already discussed in brief, the main advantage of infill is to the municipality itself - in other words, the City of Winnipeg’s pocketbook. They have to invest less in building new infrastructure, be it roads, powerlines, or water treatment. That frees up funds that would be spent on construction workers, electricians, and engineers. These resources can be used elsewhere, the funds can be reallocated, or municipal fees and taxes can be reduced.
There are also advantages to the citizens - the lower taxes we just mentioned is one of them. A more dense city means more Winnipeggers will walk or bike to work, helping people stay healthy and freeing up roads.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Infill?
Infill, when done improperly, can cause a number of problems. When single-family units are replaced with multi-family units, it can change the look of a neighbourhood. Many Winnipeggers have already begun complaining about “tall, skinny houses” that block sunlight and don’t leave any space for the big yards many of us have grown to love. Improper planning can also lead to congested roads and sidewalks in the infilled neighbourhoods, as their population grows while space remains the same.
What Is Infill Planning?
Now that we’ve gone over a (very brief) review of what the pros and cons of infill development are, we can look at infill planning itself. Simply put, infill planning is used in order to amplify the pros of residential infill while diminishing the cons. Citizens are consulted, as are urban developers and other professionals, and steps are taken in order to make residential infill more desirable. This might include changing zoning laws, constructing new sidewalks, and limiting the types of construction that can be used on a given plot of land.
Infill planning is mostly conducted through extensive research and consultation. The City of Winnipeg has four phases of infill planning: immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Short-term plans might include developing infill design guidelines while medium-term plans include things like tree protection policies. Immediate plans include consultation with Winnipeggers and getting the word out about residential infill. Long-term plans might include plotting out roads and other infrastructure.
Why Should You Care?
Everyone who lives in Winnipeg or plans on living in Winnipeg should care about infill development. Those living in well-established neighbourhoods will be most affected because the layout and look of their neighbourhood could change. There are advantages and disadvantages to population growth in any given neighbourhood but some of the problems that might arise can be addressed by consulting with the City. The tall houses we talked about earlier were brought to the City’s attention by concerned citizens and in response, they moved almost immediately to change zoning laws to prevent this type of building from dominating infill development.
Those living in the suburbs should care, too. Infill development can lead to less congestion on the main arteries of the City. They can also lead to a reduction of taxes or an increase in services as money that would otherwise go to infrastructure for new developments is put to other uses.
How Can You Get Involved?
Round 1 of public consultation for infill development recently ended. That said, you can still get involved in a number of ways. Round 2 of public consultation, where the City will present design guidelines, among other things, is slated to be held in Winter 2020. Keep an eye on the City of Winnipeg’s website to be a part of those consultations.
You can, of course, get involved without going to formal consultation with the City. Community activism is alive and well here. Join a neighbourhood group and speak with them about the pros and cons of infill development. Discuss a diversity of opinions and see what actions you can take together on issues that matter to you. Get in contact with your neighbourhood’s members of City Council, ask them what they think of the infill strategy and voice your opinions and recommendations. Winnipeg is our City and no matter how you feel about residential infill, it’s your right to have a say.