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President’s Perspective: Southwood precinct

The answers to all the questions people have been asking

September 27, 2012 — 
David Barnard

David Barnard

As our vision for the development of the Fort Garry campus evolves, the conversation within our community will continue. Below are answers to some of the questions I have heard from students, staff, faculty and other stakeholders in recent months.

What does the University of Manitoba plan to do with the Southwood precinct?
Taking ownership of the Southwood precinct offers a chance for the University of Manitoba to transform the entire Fort Garry campus and how people think about it. It is a rare opportunity to do something unique and transformative; to be aggressively sustainable in our thinking as we integrate the future development of the existing campus space with Southwood’s 120 acres, to allow for the future needs of the university while developing a vibrant interface with the community, in the form of a new, sustainable, multi-use neighbourhood. We see the potential for our campus community as a whole to become a 24/7 live/work/learn/play environment, shaped by five goals and guiding principles: connected, destination, sustainable, community, transformative. We will move away from being a commuter campus towards a vibrant campus community destination. Development will be determined by the result of an Open International Design Competition.

What is the Open International Design Competition?
The university is sponsoring VISIONARY (re)GENERATION, an Open International Design Competition, with the objective of transforming the Fort Garry campus into a new, sustainable 24/7 “live, work, learn, play” community, comprising its existing components and new developments. The design process will be guided by the five principles (connected, destination, sustainable, community, transformative) and organized in two design phases with submissions evaluated anonymously by a jury of professional planners, architects, landscape architect, and primary stakeholders in the process. Jurists will select finalist teams based on their vision and response to our guiding principles. Finalists will advance to a second, more detailed design phase. The winning multi-disciplinary team will be awarded a master plan contract to engage in a campus master planning process with the university and community stakeholders.

What are the benefits of developing the Southwood precinct?
It gives us a chance to think about several important things:  the future academic needs of the university, the way we connect to the city proper, and the opportunity we can offer potential students, residents, neighbours and visitors to be part of a new, vital and attractive community that blends our existing campus infrastructure with new and innovative development. The area can be designed to be attractive to students and staff, to residents from across Winnipeg and to tourists, thus helping with the city’s economic and social development. A well-designed community could have all amenities within a few steps, offering a comfortable and desirable lifestyle. This community will not be defined by an automobile-dependent plan; rather, the master planning process will begin with a focus on public space and ‘landscape first.’ In this approach, pedestrian access is a priority and single-vehicle roadways are secondary. It is more important to integrate human movement and living space within a vibrant, mixed-use, sustainable community.

Could the U of M simply retain the Southwood precinct as a greenspace and focus development on other precincts around the Fort Garry campus?
The Southwood precinct provides an opportunity to create a thriving neighbourhood that will both enhance the campus experience and support the university’s core mandate for excellence in teaching and research. This area is an opportunity to create a model sustainable community with a mix of greenspace, public space and higher-density buildings. Rather than turn our backs on the city and its people, development of the Southwood precinct will be an organic extension of the Fort Garry Campus and, through good stewardship and planning, create a pedestrian-focused community that will be an inviting and desirable destination. Maintaining the Southwood precinct solely as greenspace would enforce the physical barrier between the university of Manitoba and the rest of the city, perhaps even reinforcing any perception of the University of Manitoba as an area of the city cut off or otherwise set apart from the surrounding community.

How does Rapid Transit play a role in the development of the Fort Garry campus, and specifically, the Southwood precinct?
Locating a Rapid Transit station within the Fort Garry campus will allow for the development of a dense, mixed-use transit and pedestrian hub that offers convenient access to the Fort Garry campus and reduces personal vehicular traffic in the Southwood precinct, thus allowing for the development of medium- and high-density housing. Access to our campus shouldn’t require a car, and we shouldn’t have to plan our development around parking.

Where exactly will the Rapid Transit station be located?
A specific station location has not been determined, as it will be a focus of the Open International Design Competition, sponsored by the university, to propose one or more Rapid Transit hubs. The City of Winnipeg is the authority that will determine station locations as part of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor Phase 2 routing planning.

How many people do you eventually see living in the Southwood precinct?
If medium- or high-density living spaces are developed, approximately 6,000 residents may eventually reside within the Southwood precinct.

