City planning is taking a hit in this year’s city budget, with significant cuts in positions and funding that could have an effect on city development over the coming years.
Twelve positions were cut from Winnipeg’s city planning program in the 2009 operating budget, passed on March 24 by a council vote of 11-4.
This will bring the total number of people working in planning from 28 to 16.
One more city planning position is slated for cutting in 2010.
Although removed from planning, 12 full-time positions will be created in another branch of the department of Property, Planning and Development.
Mike Pagtakhan is the councillor for Point Douglas and sits on the Executive Policy Committee. He voted for the latest budget.
“From what I know I don’t believe it’s going to impact planning projects,” said Pagtakhan.
The allocation of resources is the responsibility of department directors so these changes would have been recommended by the department.
The director of Planning, Property and Development could not be reached by press time.
Pagtakhan said that he is very committed to good city planning and he believes that the changes were likely made to improve efficiency in the department.
“In terms of service level, I don’t see any services coming down,” he said.
Marc Vachon is a geography professor at the University of Winnipeg. He is not thrilled to see planning positions at the city disappear.
“Planning is important for the future of the city, for the cost of infrastructure, and for the type of growth this city will experience,” he said.
Vachon said it will now be harder to stick to development plans like Plan Winnipeg and prevent urban sprawl.
“Without planning, development is left to the market,” he said.
Vachon is concerned that although some developers genuinely care about the community, many will forgo healthy city development for short-term gain.
He said that in the ’50s and ’60s developer-driven development cost Winnipeg many heritage buildings and communities.
Chris Baker is a second year city planning student at the University of Manitoba. He is worried about future employment after the city removed positions in his field of study.
“It’s discouraging,” he said.
“It causes people to look elsewhere for work – to cities that are more dedicated [to planning].”
Baker pointed to other cities of comparable size, such as Hamilton, noting they often have considerably more city planners.
In addition to the jobs lost, nearly 40 per cent of the planning department’s budget was cut this year, with further cuts projected for 2010 and 2011.
Baker believes this shows how little people in Winnipeg care about the direction their city takes.
“Planning should be at the forefront of dinner-time conversation,” he said.
Despite some notable exceptions such as The Forks and the Exchange District, Vachon believes Winnipeg still has a long way to go, not only in terms of neighbourhoods but also overall vision.
“I see Winnipeg as a huge suburb, we segregated space so much,” he said.
“Under the old mayor (Glen Murray) the city used to be the most progressive and visionary in the country.”
Published in Volume 63, Number 26 of The Uniter (April 2, 2009)