Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Observances from Portage la Prairie ... Part 2

I find it so bizarre that small prairie cities like Selkirk, Brandon and Portage freely allow their new commercial development be so isolated from the rest of the city. I realize that bad retail planning isn't just for small cities *ahem - IKEA - ahem* but, still ... talk about creating a mess.

Brandon's new power centre area is isolated even from it's growing suburbs but, at least, they have a transit system to allow people without vehicles to reach it. (The red arrow indicates the new retail area).

Selkirk has allowed it's new commercial growth to be set up on the western edge of town, past the Mental Health Centre.

Selkirk has no transit system but, thanks to this and other developments, Selkirk City Council unanimously accepted their task force report's recommendation that they spend $837,000 in 2009 on start up costs for one.
It's great that they're getting transit but, considering that it's because they are allowing their new growth (commercial, residential, industrial), to take place on their periphery it becomes a one step forward / one step back proposition.

Portage has the oddest new commercial development of all. It also has no transit.

Most commercial development there stretches along Sask Ave up to the tracks, then there's an expanse of vacant land followed by the newer commercial area bunched up near the western outskirts of town. It had been a couple of years since I'd been there and when I went back I was floored with what I saw. New commercial development continues to take place on the western edge, but they are set wayyyyy back from the road. The below pic is actually after turning off Sask and driving up a bit.

As a friend of mine from Portage said "if you live in Portage and want a job, you need a car".

Rather than driving all the way up the long, lonely road I decided to make a U turn and go back to Sask Av. I had to chuckle when I saw what the road was called:


cancelbot said...

Portage and Winnipeg in many ways have the same underlying dynamics - a council (and a populace, really) desperate for any kind of new development on the premise that any kind of new development is automatically good, and an abundant supply of cheap, vacant land.

This sort of big-box development was relatively late in arriving to smaller cities in Manitoba. The first few popped up in the late 1970s and 1980s, but it really picked up steam in the late 1990s. Of course, it's taking a significant toll on downtown areas to their detriment which have done a remarkably good job of holding their ground until recently.

It may not be long before we start seeing places like Portage or Brandon resemble small U.S. cities where big box highway developments took off years earlier. I'll never forget visiting Rocky Mount, N.C., a town with a beautiful set of downtown buildings centred on the busy Atlantic Coast Line railway tracks. It was completely, utterly desolate - like a movie set - totally abandoned in favour of the big box sprawl along the highway.

Cities large and small could use a little backbone and say no to developers who want them to sell their souls in exchange for a few crappy developments. These stores may have their place, but their developers shouldn't be the ones dictating the terms of how and where they will be placed and designed.

Horton_Tim said...

In smaller urban centres, these power centres serve the larger trading area as much or more as the actual community. Typically, these communities have very limited multi-family housing and therefore the density simply doesn't exist to justify transit systems. Transit in Selkirk, unless it's a shuttle to Winnipeg, is pretty dumb in my opinion.

Winnipeg and perhaps Brandon need to figure out how to make transit and walkable development work. If you live in a suburban community in a $200k home versus a $200k condo in a more densely populated area, the current cost of servicing the suburban detached home is significantly higher, and that's ridiculous. The property taxes they're paying should be paying for proper urban services, which, in Winnipeg, should include enhanced security and public space cleaning.

Perhaps Transit should have different rates based on where you live. If you're living on a densely populated mainline route in the west end fares could easily be under $2. If you're riding one of those empty buses in Royalwood fares should be well over $4 to cover the actual costs of service.

Suburan neighbourhoods need to be better planned and less subsidized in terms of servicing. Urban neighbourhoods need policy so that they can exist without the headaches that exist today.

Neither is right or wrong--just the pendulum in the last several decades has swung towards suburban development and there is legitimately a pent-up demand for more densely re-developed urban areas.

PlaP simpy doesn't have the mass for dense urban developemnt.

cancelbot said...

The problem with small-town power centres is that they necessitate some kind of motorized transport in the first place. The traditional Main Streets in small towns could be reached on foot, by bicycle, etc. So, for that matter, could some of the earlier big-box stores - think of certain stores in Selkirk like Safeway and Extra Foods.

New power centre developments are simply so far away from built up areas that you need a vehicle to get to them, and if you don't have one, you can't even use transit to get out there because it doesn't exist in some cases. That is the wrong way to plan.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that these developments come up so infrequently that these small towns never get a chance to learn from their mistakes the first time around.

mrchristian said...

@cbot I agree about the sense of almost desperation given off. Build something ANYTHING - PLEASE. Ans the developers oblige.

@ Tim I like the idea about transit. If I take a 10 minute transit ride to work when it's -40 it costs me the same as a 45 minute ride to my parents' house. It makes little sense.

Thanks for your input !!

Anonymous said...

The Shindlemen family is from Portage, so not surprising to see them recognized with a street there.

Nice to see you write about my old home town.

Anonymous said...

Good post, MrC.

Look also to the developments half-way between Winkler and Morden. They have the World Most Isolated Boston Pizza.

jonathan said...

The Morden/Winkler Boston Pizza location is a weird one, but the reasons are various, including longstanding rivalry between the towns and one town's puritanical liquor policies.

Morden is actually not a bad town, and since it hasn't experienced the insanely rapid growth that Winkler has, still retains some of its character.

The Winnipeg said...

So glad that the Shindlemen is not to the fat s.o.b. realtor

The Winnipeg