Plans for Winnipeg's largest ever suburb were revealed this month, but they were met with significant public concerns.
Waverley West, a seven-district, 3,000-acre residential development in southwest Winnipeg, is planned to include more than 10,000 housing units when it is complete.
The environment-conscious development will feature a linear park with bike and foot paths, a connection of village greens, frequent bus stops and a high proportion of green space.
Henry Bos, Manitoba's assistant deputy minister of employment, income and housing, says the environment is a big focus of the development. "Natural woodlands will be preserved to every possible extent (and) ... the layout has many homes facing south for solar heating."
|Ashoke Dasgupta, Business Edge|
|Waverley West Residents' Association secretary Jean Paterson is concerned backers of the planned development are citing overly optimistic demographic projections.|
Jino Distasio, director of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, says the environmental focus of Waverley West may be a good concept, but ideas don't always crystallize into reality.
"Though the community is to be more walkable," Distasio says, "the question is whether people will, in fact, walk to nearby stores. No one can force them to do so. Mass transit-oriented subdivisions may, however, encourage eco-friendly transit use."
The area's biggest land owners, the Ladco Company Ltd. and the province of Manitoba, commissioned ND Lea Engineers & Planners Inc. for the design, and Manitoba Housing & Renewal Corp. (MHRC) for project management. The development is scheduled for completion by 2030, and construction may start on the 350-acre Phase 1 as early as next year.
Bos says decreasing unit size and family composition will make the high-density housing of Waverley West attractive.
But critics of the project say the development will create more issues than it will fix.
"Winnipeg already has a considerable backlog of infrastructural development to attend to, such as road maintenance," says Distasio.
He suggests the project's true costs will include significant infrastructural strains for police, fire and ambulance services.
Jon Gerrard, leader of the provincial Liberal Party, echoes Distasio's concerns. "The undoubted potential for more downtown residential units should not occur at the expense of Waverley West, yet infrastructural issues such as schools will need to be addressed at Waverley," he says. "For the town-centre concept to work, there may (also) have to be a form of rapid transit from there to the downtown area, as in most large cities."
A critical issue, according to Gerrard, is when Kenaston Boulevard, the main artery connecting Waverley West with Winnipeg, will be extended and converted to a highway.
He argues that handling increased traffic on Kenaston will have to be addressed before Waverley West is constructed. "It is proposed that Kenaston is to become a highway going through Waverley West to the perimeter. In that case, a number of traffic lights on Kenaston, as it is today, will need to be removed," he says.
Gerrard also points out that although there has been some "vague talk" of mandatory geothermal heating at Waverley West, there hasn't been any clear confirmation.
Ladco personnel have told him they'll install geothermal heating infrastructure for a particular home if asked to do so by a buyer, but considering how expensive such systems can be, buyers may not request it on their own. "Waverley West could be a pilot project for the use of geothermal home heating, but its acceptance may depend on the incentives offered for its use," Gerrard says.
Jean Paterson, secretary of the Waverley West Residents' Association (WWRA), also expresses concerns over the project. She worries that what has happened with schools in other areas will happen at Waverley West.
For example, she says, parents in the newer parts of Richmond West have complained to her that the realtors from whom they bought their houses had assured them that new schools were about to be built. Three years later, there were no signs of any such schools.
Instead, kids have been bussed to schools in surrounding areas.
Paterson also worries about costs for area residents. She says Waverley West currently trucks in its water, since the well water isn't potable, and it may cost $10,000 a household for water to be piped in. She also says "one controversial estimate (of geothermal heating cost) is that it may add $30,000 to the cost of a Waverley West house."
The largest criticisms for the project, however, centre on demand projections for the area. The Waverley West Plan Winnipeg amendment housing and population report, prepared for Ladco and the MHRC by ND Lea in 2003 and revised in 2004, includes an assumption that Winnipeg's population will increase by 18,600 persons by 2011, and 39,700 by 2021.
That projection seems optimistic to some, considering recent layoffs by large employers MTS and CIBC, the Chartered Accountants of Manitoba's annual MB Check Up highlighting low disposable income and high personal and business tax in the province; and the third annual Manitoba Business Leaders Index revealing that the province was falling behind other provinces in expanding, creating or relocating businesses.
Between January and October 2005, Manitoba lost a net 6,211 people to other parts of the country, although the total population grew marginally due to foreign immigration.
"The current marginal population increases have mainly been due to immigration," explains Christopher Leo, an associate at the University of Manitoba's department of city planning, "(and that) may be accommodated without opening Waverley West up."
He points out that the provincial nominee program has caused a substantial increase of immigration of people in the trades. But "since tradesmen's aren't highly paid jobs, the immigrants may not buy new homes immediately on arrival.
"There's no need for Waverley West, since the population's spread quite thin as it is," Leo says. "Despite that, we're the most sprawled of the eight major Canadian metros. Provinces are supposed to be regulators, not developers, so there's a blatant conflict of interest involved as well, though people have come to expect this sort of thing.
"The city's calculations reveal that we're already spending far less than necessary, in each infrastructural category, without Waverley West. There's been no real public input during the open houses and public meetings. They've just been public relations exercises designed to create the illusion of public participation in decision-making. Assuming modest population growth, Waverley West may be appropriate a generation or two down the road."
Paterson agrees that the population estimates may be overly optimistic. "The entrepreneurial sector isn't vigorous, partly because of marginal population growth," she says. "Service industry opportunities are limited because there aren't enough affluent people to sustain them. The elderly are wondering what they can do to get their children to move back to Manitoba. Meanwhile, the entrepreneurial vacuum is leading to pessimism and, perhaps, to an eventual drop in the demand for homes."
The ND Lea housing and population report says demand for new housing units will be 1,850 to 2,860 units a year for the next 20 years, and Waverley West will account for about 28 per cent of that.
Dianne Himbeault, senior market analyst for Manitoba at the CMHC, considers that an accurate projection.
"The southwest quadrant of the city, which includes Waverley West, has the lowest level of supply. It has traditionally attracted about 49 per cent of all city development," Himbeault says.
Paterson says that no matter what course of action is taken, there must be more discussion before plans proceed.
"There is poor direct communication between the MHRC, Manitoba Hydro and the WWRA," he says. "For example, there are plans for Kenaston Boulevard to be extended through Anason's golf course in Waverley West, but no one has contacted the owner yet, or asked his permission, though he has a 40-year lease."
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be reached at email@example.com)