Manitoba·Point of View

Infill housing won't destroy your neighbourhood — but it will bring you new neighbours

Glenelm resident Emma Durand-Wood says it's time to celebrate infill housing — and quell the fears that it's bad for Winnipeg communities.

Infill housing has a bad rap in Winnipeg, says Glenelm resident — but it's time to embrace the change

Glenelm resident Emma Durand-Wood says infill housing doesn't break a neighbourhood, but makes it. (Supplied/Emma Durand-Wood)

Winnipeg recently held consultations on residential infill again — and the voices that dominated the media coverage were loud and angry. 

I empathize with some of the concerns, like the lack of visible effort to preserve trees, dangerous driving by heavy machinery, or construction noise at inconsiderate times. 

But I'm dismayed at the suggestion that infill erodes the character of the neighbourhood. This suggests that buildings — not people — are the lifeblood of a neighbourhood.

Fear of change is a pretty natural reaction. Houses and yards that used to look more or less the same now look really different — taller and closer together. People mourn the loss of uniformity, and that's OK.

But I'm extremely alarmed by some of the classist, xenophobic comments I heard during infill-related appeal hearings: What "kind of people" would want to live in a multi-family home or a house that sticks out from the others? What "kind of people" wouldn't want a yard for their kids or would be renting rather than buying? 

It sounds a lot like a fear of "the other," and that's certainly not a sound basis for city planning policy. 

For me, the vehement opposition is baffling.

'Marvellously eclectic' neighbourhoods

It's not because I live in a new infill house, but because the descriptions of these new streets remind me a lot of my own neighbourhood of Glenelm. 

Is this an "infill" neighbourhood in the sense that houses existed here for decades and now we're seeing lot splits and new builds? 

No. The housing evolution here took place over the course of a couple of decades a really long time ago.

When I hear people railing against the idea that their neighbourhood will turn into one that looks like mine, it stings.

But in essence, Glenelm looks like what the new infill neighbourhoods are starting to look like — a hodgepodge of styles, sizes and ages of housing. Bungalows, three-storeys, duplexes, apartment blocks and townhouses coexist side by side. 

We're all on small lots, mostly 30 feet, with little room between houses.

We definitely have windows looking into other people's back yards, but it has never occurred to me to spy on my neighbours and post about it on the internet (an actual suggestion, by the way, that I heard from an infill open house participant).

Newer infill housing sits alongside older homes on Royse Avenue in Fort Garry's Maybank neighbourhood. 'When you push back against housing, you're not really pushing back against buildings. You're pushing back against people,' says Durand-Wood. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

When I hear people railing against the idea that their neighbourhood will turn into one that looks like mine, it stings.

Why? Because the variety of housing is the very thing that allows for many of my neighbours to live here. There's something for everyone, from all walks and stages of life.

I have neighbours in their 20s and neighbours in their 80s. There are families with little kids, multi-generational households, and not-quite-retired empty-nesters. There are homeowners and tenants, singles and couples, young and old alike.

Glenelm is marvellously eclectic, and my life is so much richer for it. 

Houses don't make a neighbourhood. People do.

Some of my neighbours are among the dearest people in my life. Others are merely acquaintances. And some I'd like to get to know more. 

As I mentioned, we've never spied on each other from our second-storey windows. We do, however, watch out for each other.

All neighbourhoods must change

Look, all neighbourhoods are going to have to change for our city not to go bankrupt, and our planet to stand a chance in this climate crisis.

In my neighbourhood, while lot splits aren't on the table, change will probably look like single-family houses adding one or more extra suites, the introduction of laneway housing, and maybe even combining lots to build small apartment buildings. 

I welcome it all.

Because it means when my circumstances change, and my home no longer suits my needs, there will be even more options for me to stay in my neighbourhood, near the people I care about, and who care about me.

For folks upset about infill in their own neighbourhoods, I offer a few suggestions. 

First, spend your energy advocating for the things that really matter, like tree preservation and respectful construction practices.

Second, consider that when you push back against housing, you're not really pushing back against buildings. You're pushing back against people. 

Make sure your objections to technical design specifications (like building height and lot coverage ratios) aren't simply a mechanism for excluding certain "kinds of people."

Start with the assumption that most of those prospective neighbours will be good people, because most people are. 

And please — stop talking about infill threatening to destroy the fabric of your neighbourhood.

Houses don't make a neighbourhood. People do. 

If you position yourself against new housing, you're missing out on the very best part of a neighbourhood — neighbours.

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


Emma Durand-Wood is an active volunteer in Elmwood and loves front yard pancake parties, neighbourhood music festivals and bike rides in Elmwood Cemetery.


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