Gentle, rolling hills. Clear lakes and running streams. Dense forests and bountiful grasslands that expand across the horizon ad infinitum. The natural beauty contained within Manitoba’s Parkland region is well known to a select few, but for many others it is their next adventure to discover. Made up of 16 municipalities, the Parkland is home to many vibrant and livable communities, thanks in large part to the community planning work of municipal governments and other passionate Manitobans.

Over the last few years, Urban Systems has been lucky to collaborate with several local governments in the Parkland region to deliver innovative and meaningful projects in the realms of land use planning, active transportation, street design, asset management, and municipal policy.

Jamie Hilland and Ryan Segal, Winnipeg-based planners at Urban Systems, recall driving from Winnipe to the Parkland in 2019 to meet with local governments and talk about their communities. “We know the area well. My family is from the Town of Roblin (‘The Jewel of the Parkland!’). Growing up I spent all my summers there, and I still spend part of the summer at our family cottage at Madge Lake,” Jamie says. “One day, Ryan and I just decided to hop in a car and spend two days meeting communities in person. We had some great conversations about what was going on in their municipalities, as well as their current issues and opportunities.”

Jamie Hilland – Sustainable Transportation Planner

Those initial conversations soon evolved into several exciting projects for the region. In 2020, Urban Systems worked with the City of Dauphin to develop the City of Dauphin Active Transportation Strategy: a project to create an integrated active transportation network for the city of 10,000 people. Prioritizing citizen safety, community health, air quality, and quality of life, the proposed AT network will connect all neighbourhoods in the city and will improve the accessibility of all pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

“We had great public engagement and input from stakeholders,” says Jamie. “It is a really solid strategy that the City is quite pleased with. I think that Dauphin will demonstrate what improving the pedestrian and cycling realm can do to benefit a community and its liveability.”

The Active Transportation Strategy is in its final stages before presentation to City Council in early 2021. Urban Systems also provides

ongoing technical support for Dauphin, including detailed design services for a new multi-use path and cycling facility in the city’s centre, as well as support in future design projects moving forward. Recently, Urban’s Winnipeg team helped Dauphin secure funding from Health Canada to improve municipal-wide efforts to integrate public health considerations in future planning and built-environment projects. Along with project partners — the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the Canadian Institute of Planners — the City will be sharing these resources and guides this April to communities across the country.

Elsewhere in the Parkland, Urban Systems is supporting the municipalities of Ethelbert, Gilbert Plains, and Grandview (the Mountainview Planning District) in reviewing their Development Plan and Zoning By-laws. These foundational pieces of planning policy will provide these communities with a long-term vision that meets the goals of their citizens. Ryan Segal, a community planner with experience in land use and policy planning, recognizes the importance of long-range thinking for smaller rural communities.

“This kind of project is very technical and rooted in policy, so it is a great way to learn about these communities and their future needs” Ryan says. “These are two of the most important planning documents for a community.”

Ryan led the open house that engaged residents to provide feedback for current land use designations and also generate ideas for an updated community vision. Working within the specific planning context of the Parkland region (99% of Mountainview’s land base is designated as agricultural and rural land) and maintaining each community’s character were important considerations for the Development Plan.

Ryan Segal – Community Planner

“The people who work in these communities, elected officials and council are very passionate about where they live. It is always great to work alongside people with that level of enthusiasm.”

At the same time, six existing zoning by-laws in the Planning District are being consolidated into three: one for each municipality. The Planning District will soon begin the formal adoption process of the new Development Plan and By-laws.

Whether it is in-person or virtually, Urban Systems is excited to continue serving communities throughout the Parkland region, as well across the province. Ryan and Jamie believe that as markets and socio-economic trends evolve across Canada, municipalities in western Manitoba will benefit due to their great affordability, quality of life, and access to world-class recreation amenities. Upcoming grants and funding opportunities will also accelerate community-based projects for many municipalities, including the Parkland.

“I love working with my clients in the Parkland,” says Jamie, whose family still has a cottage and several properties in the area. “They appreciate having thought partners and conversations that bring a new perspective to their community, while at the same time we develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in these communities. It has always been a supportive and collaborative process.”