Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bridgwater - Waverley West

Back in 2009, some critics of Waverley West were giving an earful about the slow development of the area and that demand was not there and it was simply drawing people from elsewhere. With only around 75 housing starts there and no firms stats on just how much the city was growing, it was a fairly easy conclusion to make.

Winnipeg's slower growth, it was assumed, was going to mean that any new neighbourhood built was going to de-populate established neighbourhoods and contribute to sprawl. There was evidence in the 1980s and 1990s that this was happening.

What the statistics show is that Winnipeg's population is indeed growing and at a faster pace that we have seen in decades. This has led to demands for more housing. The changing demographics also have altered in some cases what sort of housing people are looking for. The biggest example of that is Waterfront Drive where no population existed a few years back and where the next census is likely to reveal thousands live there now.

Now, I am going to get into the overall and sometimes divisive debate in regards to urban versus suburban versus exurban versus rural. Suffice to say, it is difficult to to tell people where and how they can live. Truth of the matter is that even the oldest neighbourhoods started off as developments including Point Douglas. A great deal of thought needs to go into how the city develops because a too heavy handed approach will be ignored and a too light approach will result in a Sim City meltdown of the community.

The attractiveness of Point Douglas from early on, for example, was diminished by the quickly rising wealth of the city and an increase in house size.

This has been a trend that has manifested itself decade after decade although some evidence suggests that the trend could be changing due to an ageing population, smaller families, expense, transport energy cost, cultural mores and a whole host of other factors.

As mentioned, changes in people needs and desires is a moving target. And this has meant that a need and a desire for a development like Waterfront Drive arose.

The breakdown of Waterfront Drive home-owners is young professionals, people who have sold larger primary homes and want luxury but not on the size scale they might have had in Tuxedo or Linden Woods and lastly, people who work downtown.

However, this is not about urban versus suburban. It is about needs and wants in the population and how to manage those desires in terms of planning and costs.

The one thing I will say is that the government must ensure that the costs of such neighbourhood expansion are built into the development or it will not sustain itself and end up costing money later on. In other words, if taxes shoot through the roof as they did in the 1980s, there will be an inevitable exodus of tax dodgers running to places just outside city limits.

However, if you don't address the needs and wants of the population with a development they like, you may also have an exodus of people outside of the city jurisdiction. And if poor city planning turns existing neighbourhoods into speedways to the suburbs, the older neighbourhoods will lose desirability and possibly become run down.

There is an element within the city that wants a sub-division like Bridgwater. It is no use getting angry at people who don't want to buy a re-sale market home, want a yard, want something new and so on and so on. The psychology of this is well documented if not well understood by those who don't share the thinking.

So, it is a balancing act for a city to provide disparate people who have various incomes and several needs and want, the right make-up for a successful community.

In terms of Bridgwater, the expense of getting there is not fully costed. Route 90/Kenaston has not even given a budget for replacing the St. James Bridge or expansion of the road to three lanes in each direction. Already, tens of millions has been spent on expanding around Kenaston Commons and Ikea. All told, it may that costs climb to few hundred million. That isn't just idle talk either. The cost of a road construction as a rule of thumb is $1 million per kilometer. Add the cost of the bridge is and it is huge money.

Why bring this up in relation to Bridgwater? Well, the success of the place could and will be affected by people trying to get in and out of there. If everything bottlenecks, there will be a rising fury about it and people may just decide to bypass the area for housing, shopping and recreation.

The synchronized lights have rarely worked since being installed and more and more traffic lights go up all the time. More businesses have gone up in the business parks along Kenaston all the time. Canadian Western Bank is under construction by Tim Horton's in the GoodLife Fitness parking lot. It is a zoo in the that area every evening.

So, back to Bridgwater...

It is proceeding rapidly now. Just how fast? Well, I see clients with street names listed that I don't have a clue where they are. You can't even Google where they live since it was just a field a few months ago.

And what of the development itself?

What special attractions does it offer that will inspire the same loyalties we see in those who live in River Heights, Charleswood, St. James, Wildwood Park or Transcona?

For example, River Heights has its stately homes and tree-lines streets, Charleswood has the ditches, gravel roads and rural feel, St. James was the first to have winding roads and larger yards, Wildwood Park with its backlanes and front of the house facing a park and Transcona with its affordable homes and community ties.

Well, it would appear that the the winding road one might expect in Linden Woods and Whyte Ridge are there. Likewise, the lakes and parks with trails. However, the community also has sidewalks for the streets which have not been in style in nearly fifty years. A component of green space forest exists and trails runs through it. And like a lot of suburbs, fencing and berms for sound and visual privacy surround the neighbourhood.

So what else is new? Well, unlike its suburban counterparts, there are condos and townhouses within the fencing of Bridgwater. The big fights about a condo going up in Linden Woods are not happening here because there multi-unit buildings are up even before the regular housing is. Significantly, the condos are up near the entrances to the sub-division. If residents do seek to use transit, there may be numbers to support it just outside on Waverley.

One of the things promoted in the development is the idea of a town center. Most suburbs shun anything of the kind. A few critics have scoffed at the whole thing.

To be continued in part 2.

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