Brent Bellamy is a Winnipeg architect and public advocate who shares his vision on how to create a sustainable city based on building and human focussed design. He writes passionately about this subject, challenging the conventional perception of architectural and urban form. His thoughtful and provoking columns, always anticipated, have appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press since 2010.
He explores the connection between design and economic growth, environmental sustainability, civic competitiveness, and quality of life. As the Creative Director of Number Ten Architectural Group, Brent shares his thoughts on what he has learned from his global travels on how design can have a positive impact on important issues such as transit and ending homelessness. In 2019 Brent was recognized by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s award for Advocacy for Architecture and Design. During our conversation Brent revealed which building, (one that he did not design) in Winnipeg is his favourite and why.
You may be surprised.Read the full article authored by Brent Bellamy posted in the Winnipeg Free Press on Wednesday October 12th entitled “Election at a point of inflection”. (Paywall)
Stuart (Host) 00:00:00
This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:00:00
This is Humans on Rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray.
Stuart (Host) 00:00:00
Brent Bellamy is an architect and public advocate for sustainable city building and human focused design. Since 2010, he has been a contributor on a regular basis in the Winnipeg Free Press. We're going to talk about a column that he wrote last Thursday, and he challenges the conventional perceptions of architectural and urban form. He explores the connection between design and economic growth, environmental sustainability, civic competitiveness, and quality of life. And what Brent, I think, does extremely well is he has established himself as the creator and the director of Number Ten Architectural Group. Now, Number Ten Architectural Group is an integrated practice of architecture, interior design and planning, and it's based right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Now, Brent has been involved in projects such as the Richardson Innovation Center, qualico Family Center at a Sinabi Park, and the Winnipeg Humane Society. And he's very proud of them because it illustrates his commitment to the principles of sustainable design and represent his desire to create thoughtful and efficient architectural form. Now, Brenda is a very modest person, and I had to sort of drag this out of him. But it's important to know that in 2019, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada awarded him. And this is a very important award, very prestigious. In 2019, he was awarded because he became an advocate for architectural and design. And Brent, I think it speaks volumes about how you look at your city, not only the city you live in, but the city it travels to, you travel to. And I'm just thrilled and delighted to have you on this edition of Humans on Rights.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:02:19
Thanks very much, Guru. I'm very happy to be here and excited to chat.
Stuart (Host) 00:02:24
So, Brent, I'm just going to make this comment for those that may be listening to this podcast, because it will go up online on all the platforms after October 26, which is the date for the civic election. So we're recording this before that date. And so we're not trying to predict. This podcast is about predictions, although you're welcome to predict if you would like. But by the time this podcast goes up, Brent, Winnipeg will have a new mayor and city council. So let's kind of get a sense of your passion for architecture. How did that start? Where did you start that as you started your journey? You're a winnipegor.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:03:05
I was born in Brandon, but I'm raised in Winnipeg, north Cologne. Yeah. I don't know how it started, to be honest. My dad was a cartoonist, and so I think there was always the creative juices flowing in the house I grew up in. And when I got to sort of choosing what to do as a career. I sort of looked at what creative I looked at he told me, we're not doing fine arts because he did it. And he knows he knew what a struggle that was. And so I sort of looked to see what the most creative profession would be. True profession that was in the book, the registration book at the university. That was a profession that was very creative. And it seemed like architecture was the thing wasn't really a passion of mine at the time, but it definitely grew into a major passion, and it's become my life, obviously, since then. I definitely think I made the right choice. And I look back at that time, actually, I remember my first year in university. Architecture school is very intense, and it's famous for all nighters and not sleeping and working really hard. And I got my schedule the first day, and I remember looking at it, and it was like, eight to five every single day. And I saw all these older students walking around looking like they hadn't slept in months. And I actually quit on the third day. And I went home and I talked to my parents, and I said, I signed up for prelaw all the courses for law. And I went home and I talked to my parents about it, and they were great. They said, It's your choice, obviously, but I think your personality is probably suited for architecture or for something creative. And we rushed back. I have vivid memories of my dad driving me back to the university from North Carolina and as fast as we could to get my spot back the next morning into architecture. And I canceled all my law courses. And I definitely look back. That is a pivotal day in my life, because I don't think I would have been a very good lawyer.
