Urban Sprawl – Not a Winnipeg Problem

Blog, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

There is a view in some places that Winnipeg suffers from an “urban sprawl” problem. There is little evidence that supports this.

  • No Threat to Agriculture – Concerns about the urban threat to agriculture are groundless. After nearly 150 years of development in Manitoba, less than 900 square kilometers of the province is urban, only 0.14 percent of the province’s area. From 1951 to 2001, Manitoba added 4.5 times as much farmland as it did city territory. In 2001, farmland in Manitoba occupied 85 times more space than urban land.
  • Traffic Congestion Less a Problem in Canada – Opponents of urban sprawl use arguments about the quality of life to support their position, for instance that the more compact, less sprawling urban area will have shorter travel times and less traffic congestion. Yet, average travel speeds in the denser urban areas of Western Europe and Asia are slower than in Canada, while the intensity of traffic, measured in urban vehicle kilometers per square kilometer, is greater. Europeans spend 1.6 times as much time in traffic per square kilometer as Canadians, and Asians 2.6 times as much.
  • Winnipeg is Denser than Many Cities – Winnipeg is not sprawling as extensively as some have suggested. Among the nation’s top 10 urban areas, Winnipeg ranks in the middle, at sixth in population density. Not surprisingly, much larger Toronto is nearly twice as dense, but the gap compared to others is much smaller. Montreal is 1.3 times as dense as Winnipeg, while Vancouver, Ottawa-Hull and Hamilton are 1.2 times as dense. On the other hand, Calgary is only 0.9 times as dense as Winnipeg, while Edmonton and Quebec City are 0.7 times as dense.
  • Winnipeg is Denser than Portland, Oregon – When compared to the Portland, Oregon urban area, Winnipeg sprawls less. This fact is both surprising and significant because Portland is the self-acclaimed anti-sprawl leader of the world. Its restrictive planning policies, including a strong urban growth boundary, densification requirements that can prohibit rebuilding a fire-lost single family house in an area where planners prefer apartments and an expensive light rail line, have received considerable attention in professional urban planning journals. Overall, Winnipeg is 1.14 times as dense as Portland and densities in the core area of Winnipeg are considerably higher than in Portland. The densest one percent of Winnipeg is 1.9 times more compacted than Portland’s, while the densest 10 percent is 1.6 times that in Portland.