URBAN sprawl is pretty much a dirty word at city hall these days, but a contrarian policy expert tried yesterday to persuade Winnipeggers that growing suburbs are a good thing.
Curbing urban sprawl will only lead to rising housing prices, hurt the poor and stunt much-needed immigration in Winnipeg, argued American Wendell Cox during a Frontier Centre for Public Policy luncheon at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
“I am not an advocate of sprawl,” he told the Free Press. “But the point is that sprawl is the natural effect of population growth, sprawl is occurring everywhere. All the growth in Europe over the last 20 years has been suburban, all the growth in Japan has been suburban.”
A vocal critic of current urban planning trends, Cox has waded into debates on improving transit systems and curbing sprawl in several American cities and has worked around the world as a consultant.
Yesterday, he criticized the idea of containing suburban growth to improve conditions in Winnipeg’s inner city. “Why should we interfere with the rights of people and businesses to work or live where they like?”
Cox said he doesn’t know enough about Winnipeg to identify the source of the inner-city’s ills, but Americans don’t want to live in most inner-cities because of poor schools, lack of services, higher taxes and crime.
Solving those problems is a better strategy than trying to regulate growth, he argues.
Winnipeg Coun. Gord Steeves, who is pushing the city to adopt an environment strategy that encourages curbing urban sprawl, said he couldn’t understand why anyone would argue for unchecked development.
Restricting the number of new houses going up outside city limits would be foolish, he said.
But giving developers a financial incentive to build inside the city — where there are already the kinds of services the city would need to build in a new development — makes sense, Steeves said. He suggested that housing prices in cities that curb urban sprawl could be going up because the city has become a more vibrant and desirable place to live.
“I think he is taking the egg side of a ‘chicken or the egg’ argument,” said Steeves.