Stuart (Host) 00:05:13
Right. Well, Brent, just quickly so your father was a cartoonist. Would we know was it for a local publication or what?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:05:22
It's pretty amazing. He was the cartoonist for the school divisions, and then later on, he became do you remember Clip Art? When you used to buy clip Art, you would buy a CD that had, like, cartoons that were all about Christmas or all about something. He was the guy who actually drew those. He would spend his days drawing his cartoons, and then they would go out and you'd see them on the shelves. It was pretty amazing. Yeah, he was a great guy.
Stuart (Host) 00:05:45
Well, that is very, very creative. So kind of the apple doesn't fall far from the tree for where you come. But, Brent, the issue part of it is that I think architecture is something, obviously, that got your creative side going. But when you studied architecture so when you start and it was at the University of Manitoba. Yeah, okay.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:06:10
I took a year in Copenhagen, Denmark, and then also did some foreign studios at the University of manitoba. So it was really a great, broad sort of worldview schooling, which is great at the U of M. Totally.
Stuart (Host) 00:06:24
Well, and I think the U of M is known as has a very, very good reputation. But just tell me so you go into the School of Architecture. I mean, you're creative, you got some ideas about what you hope to come out of that. What changed, if anything, between the first day that you have started? And I'll just sort of say your second start, because you had your first one, you stopped, you started again. So what changed between your second start and when you graduated? And then I'm going to ask you about again and how you see it today. But once you graduated, did anything change in how your perception of architecture stood?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:06:59
You know, I'm a student mentor, and I often talk to students about the future, and even when they're even high school students, when they're thinking about going into university, and I always tell them, even if you don't become an architect, go into architecture school, because it completely changes how you see the world. Like, we learn how to design for people who aren't us. So you have to really understand how people use spaces and how they think about things that aren't your upbringing. And the way it sort of opens your world to other things, I think is a really powerful thing. And I tell students all the time, Just take it. No matter what path leads you down, the way you perceive the world completely changes when you start thinking that way and it really pushes you to travel. I've been to 60 countries and hundreds and hundreds of cities, and with that schooling, sort of, it created a passion to see other places and understand how cities work and look at buildings in all kinds of different cultural contexts. And it really opened my world that way, and it became a real passion of mine to explore the world and see how other people live and move. And like I said, I lived in Copenhagen for a year and my first job was in Jerusalem, in the old city in Jerusalem, and it really got my passion for how the world works. It really lit that. And I came back to Winnipeg and saw the world in a completely different way and saw how Winnipeg could be a different place, because once you experience other cultures and other cities, you sort of see the good things and the bad things. And that's, I think, how I became passionate about writing was because I saw how other places were doing things and felt like maybe these ideas could be presented here and sort of improve the quality of life we have in our city.
Stuart (Host) 00:08:54
So, Grant, when you look at your experience that you've had, and I know that you write about sort of city living and how we can have better cities to live in and work in and be more productive. Would you say that from your experience? Is it the cities that create the environment that allows the architecture to grow, or is it the architecture that can define how the cities themselves are portrayed?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:09:25
It's definitely both. It's how people use their city, I think, impacts how they think about their built environment. If I look at Winnipeg, there isn't a real love for architecture and the built environment, because we don't use our city that way. We drive it a lot. There's not really great public spaces very much. There's the forks. But compared to most cities, we don't interact with our city in the same way as I hate using I'll use Montreal as an example. I hate using Europe. It's just a different context. But when you walk around your city so much, and when you engage in the buildings and the public or the public spaces, it kind of makes you think about them differently. And I don't think we have that sort of deep in our souls. In Winnipeg, we drive a lot of places and we don't interact, so we don't have the passion for it. It's not ingrained in our DNA. We're in a place like Montreal.
Stuart (Host) 00:10:22
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:10:22
And so, because they use their city that way, they then demand public spaces to be better. They demand architecture to be better because they're interacting with it on a different level. They're not driving past it. They're actually, you know, standing in front of it and using those spaces and buildings. So I think it's a bit of both. And I think that's an important thing for when I write, I think about if we can improve the quality of public spaces, maybe it'll sort of be the other way. People will begin to use them differently and begin to create that appreciation for what great design can do for quality of life.
