Manitoba·Opinion

No need to reinvent the wheel with 'made in Manitoba' solutions to problems others have already tackled

The solutions to many problems faced in Winnipeg tend to be variants on the refrain "Let’s come up with an all new 'made in Manitoba' solution," says Joanne Seiff. But she argues Manitobans don’t have to reinvent the wheel in finding solutions to the problems we face.

When it comes to building a livable city, Winnipeg could learn from success, mistakes of others: Joanne Seiff

In New York City, honking a car horn in anything other than an emergency is illegal. Such noise laws are just one example good ideas from other cities that Winnipeg could adopt to improve life for its residents, says Joanne Seiff. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Winnipeg's got growing pains.

That includes a desperate need for a better infill strategy. If densification is here to stay, we need a bylaw enforcement plan that actually works. 

Yet, the solutions to this problem — and so many others faced in the city — are variants of "We'll do another study," "We'll bury our head in the sand" or, the favourite: "Let's come up with an all new "made in Manitoba" solution. 

Dear Manitobans: We don't have to reinvent the wheel.

When someone boasts that no one has ever faced what Winnipeg (or Manitoba) is facing, it makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Some see Winnipeg as a geographically isolated island, alone on the Prairies. 

Imagine that island. It's one that fights far above its weight class in terms of arts and culture. This is sometimes an effective metaphor and even occasionally true. 

However, after my car was vandalized twice in eight days — and the chief of police started speaking out about how the officers need help — I wondered about Winnipeg's lurking problems.

The most pressing life and death example is meth addiction, but we're using the same inefficient, turtle-like approach for everything, including our quality of life issues.  

Don't get me wrong — task forces, committees and studies all have their place. I'm just baffled as to why it takes so long to tackle issues, like dealing with a meth crisis, that have such a long track records elsewhere. To save money over the long term, we need to read the (widely available) research quickly. Then, we must get moving. 

Let's spend some money to fix the problems — but let's do it smarter, by drawing on the mistakes and lessons of other jurisdictions.

Health and safety come first, but overall well-being should follow. 

Lessons for densification from other cities

The departure of the city's chief planner, Braden Smith, shouldn't mean that our infill plan, for example, should stall out. Other cities have had to come up with densification strategies.

Why not adopt the green space requirements that other Canadian cities require? Edmonton and other cities seem to have managed to adopt infill guidelines that protect green space. Research indicates that whether we "forest bathe" or just play outside, our health improves.

Why does the city need years to develop strategies to maintain livability in mature neighbourhoods? A lot of damage or neighbourhood development (depending on how you see it) happens while we wait for government to catch up.

For instance, others are using variance signage more effectively to alert neighbours to new potential building projects in their neighbourhoods. If other Canadian cities' signs are more effective — and one of our city councillors is already trying out new signage — it would seem like a no-brainer. Adopt better signage based on other cities' more effective models — and then move on.  

Winnipeg's infill strategy should take lessons from other cities on preserving green space, says Seiff. (CBC)

If we want densification to work, we also need old-fashioned good judgment and bylaw enforcement. While some think this is impossible, it's enforced elsewhere. In New York City, it's illegal to honk your horn unless it's a genuine safety emergency. In Fairfax County, Va., near Washington, D.C., there are noise laws. After 9 p.m. trash and recycling removal near residential properties — and even lawn mowing — is forbidden.

In Winnipeg, however, quality of life legislation and enforcement isn't a priority. In busy areas with a residential/commercial mix, there's no effort to reduce noise or light pollution in line with our bylaws.

Instead,bylaws make exceptions for City of Winnipeg business. Dumpsters can be emptied at 3 a.m. Even if quiet hours prohibiting construction noise are over at 7 a.m., some common sense must prevail. When the city's contractors move their construction equipment into place before 7 a.m., the back-up beeps aren't the only things that wake many of us up. The rumbling equipment is in place for jackhammering at 7:10 a.m. My child woke up crying one morning.

This isn't the peace and quiet of a well-regulated urban neighbourhood.

Winnipeg's bylaws could be more effective in dealing with noise from construction projects, Seiff says. (AstroStar/Shutterstock)

It's not just one neighbourhood. Lord Roberts has suffered immensely from this lack of legislation. As Bev Pike pointed out in her recent CBC opinion piece, this affects one's quality of life, and in the U.K., builders are trying more considerate approaches.

Keeping things habitable for those living in densification corridors should be a priority. There are three construction projects within a block of my home office, and several more beyond that. One project has entirely blocked sidewalk access across the street at the same time as the city sidewalk construction. It's nearly impossible to walk safely to the park.

This isn't functional urban living.

There's substantial city planning research on how to create dense cities that work. Some European and North American cities do these things well. We don't need to start afresh. We should do research, use our resources wisely, and get started.

Yes, our solutions should suit our climate and population, but that is not unique. North Dakota has great roads, built to specifications that work for our climate. We too could have good roads, but we would need to decide to pay to meet those high quality specs and construct them properly. 

These solutions are within our control as a province. We just have to decide to prioritize them.

The refrain shouldn't be a "made in Manitoba" solution. It should be "We want things fixed!  We want solutions! And when do we want them? Now."


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.

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