Planning Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods

Use-based zoning codes encourage monoculture, critics say

The City of Winnipeg’s existing zoning regulations prevent diversity, argues Hazel Borys of town planning firm Place Makers. Supplied

Introduced in the 1920s with the intention of safeguarding residential space from squalid industrial development, Winnipeg’s use-based zoning codes now seem to impede developments rather than protect them.

Use-based codes divide Winnipeg’s districts into five types: agricultural and parks, residential, commercial and institutional, manufacturing, and overlay. These types are further divided into subdivisions which determine the type of development construction that can occur in a given city district.

However, Hazel Borys, of town planning firm PlaceMakers, said such regulations impede development by limiting space usages and prevent building diversity. 

“Initially they had good intentions - to make sure people didn’t have to live near loud, stinky, dangerous factories,” she said. “But, it took to an extreme and now they disallow any mix of housing types.”

Use-base codes force similar development types to crop together, leaving districts with no diversity of places and, therefore, no diversity of people, adds Borys. In other words, use-based codes enforce monoculture.

Borys said form-based zoning codes, which regulate on the basis of development size and shape rather than use, could help create a more diverse and unique city character. 

“Winnipeg has a very unique character and our use-based bylaws have zero of that character in them,” she said. “A form-based code extracts the DNA of urban character and articulates what its urban forms should be.”

Emily Washington of Market Urbanism, a website dedicated to exploring the influence of market forces and property rights on urban communities, argues form-based codes are still not optimal.

“I would say use-based is more harmful than form-based, but neither is a good thing for achieving optimal development,” she said. “There is no ideal code. Land use limitations should be left up to contract law to determine on a case-by-case basis.”

Jenny Gerbasi, city councillor for Fort Rouge/East Fort Garry, believes establishing individual neighbourhood plans is critical for successful development. 

“You do need the broad regulations but they don’t always cover or create the sort of city we want,” she said. “Good neighbourhood plans, though, are more specific tools.”

Neighbourhood plans are composed to address unique development issues associated with specific neighbourhoods, added Gerbasi.

For example, the City of Winnipeg is currently in the process of composing one such plan for the Osborne and Corydon area. The plan means to emphasize the importance of pedestrian-oriented, sustainable development for the area.

Borys notes use-based zoning problems are not unique to Winnipeg, where the city has already begun to implement more mixed-base codes in the downtown area.

“Its not like Winnipeg is terribly far behind - this is a blight that has affected our entire continent,” she said. “Two-thirds of Winnipeg that are closest to the city’s centre have great mixed use urban structure.”

Newer, suburban neighbourhoods tend to be where the results of use-based codes are more noticeable, added Borys.

“Linden Woods shows you what use-based codes result in,” she said. “We have to build longer roads, more sewers and more schools for areas like this - this marginalizes the community and leaves it rather auto-centric,” she said.

Published in Volume 66, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 12, 2011)

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