Stuart (Host) 00:10:55
So you mentioned the fact, and I agree with you, I think anybody who's listening to this podcast who's been to Montreal, understands that they have kind of a whole different perspective of how they look at their city. And the fact that they use architecture to put images on. I mean, it's pretty evident that they have a different sort of viewpoint. What do you think the difference of that DNA is? Why is it there? And what's the challenge, from your perspective, why it may not be here in Winnipeg?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:11:25
I think it's because cities like Montreal, they had sort of a walkable culture right from the beginning. Like the center of the city is very dense, and that's when the DNA formed, people were walking around. City life was part of their culture. And not to say that it wasn't here early on, but we've definitely lost that. The city life is not part of our part of our culture. So you lose that connection to your city when you have to drive down to downtown to the jets game and then you get in your car and you drive back away. You don't have that same connection as if you're spending your whole life downtown, or not even just downtown, but connecting to the city in the same way. And I think that's how it developed in Montreal, and then it's just sort of spiraled from there then, because I believe that the government is just a reflection of the citizens who are voting them in. I truly do believe that. And so in cities like Montreal, they demand from their politicians that they give them better public space, that they invest in good architecture and do architecture competitions and have all kinds of rules and guidelines to ensure that good design happens in public spaces and buildings. And we just don't have that. We don't force people to do that. I hate to bring it up, but the Portuguese main thing was a great example. We didn't push for better public space because that's just not part of our DNA. Our DNA is how quickly can we get past that intersection where in Montreal, in most other cities, if you have that connection to urban space, they instinctively would understand if people are at that corner, it's a better place. And they would demand it actually the other way, where we demanded we close it, keep it closed. In other cities like Montreal, they would demand that it's open. They would think it was ridiculous that people can't be there because they have that emotional connection to the city that we don't.
Stuart (Host) 00:13:11
I love that it's a debate that I think both you and I were on the same side of Brent, because I was quite amazed at a lot of my friends that I know quite well who they've traveled, but they were very insistent that we should keep it closed. And I kept saying, what other major city are you aware of that has barricades that prohibit people from crossing? I just said if we were ahead of our time and this was making sense, then we should be farming it out to other cities. Frankly, they tell us to get lost. So I look at that and I think it's a great example of how we have become a city where people live in the suburbs and will come downtown to work and then revert back home to the suburbs. So our window really closes around 05:00 or whatever it is, versus that whole what happens between 05:00 and, say, midnight when you might be out at a restaurant, you might be out walking the streets. And so I appreciate that. I think it's interesting. And so let's talk a little bit, Brent, about, you know, and I'll make reference in my show notes, but for anybody that's listening, if they want to sort of just dial you in, I mean, you're very active on Twitter at Brentbellamy. That's B-R-E-N-T-B-E-L-L-A-M-Y-I love how prolific you are. And one of the things that you do constantly is when you do get the chance to travel. I think the Winnipeg Free Press has done a good job of allowing you to express your personal opinion. And in this particular article, as you say, you kind of started off by writing a piece that turned into a fairly substantial opinion piece. Let's talk about that. Just, again, remind any listeners it was in the winter, a Free Press on Thursday, October 13. And I thought you covered off a lot of pieces there. So before we get into some of the specifics, just take us through your process of how you were thinking about that and how you decided to record or to write that.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:15:15
The Free Press actually asked me if I was interested in doing a longer piece. I typically do about 900 words, which is really a hard thing to write. It's hard to write shorts. They like 850 words. I typically spend about 8 hours writing and about 5 hours editing. It down to 850 words. It's really difficult, and I always bugged them to get more. And because I was part of the Portugal main thing last election, they actually I couldn't write during the whole election for two months before because they felt like there was a conflict afflict of interest because I was sort of overtly.
