Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

He Ain’t NIMBY, He’s My Brother

Dear Winnipeg,

I received your St.Patrick’s Day card in the mail yesterday, thanks! [Ha! Lucky pickle… classic!]

Anyways, that got me thinking about infill. [Obviously.]

And then that got me thinking about NIMBYs. [And then about pickles again, but I digress…]

Why would anyone who knows what kind of financial trouble you are in raise such fierce opposition to infill development in their neighbourhood?

Happening right now at some Community Committee meeting

What gives with these people? Why are they being so irrational? [I’m gonna go ahead and ruin the ending for you: they’re not.]

I’ve told you before how there isn’t a car culture here, there’s just rational people making the best transportation decisions for themselves given the options they’ve been given.

But, even if you don’t believe that, and you still really think that Winnipeggers just LOVE their cars, you can’t deny that if there’s one thing Winnipeggers HATE, it’s OTHER PEOPLE’S cars.

Other people’s cars cause traffic.

Other people’s cars create noise that is a nuisance.

Other people’s cars take up all the parking on the street.

But, if your neighbourhood is built in such a way that you have no choice but to drive to everything you need, from going to work, to getting groceries, dropping the kids off at school, etc., then more housing DOES mean more cars. Because the new people that will move in will inevitably come with 1 or 2 (or even 3!) cars per household.

And if this is happening in your neighbourhood, where your home is, where you walk your dog, where your kids play, I don’t think that opposing this is an unreasonable reaction.

So it’s quite easy to see why NIMBYs react to infill in their neighbourhoods the way they do: it’s simply a product of how their neighbourhood was developed.

But let’s look at how the incentives line up in a walkable, mixed-use neighbourhood instead.

In such a neighbourhood, many people don’t need to own a car, nevermind two or three, since they can get to mostly everything they need within a 20-minute walk/bike.

So, in this neighbourhood, more housing really does just mean more people, not more cars. More people to maybe be friends with, more people to pay taxes to support the local city services you want, more people to help support the businesses you already have, and more people to help attract the businesses you want to have. [I’m looking at you Any-Brewpub-That-Wants-To-Setup-In-My-Hood!]

So car-oriented neighbourhoods naturally want to repel infill, while walkable, mixed-use ones are incentivized to seek it. [Seriously, I could be drinking green beer right now, a mere stumbling distance from my house, while I write to you. But it is not to be. Wherefore art thou, local brewpub?]

Given that new greenfield development on the edges of the city is an outright Ponzi scheme that makes you poorer with every new build, growing through infill is not only needed, it has to be non-negotiable.

[Actually, it’s a common misconception that ‘wherefore’ means ‘where’. It actually means ‘why’, so ‘Why are you, local brewpub?’ makes absolutely no sense. Yeesh, was I drinking when I wrote that?]

[Full disclosure: yes, I was.]

So how do we help these neighbourhoods that have incentives against infill built-in to their very fabric?

Well, we could expropriate everyone, since that has a positive ROI… [Ok, that’s the green beer talking — sorry!]

Or instead, we could help their neighbourhood become less reliant on cars. That way, the new people moving in won’t need to come with a used car lot’s worth of automobile inventory.

How can we do that? Here are just a few ideas (somebody much smarter than me would be able to come up with more):

  • Focus on enabling more mixed use in/near the neighbourhood, so stuff can be closer, rather than just housing.
  • Make live-work spaces easier to setup (again, making more stuff closer).
  • Improve transit service nearby.
  • Add/improve cycling infrastructure.
  • Add/improve pedestrian infrastructure.
  • Slow traffic through road diets and other traffic calming measures.

You’ll notice most of this stuff has nothing to do with land use planning and infill policies. It actually falls under transportation planning.

And that’s one of the dangers of developing your land use policies separately from your transportation policies. The two really need to go together if you want to come up with solutions that work for everyone, including the NIMBYs. But that’s a topic for another time.

[Not to mention, there’s another green beer with my name on it, so I better end it here before I get too sloppy!]

Lovingly,

Elmwood Guy