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 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
Zone 2: Golf Course
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.