Stuart (Host) 00:15:52
You took a side championing.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:15:54
Yeah, I took a side, which it bothered me a little bit, but I understood at the time. And so I think it was sort of like, well, this time we'll give you a little bit of a stage and you can say what you want. And so they never tell me what to write, ever. I send it in on Friday morning and hope it shows up on Monday. And it always seems to do that. But this one was they said, let's talk about the election, talk about the issues. They didn't give me any guidelines or anything. I just sat down and started thinking about I went through all my columns. I have a big brochure of almost 200 columns. I've kept every single one of them. I just flipped through them and just sort of found the common threads that I've been talking about for the last twelve years, almost 13 years, and compiled them into this is sort of my synopsis of everything I've been writing for 13 years. And it was really a great opportunity to sit down and think clearly about all the things that I've been advocating for and try to put them down in one article. That is a bit of a brochure for city building and hopefully that I didn't really go into election issues specifically. Like, I thought that I might list specific issues and then tackle them individually. But I tried to weave a story more about laying out our challenges. The first part of the column is very dire and I tried to just lay out the challenges of what we're facing, because I think we're at a difficult time in our history, certainly in my lifetime, and I think the election, it's critical that we start thinking differently. It's not just about pottles anymore. We have to think about what kind of city we're delivering the next generations. And we're at a tipping point right now. So I thought it was a great opportunity to really put all my thoughts over the last twelve years down on one piece of paper.
Stuart (Host) 00:17:48
You did a beautiful job. I've read it a couple of times, Brent, and I think you methodically looked at it. As you say, it may be a bit sort of dark at the beginning, but I mean, the reality is we have to figure out where we are. And I'll just ask this question because a lot of times I'm not sure if you have the ability to choose your headline. A lot of times you put the copy in and so but I think you're saying you did not.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:18:13
But having said that, never blame me for the headline.
Stuart (Host) 00:18:16
No, but on this one, Brent, and you may disagree with me, but it's called election at a point of inflection. A lot of times you might have read that and said it shouldn't be reflection like it should be reflecting on what it is we're looking at. So I thought it was very in this case. I thought it was a home run. Because there is a lot of people that would sort of say. Well. You know. When you become the mayor of any city and well. Let's talk about Winnipeg as that's where we live. You know. You have to deal with the three P's. Whether it's police. Plumbing and potholes or whatever it may be. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, it's not part of it. But I think the issue and this is where I'd like to get your thoughts on this. Brent. Because when you look at you talk about the global pandemic. You talk about inflation. You talk about climate change. Some of these issues from your perspective as you've traveled around the world. And now as you live in Winnipeg with your professional background. How much power does the mayor have working with their elected colleagues in the chamber to actually look at making some of these happen? From your perspective, how would you sort of see that? Because I think a lot of times, like a lot of stuff that you have written about in this article, I haven't heard any candidates talking. Some I have, but not a lot. And so where do you sort of position that in terms of your thought process?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:19:37
They actually have an incredible amount of power? I always find it's weird that the civic elections are the ones that seem to get the least traction as far as issues and even voter turnout, but really they're the most important because they're the ones that affect your day to day life. Federal elections, provincial elections, they deal with big picture issues, health care and education and all that, which is really important. But the DayToday issues of our city that affect so many things. Like you said. Climate change and just every our quality of life and cost of living and everything is impacted so much by the city you live in. That I think it's really critical that we engage in that process and civic politics. Even though it's the third layer on the ladder. The third rung on the ladder. It's definitely to me the most the closest to our DayToday lives. And so I think it's really critical that we do hold our councilors and the mayor to task and it's not even about policies. I find civic elections a bit strange because all the candidates, they come up with these policies that really they're just sort of spitballing almost because it's not a political party with an engine behind it, and then they will take power and actually have power to govern. There are sort of a whole bunch of different voices that have to come together to create policy once they're all sitting in the same room with the mayor and all the counselors. So I think it's really important that we're not just dealing with the mayor, we're dealing with our local councilors and talking to them and understanding what their positions are, because they're critical. You know, when a developer wants to do an infill housing project, they have to talk to the counselor and the councilor makes the decision. And the councilor influences what it looks like and what its shape is and how big it is. And they have real power to shape our neighborhoods. They can reject projects in our neighborhoods or approved projects in our neighborhoods that really change their essence. And so that's a real power that I think we need to understand and make sure that the people we're electing really reflect the values that we want for our city. It's critical to me in my profession as a developer, when I'm working with development, I never talk to the MP or the MLA, I talk to the counselor right away, the planning division and the city and the counselor. We're working together to build the communities in our city. And so it's really critical that we engage them and have them understand what our priorities are and what the priorities should be for the city. It's really critical to me, and it's funny that it doesn't get the same traction that the other levels of government do.
Stuart (Host) 00:22:23
I agree 100%. Brandt. I've had this conversation many times that the whole system is kind of built upside down, that the federal side gets so much interest and so many people, volunteers, etc, and province, et cetera, a little bit less, and then civic so much less.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:22:38
And even funding, if you think of.