Buses already travel to the Fort Garry campus along University Crescent, King’s Drive and Chancellor Matheson. Why do we need a Rapid Transit corridor too?
Through a proper planning process, the area outlined within the Visionary (re)Generation Open International Design Competition, including the Southwood precinct, can be transformed into a world-class showpiece of collaborative, sustainable, mixed-use development focused on pedestrian movement, rather than automobile use. It would improve connection and access to and from other areas of the city, enhancing the attraction to living and working on campus. Rapid Transit would be the spine in a vibrant network of pedestrian walkways, interconnected facilities and greenspace that could stretch from Pembina Highway to the Red River — growth that will attract visitors and residents alike. Examples of successful development like this include the Portland Transit Mall and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor in Arlington, Virginia. Rapid Transit provides the opportunity for fast, reliable, convenient service for students, staff, future residents and visitors. In addition, reduced automobile use in the Southwood precinct would be a positive attraction for residents and be in line with the area’s sustainability mandate.

What about the residential components? What kind of housing are we talking about?
To make the Southwood precinct a true pedestrian-friendly community, housing would be a combination of medium- and high-density buildings, such as apartments or townhomes, and possibly condominiums. Ground level units could include amenities such as professional offices (doctors, cafes, grooming, etc.), allowing for rooftop recreation facilities such as tennis courts, gardens, etc. The buildings could be separated by a highly-developed public space, with walkways and innovative landscaping. Fountains, sculpture gardens and other attractions could also help to make the area an attractive destination for people from across the city. The river and how we interact with it could feature prominently in the plan. However, these specific features and details are completely dependent on what is produced as a result of a soon-to-be-announced design competition.

What about the greenspace itself?
It is the desire of the University of Manitoba to have much of the Southwood precinct remain as greenspace. Typically, new urban developments include only about ten per cent greenspace, but because we are starting with a “clean slate” in designing the Southwood precinct community, we are envisioning a much more extensive greenspace network through an inclusive planning process for the area. The key to achieving such a high proportion of publicly-accessible greenspace is to design the buildings and structures in an efficient and compact manner.

Will there be access to the Red River?
One of the things we have thought about in considering the future development of the campus, which has been backed up by feedback from consultation sessions, is that the river is an asset and we need to make it a priority to build it in to our plans.  You can spend a lot of time here and not even notice the river, because presently there is no public access to any of the river that borders the existing Fort Garry campus, or within the Southwood precinct. However, with the creation of a master plan involving all precincts of the University of Manitoba, including The Point, for example, we think there is a significant opportunity for additional river access on the Fort Garry campus. Winnipeg is a city of rivers:  we would like to see river access in the Southwood precinct opened up to create a public destination environment that is connected to a greater city greenspace network. The proposal could contemplate a marina, docks, restaurants, boardwalks, etc., but we are open to proposals brought forward from the design competition.

What will be developed along Pembina Highway in the Southwood precinct?
Just as the university could open itself up more to the river, it could do the same with Pembina Highway.  It is a major arterial route connecting the south end of Winnipeg to its centre, yet the current campus is removed from Pembina. It should be more visible. We would like to see development designed around easy access, encouraging two-way connectivity between the city and the university. There could be a new entrance to the university created along Pembina Highway that would allow Rapid Transit vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians into the new community. Connections between the university and the Markham and Waverley Heights communities could also be possible. New entranceways and linkages between the campus and nearby neighbourhoods will be part of the development of an area master plan through the Visionary (re)Generation competition.

That could be years from now. What will be going on in the Southwood precinct before development begins?
In the short term, the Southwood precinct will be available for light recreational use, but not organized events. Such recreational use could include birdwatching, walking and bicycling. The university is currently constructing an interim access road off of Sifton Road to service maintenance requirements related to the interim use of Southwood Lands as a passive recreation area. The construction of the access road is necessary as we scale back vehicular access to Southwood Precinct. This road will be used only by our Physical Plant workers and our contracted maintenance supplier.  This road is temporary and is not part of the future Southwood Precinct development plan. Maintenance of the Southwood precinct will respect the university’s sustainability model of best practices, using an Integrated Pest Management Program driven by education and research during this interim period.

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