Sunday 29 July 2012

Moving the CP rail yards

The Winnipeg Free Press has taken the dormant issue of moving the Canadian Pacific rail yards out of central Winnipeg and yanked it into the spot light with their special series Off The Rails. I'll concede that it's worth talking about, but why now exactly? Why not? It's a time of change for Canadian Pacific, and that may mean that issues like this will get a fresh look by the new CP honcho, Hunter Harrison.

For those not familiar with Harrison, he was CEO of CN Rail when the CN Intermodal yards on Taylor Ave in Winnipeg were moved to St.Boniface, making way for what is now IKEA and the Seasons Of Tuxedo shopping centre.* He went on to push CN to ever greater operational efficiencies and share prices. After a recent shareholder revolt, he is now CEO of CP and thus in a position to move the CP yards if he deems it necessary. He is already moving forward with plans to consolidate other rail yard operations. The Etobicoke and Agincourt yards in Ontario are apparently being mothballed, and consolidations are coming to the Montreal area I am told.

I still think it's unlikely the Winnipeg CP yards would be moved from where they are now. It would be a massive cost, and therefore would require massive operational efficiencies to make it worthwhile. Harrison is committed to investing in rail infrastructure, but something of this magnitude would probably not be in the cards when there are so many other areas were capital investment is needed. Unless ... it was bolstered by massive public subsidies.

I think all the talk of it being a remedy for our inner-city problems of crime, poverty and homelessness is greatly overblown. Lloyd Axworthy calls the railyards "a psychological barrier between rich and poor". Which side is rich and which one is poor I haven't figured out yet. Both are low income areas plagued with high crime rates. Removing the "barrier" is supposed to allow the socioeconomic well being of the West-End, such as it is, to spread to the North-End. Just as likely is that their respective criminal elements will combine and multiply into a giant crime bomb with it's epicentre being the former rail yards.

I am being a little bit facetious, for those of you who don't know me. I do think some good can come of it, but we need to keep our expectations reasonable. If you plunk a community between two disadvantaged communities, that new community is likely to also be disadvantaged.


Let's assume the rail yards are moving so we can get to the fun stuff. What would we do with all the space?

I would be hard-pressed to draw up a better plan than what Cold Cold Ground cooked up over here, though the Weston area is excluded from that plan. I think what I'll do instead is some more general thinking about the area...

Housing is probably the first thought for most people. Housing and green space. We do have a shortage of affordable housing in this city, but the draw back of this area is that the housing would be sandwiched between the light industrial areas along Logan and Dufferin. However, there is potential to convert some of those buildings into warehouse apartments to better integrate the new and old residential areas.

You have to realize, though, that the appeal of inner-city housing is limited. Especially when it's not in a trendy area like Wolseley. I don't think you can fill the vast area of the CP yards with housing and expect it to be successful, therefore we have to do some creative thinking to make the best use of the area.

Here we go ...

Zone 1: Red Light District
Some of the areas adjacent to the tracks are plagued with prostitution and all the associated troubles. Every so often there is talk of a red light district as a potential solution, but who on earth wants a red light district in their neighbourhood? That's why this area is ideal -- it has no neighbours. At least not residential ones. It's an ideal opportunity to A) draw prostitution away from existing residential neighbourhoods, and B) draw in tourists. Some archaic laws about operating a bawdy house may need to be changed. If you were to make cannabis bars legal for this designated area that would really draw in the tourists. Move over CMHR, there's a new game in town. Throw in a few casinos and you've got a thriving tax-dollar generating mecca in a small area that would be easy to police.

Zone 2: Golf Course
This area is more than large enough to support a full-length championship golf course. This would integrate very nicely with the red light district across the street. Hotels will start springing up in the area, and even I might go there once in a while. (For the golf, not for the hookers .... just to clarify.)

I know that a few months ago I was advocating getting rid of golf courses, but remember: the problem is not too many courses but too many small, crappy, money-losing courses. A medium to high end public championship course would add variety to the golf market here. Meanwhile, some of the existing courses like the Canoe Club are in much more desirable residential areas and could be converted for that purpose.

Zone 3: Residential

I couldn't make everything fun. But what kind of residential and how do you do it? Do you just sell the land to Qualico and let them loose? Should we turn it into a big Manitoba Housing development? We need affordable housing, but we don't want to create "projects".

I like this enclave of colourful little single-story townhouses that was build near the Old Ex grounds just north of the tracks. It's called Flora Place, and was build in 2007 by a government bureaucracy called the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation.

It was heavily subsidized, to the tune of $125,000 per unit, but still appears very well maintained. you get the impression driving by that the occupants take pride in their houses.

Closer to downtown, east of Salter for instance, a higher-density of development might be appropriate. Apartments or perhaps a brownstone-style development...

Throw in a end-to-end strip of green space (not too much) and an AT corridor. That's about as far as I can go with this.The details about deciding which street goes where can come later, but that's my general vision. You can see other people's ideas at the Winnipeg Free Press Café Tuesday evening at 6:00, where a "design summit" will be held.

*He was Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President when the decision to move the yards was made, taking the CEO position shortly thereafter and prior to the execution of the plan.


reedsolomon.matr1x at said...

It's a pointless exercise. It's too expensive to happen, and for little to no actual benefit to anybody.

Going over the Arlington Bridge or Salter Bridge on a summer night with the sun shining on the rail cars.. is a beautiful image. Why would we want to lose that?

Who would want to live on land that has been leaking oil and random other chemicals for years? sure you can reclaim that land, but even still, why? The best you'd get is a park. Which would be unnecessary.

There are better solutions.

One Man Committee said...

I'm sure that the Freep's heart is in the right place on this issue, but their solution doesn't strike me as sensible.

The problems in the North End are primarily social in nature. Spending exorbitant amounts of money to get CP out of the inner city and to remediate the land won't bring the prosperous suburbs any closer to the North End. Besides, if an absence of physical barriers makes such a difference then I'd like to hear the Freep's explanation for the current state of affairs throughout much of West Alexander/Centennial and the West End.

The Freep's proposed solution would be a good one if physical isolation were actually the problem here. I guess it's tempting to look at it that way because at the end of the day, it's much easier to fix that problem (move the CP yards and then, presto!) than it is to address the much more complex social issues that plague the area.

Anonymous said...

Coming from the blogoshpere, weak , very weak.

Grow some vision boys, its free.

John Dobbin said...

There are three rail yards still in the process of being developed. The Forks still has Parcel 4. The Tuxedo Yards are well under way and there is still a parcel of the yards up for sale. And the biggie of the bunch is the Fort Rouge Yards which could be good if the developer can handle the work.

The CP Yards would require money the likes we have not seen ever for the city.

It is good to talk about it but we have too many projects still on the boards.

Now if CP was saying they were closing the yards and moving to Alberta, then we might have a problem to deal with right away.

It is my opinion that we may see these yards close and move much of their operations west with the needs of CP being greatly reduced here.

I wonder how Part Martin feels about that? He gets his yards and loses a major employer.

Anonymous said...

@OMC - Where the heck is West Alexander/Centennial?

cherenkov said...

Reed: the land could be cleaned up for residential use. It's happened before. Even for a park it would need to be decontaminated.

OMC: well said

Anon1: I'm looking forward to seeing your plan.

John: CP has a lot of traffic going through Wpg and will need to maintain yards here, however the nature of the traffic has changed over time. That's really the only hope: that CP might want to build new yards to accommodate new business requirements.

JT said...

As someone living in the north end, I've got to say that removing the yards seems more like a vision of the area that comes from without, rather than within.

Like my neighbor said, it's not a magic wand that would solve any of the social problems we live with.

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