Stuart (Host) 00:22:40
Funding exactly like cities, they're a creature.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:22:42
Of the province, which is crazy. It should almost be the opposite, especially in a province like ours.
Stuart (Host) 00:22:46
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:22:47
They have to beg for every piece of funding, and if the province doesn't want to fund transit, the city is screwed. It's really a difficult situation to be in for the city that they have to have so much reliance on funding from other levels of government to do their own priorities.
Stuart (Host) 00:23:05
Yeah, so let's talk a little bit about a couple of these issues, Brent, that you've written about. So when you talk about sort of housing stock or dealing with developers because you want to build some infill housing, you wrote about the fact that there are places that in Winnipeg we've got sort of single family dwellings. And so you're kind of not obligated, but I think the regulation says that's kind of what you have to replace it with. Whereas, as you say in other jurisdictions, they look at that and say, no, I mean, we can up the density here and make it more livable. And I think that I would just say, how do you respond to people that sort of say, up the density, this is going to turn the neighborhood into sort of a free for all. We love our neighborhood. We love our little white picket fences and the green trees in front. We don't want that to be messed with. So how do you counteract that argument?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:23:59
You know, it's a real challenge, and that's why I write, to be honest, that's the biggest one is sort of the character of my neighborhood, is what you always hear. It's always backed by sort of traffic and things like that. But really it's sort of character of the neighborhood. But I think people need to look bigger picture than what their neighbor is. And if their neighbor is two homes or even four homes, that's really a good thing for their neighborhood. Most mature neighborhoods in the city are about 30% less dense than they were in the fewer people, which mostly has to do with smaller. There's one person less than every home, basically. But the impact of that is that the schools in the inner city, in the mature neighborhoods are less full, and we're building new ones. On the outside of the city, community clubs are amalgamating and being closed down because they don't have the same support. And shops in your neighborhood, the amenities in your neighborhood that you can walk to, restaurants, a pub, shops, they are only supported with more density. And so if you have more people living in your neighborhood, really on a micro scale, you're improving all the amenities that can happen there. But on a macro scale, we all complain about things like potholes and snow clearing and the services from the city. And that comes from having such a low density city. We literally have built more city than we can afford to support. And so if you want those things to get better, you have to accept there's going to be more people, you're going to have more neighbors. And it's not a bad thing to see people walking on the sidewalks. And I would love to write a column one day, sort of outlining I was thinking about this last night, actually, sort of outlining all the things that people vehemently reacted against when it was being proposed, and now go back and just look and see how did it really affect the neighborhood? How did that fourplex on that street that you were so against really change the character of your neighborhood? Did it make it better? Might have. You know. Your children might be friends with the children that live in that fourplex. You know. And then the biggest one for me is this sort of idea that we've got that our neighborhoods are so segregated that because they're overwhelmingly single family and they're even zoned that way r one where you can only replace a house with a house. It really means that if you want to live in that neighborhood. You have to afford a $600,000 home or whatever. It isn't like even in the least expensive neighborhoods, it's $300,000. And if you can't afford one of those homes, you're not allowed to be in that neighborhood. And so if you think about the long term impact of that on a city and even on a family. Children have different friend networks. They have different schools that they go to. Even how generational wealth is built. If people are forced to live in certain neighborhoods in sort of a segregated city. You can't build that generational wealth that is so critical for prosperity. For people and for a city. And that's really the impact. It's interesting, actually, zoning. It's a terrible story, but zoning originated out of segregated neighborhoods in the states. Like we all know, they used to actually say people of color can't live in these neighborhoods. That was like the law. That was the origins of zoning. As horrible as that is, they had segregated neighborhoods in the United States, and that went to the Supreme Court, and they struck it down, obviously. But then what happened was the people in those neighborhoods, largely white people in wealthier neighborhoods, put pressure on the government to come up with some other system that would keep their neighborhood segregated and be legal without overtly saying people of color can't stay here. And so what they did was they created single family only zoning. And that meant if you can't afford a home, you can't live in my neighborhood, which then affected people of color in much greater ways. And so it was sort of a de facto segregation, and we don't think about that as the origin of it, but that impact still exists today in our city. If you think about it, if you don't have multifamily, if you don't have affordable housing in all the neighborhoods, you are by almost de facto. Creating a segregated city. And that to me, that's the biggest thing that we need to be thinking about, is if we want our city to be equitable, we need to have more than one type of housing. We need to have all kinds of housing in your neighborhood. And even you personally, as you age, you don't want to be forced out of your community because when you sell your house that you've owned for 30 years, and you want to buy an apartment or a condo, do you want to go live on a major highway because that's the only place we've allowed multifamily housing, or do you want to stay in your community? I think we all want to stay in our community as we age through life. And if you don't allow those opportunities, that can't happen. So it's such a kind of ravel there, but it's such a giant thing that it affects so many pieces of our life that I think we need to think again and think strongly about the impacts of our choices of having single family only neighborhoods.
