Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wishing on Dumb Growth

In an op-ed piece in the Winnipeg Free Press, this week, David Witty--Dean of the U of M's Faculty of Architecture--seemed surprised and dismayed that Waverly West looks like it will end up amounting to nothing more than dull, disconnected tracts (or cells, as the developers are calling them) of automobile suburbia (as if it would be anything but).

One architecture professor at the U of M told me over beers this past summer, that Mr. Witty is probably the only dean of any respected architecture faculity that would support such massive sprawl in the face of such miniscule population growth. In his op-ed, Mr. Witty advocates for "good design" in Waverly West, but states that New Urbanist design principles would be too "narrow", and in the name of "choice", believes that a middle-of-the-road approach to design would be a good compromise. For example, garage-faced house builders need only set the garage back to the facade of the house in some parts of Waverly West. By taking this approach, perhaps Mr. Witty hopes that both his social networks and his credibility as an architecture dean would simultaniously remain intact.

"Snouts" or not, garages in the front are decidedly bad design

Anyway, the key thing that Mr. Witty's article left out, was the fact that Winnipeg is not Phoenix, Markham, Dallas, or Calgary, who work to create urbanism from scratch--we have an untapped wealth of true urban design inside a four kilometre radius of Portage and Main. If you want good urban design, Mr. Witty, you won't find it among the cul-de-sac fringes, you'll find it in the city's heart, where hundreds of city blocks were built up prior to 1920--a golden age of urbanism. These were, and remain (to varying degrees), diverse, walkable neighborhoods built for urban living patterns: the two storey house that faces the front street; the front street that leads the corner store and further on, to the neighborhood shopping street of two-four storey mixed-use storefronts; the transit stop that takes you to a bustling downtown, where the mixed-use storefronts are five-twelve stories. The scale humanized, the space defined, the architecture pleasing. Today, we need only fill the holes that suburbanization left in these neighborhoods.

Rather than wasting time wishing for pigs to wear silk hats in patternless neighborhoods (a sea of residential sameness separated by a sea of commercial sameness by a ditch and semi-freeway), why not focus on the fight to restore the dozens of urban neighborhoods of Winnipeg, many of which continue to face population loss, and physical and social decline. Why advocate for a cartoon while ignoring the real thing that exists right in front of you?

North Point Douglas, Spence, William Whyte, Centennial, Lord Roberts, etc: these are the true "smart growth" neighborhoods, and without fully restoring them to their potential, Winnipeg will continue go without any kind of growth to speak of.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to expose their kids and wife to gangs, pimps, drugs, murder, crime and other social shortcoming found on those neighborhoods? Particularity if they had the financial means to escape the madness.

I am certain a “community” exists, with some nice people who are more than capable of making the best out of a bad situation.

This is why suburban developments are appealing to the middle and upper class. They are a means for people with means to escape the blight and mediocrity. And when it catches up they will just move further away, because they can. And each time, the suburban developers will get better at it.

Each time something of value is found in your blight, the middle and upper class will come back and take it from you, make it beautiful and push you to other blighted areas.

Go ahead and live in Point Douglas, but don’t be mad at me for having the ability to escape to a better place for my kids and my family. And please do not impose your restricting, under achieving values on the rest of us. And finally don’t wish for something you are not ready for.

10:38 PM  

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