Stuart (Host) 00:29:27
Yeah, it's great background, Brent. So thanks for sharing that. And I would say one of the issues I think that is problematic and we're going to talk about Winnipeg, is I'll just sort of say the faith in the institution, like knowing that there is an actual plan around what infill housing might look like, or what multidimensional residential places might look like. And it just seems that there's not a real sort of laid out plan. Like, I do think that there are places that some of those neighborhoods, if they want to maintain a certain standard and that the residents feel that that's important, then that should be their ability to do that. But I think that there is always this notion where in a residential area, all of a sudden a three storey commercial building gets put up and people are saying, well, how does that fit with the greater plan? And I guess the question is, from your perspective, is it possible for a city to have a plan that kind of quote unquote? I'll just use the term makes sense so that when these things are happening, people, rather than kind of getting their backup and saying, well, wait a minute, let's make sure we understand, when you see these yellow postings around properties, let's make sure we understand what it is, versus saying nothing wrong with understanding it, but what are we going to oppose here? What does this look like?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:30:54
Yeah, no, that's a great point. And there are examples. It's really about getting in on the ground floor and understanding early on, like you mentioned, those yellow posters that are almost indecipherable. They're written in some kind of odd planner language that nobody can understand. And if you go to other cities, they force developers to have a picture of what's happening and an English description of what the project is, and it goes up well before the design is finished. Not like in Winnipeg where you see those yellow stickers and you think, oh my God, what can I do? And it's too late. To be honest, it's too late at that point, mostly, unless you can somehow force your counselor to vote against it. But often it's too late. And that's really the, to me, the idea. That's actually why I write, because I want people to understand at the ground floor what the long term picture is. And if you can understand that, then you come at it from a different angle. And I totally agree you can't build an incongruent development on a street, but it's sort of changing the idea of what incongruent is and that maybe a three story building does fit your neighborhood if you think about your neighborhood a little bit differently. But there are so many things that I think cities are doing to ease that fear. Edmonton is a great example. They've been great champions of infill development. They actually have infill police that go around every day and make sure that the sites are cleaned, that they're not starting at 05:00 A.m.. And you know that often we hear that like that's part of the problem is that it's so disruptive to a community when infill is happening that it instinctively makes people go against it, even if it's good long term. And so Evanston is doing things like making sure that sites are clean and they have a great information bucket of tools that gets the residents engaged early. And part of the development of the planet itself comes from the people in the neighborhood. So then when development happens, they can't be opposed to it because they had their chance to talk about it. So you get people in early and understanding what is the future of their neighborhood that is really the way forward. And Edmonton is sort of a shining example of how that's done because they spent millions in creating this infill guideline policy. That's just an incredible tool that has really relaxed people and it stopped those battles on the ground between residents and developers. Because developers, they shouldn't be painted as evil for the most part, because they're just trying to do they're trying to follow the rules. So we just need to make the rules clear for everybody. And developers want that too. They don't want to buy a property and then go through a rezoning process and in the end get rejected. That's terrible for their business. If they can buy a property and understand that these are the rules that everybody has to abide by, it's better for them and it's better for the community because they understand what's coming.
Stuart (Host) 00:33:54
And I think that the issue there, Brent, is to say that there's rules and everybody has to abide by the rules. I think from time to time what happens is that you hear what the rules are, but a developer will come in and they'll color outside the lines and maybe they'll ask for forgiveness because it's too late, but they change things. And I think that's where you get sort of the level of trust. I think it happens. But interesting you should say Edmonton is an example of something we should pay attention to. Let me just kind of move on a little bit and let's talk about transit. You've written issues around the importance of the fact that I mean, look, we are a vehicular city. We love our cars regardless of the price of gas, we love our cars. You've written about the importance of transit. Talk about how you think Winnipeg, which is becoming a bit more of a sprawling, less dense city because of the sprawlingness of it. How might transit change that focus in terms of quality of life? From your perspective?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:34:51
You're totally right. We are a car city. And I actually came across an amazing statistic that was every year we add 80 new cars to our streets, and that's an increase of 1% every eight months. Think about that. We're adding 1% more cars every eight months to our streets. So the impact of that is, I mean, why are there potholes? Because we're building that much infrastructure and we really can't keep up with everybody knows traffic is getting worse and worse and worse. And that's the reason. And all the road where is all getting worse and worse, that's the reason we're adding so many cars. And the only way to reverse all of that, the only way to get better streets, the only way to really fight climate change, the only way to make your household expenses go down, is for all of us to drive less. And transit is critical to that. But transit can't work unless you build the city that makes transit work. If you think about Sage Creek as an example, it's got some density at the front and it's a new neighborhood. If you run a bus out there, it kind of sits empty because that neighborhood isn't built for walkable access to that bus stop. The bus only comes once every 45 minutes. It's a long way to wherever you're going. So really, it's not a transit friendly neighborhood. If you think about how we built cities in the past, they were built on streetcars. We're a streetcar city. And it was sort of like the hub and spokes. So the downtown is the hub. And all the streets coming out main Street, Sherbrook Academy, Cordon Henderson, all those streets were spokes of a transit wheel. And we just built neighborhoods connecting to that, those spokes. And when the city grew, we just extended the line and built more grid that people could walk to. And now we're building these neighborhoods that are sort of islands and running busses out to them. And so that's making transit really ineffective. So it's kind of a we have to do both. We have to invest in transit. So it is more frequent and it runs it's more reliable because that's critical. But also we need the city to support transit. And having more people live as close to the transit line as possible then makes it more convenient to use. It creates shorter distances and it creates essentially a bigger market for transit. So it's really both. You have to invest in transit and build a city to make transit effective.
Stuart (Host) 00:37:24
And as you write, Brandon, as you have traveled the world and looked at different cities, how do you feel Winnipeg is doing with respect to their transit plan?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:37:35
You know, I'm excited by the new transit plan that they're coming up with. I don't know how many people are aware of this, but they're going to completely change how the bus system works, and it's going to be controversial when it comes out. You're basically going to add a transfer to every trip. And I know transfers are a bad thing for most people. The idea will be you'll get on the bus close to your house and ride to the nearest main street, which will be, as an example, Pemina Highway or Portuguese or something. You would go directly to that and you get off. And then those main routes are going to have every five minutes, a bus coming that picks you up, high frequency transit that then zips you to wherever you're going across the city. So it's thinking about transit in a completely different way. Instead of getting on the bus and riding on it for 45 minutes on this circuitous route that goes through all the neighborhoods, picking people up, it's sort of going quickly to one spot, getting off and getting onto another bus. And that's really where the new rapid transit is going to be critical because these lines, these frequent lines are envisioned as rapid transit. And so that's the question, do we do late rail or do we do some kind of bus rapid transit? But the effectiveness of the system is going to be how great we make those transfers and how quickly those frequent lines happen. But I'm really excited by that. I'm not a big fan, to be honest, of the rapid transit line that we have currently because it sort of runs away from where people live. And it's not really like it's sort of a good endpoint. The University of Manitoba and downtown, those are two strong endpoints. But if you're trying to go anywhere on Pam and highway as an example, it's really useless because it's nowhere near any destination that you would want to go to, and it doesn't have the population that supports it. Like those big parking lots around each stop should be big apartment buildings in most cities. That's how that's done. So I'm happy that we're moving away from the dedicated line, sort of out in fields, and we're moving rapid transit to the streets themselves. So to serve the amenities on the streets.
Stuart (Host) 00:39:43
Yeah. So, Brent, just on that, because I was very impressed when I read that in your article. I didn't know that. So when I read the fact that that's how it's moving but which candidate, which Merrill candidate is talking about that? Like, whose idea is that?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:39:57
I know. I haven't heard anything. It's the transit. The transit guys are great. They are quite visionary. The problem is, transit is a provincial, largely funded by the province of 50 50, and big infrastructure projects are largely funded by the federal government. So really what I want out of my council and mayor is to be championing that as much as possible. We will soon be the only city in the top ten largest in Canada that doesn't have light rail. And it's because cities like Kitchner have invested in it, and they're pressuring their city government to get on board with the federal government because the federal government is spending it. The iron is hot right now and because they've jumped on it. What I want to see from my council and mayor is taking advantage of that. And the 25 year plan should be a five year plan. And the government right now is ready to invest. So let's jump on the train, as it were, and get this going quickly. And that's really what I want to hear, because the plans are there. The transit master plan is great. They've made some huge shifts in how they're thinking. We're putting transit rate on streets instead of in fields, which is amazing. It's going to be much less expensive. It's much more useful. We're designing the system so it can be used every day, not just to go to work and back. The plans are there. We just need the political will to invest in it and to create the partnerships, the three level partnerships that will make it happen and not have to wait. We know how long the first one took, like, 20 years to get going. The iron is hot. If we get all the three levels in the room and tap those funding sources that are already there. But we just need the drive to do that.
Stuart (Host) 00:41:41
Yes, the political will. I mean, that's always the elephant in the room, right? I mean, it isn't there. So, Brent, a couple of quick things that I just want to sort of touch on. And again, I just want to reiterate a couple of quick things to anybody who's listening to this podcast that we are recording this podcast prior to the October 26 civic election. So when it gets aired, we will have a new mayor and city council, those that were opposed or those that were reelected. But I wanted to quickly get your take on a couple of things. Number one is the homeless issue, like you talked about, sort of your study from Finland home. First, just give us a brief sense of how you think we could adapt that here. In Winnipeg.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:42:25
It's shockingly simple. And I did a lot of reading about the Finnish example, Finland. I don't like using Europe as an example because their conditions are different. But this one is really such a simple solution, it just makes total sense. The government decided ten years ago they're going to get rid of homelessness as much as they can, and they decided they're going to build housing for homeless people. And so they actually don't have any shelters anymore. There's one shelter that's just a temporary thing. That's sort of the first transition. All their shelters have been transformed into apartment buildings. They've built 40 residential units that are apartments. They're not I often hear, Why don't we build shipping containers? Or they're homes with dignity that they give small homes. They have the supports that are needed for substance abuse and other issues, but some of them are really just housing, and they've made a massive dent. They've cut their homelessness by 50% and have a plan in the next five years to eliminate it as much as they can. And I really think the city often punts that to the province, but they have a huge role to play. And other cities like Ottawa actually builds their homeless housing. They're doing this they spend $20 million a year on building homeless or housing for the homeless. And to me, that's such a simple thing. We need to begin to do that as well. And the city has a big role again in bringing all the levels together and finding the land and actually, honestly, even investing in it themselves. And to me, that's doing the housing first model, sort of the no questions asked, you get this home and then we sort of build from there. Instead of having rules, like, you have to be addictions free and all the things that caused the slow of that kind of transition. And I think it's a really visionary solution, and it's something that we all know. We can see it as we move around our city. Homelessness is a big issue. The Pandemic has just ripped a giant hole through the city and you can see it everywhere. And we need to this is a time we can't just punt that down the road. We need to deal with it now, and we need to do bold things like just building homes for homeless people.
Stuart (Host) 00:44:47
Yeah. And Brent, I say one thing, and as you know, I spent a little bit of time in elected politics, so I don't want to sound like I'm sitting in my comfy chair preaching to anybody, but one of the challenges with all of this becomes three levels of government. And one of the astonishing things to me is that you have this notion that the civics say, well, it's really a provincial thing, and then they're saying it's a federal thing. At the end of the day, all these elected people live in this province or in this city, so how is it so difficult that we can't start from that perspective, that we are all citizens here representing different levels? Right? So I know it's a simplification. So, Levin, I want to get your thoughts quickly on one thing that's very passionate in my world, and that is people that have mobility issues. The notion that when we do construction, that you have to build out over a sidewalk, because that's how you need to create a safe environment for people to move product on that site. But at some point, anybody who's in a chair is going along the road or a sidewalk, and all of a sudden they can't navigate that anymore. They have to find a different way to get across the street or to go around. I mean, it just seems to me, Brent, that one of the things that when we talk about building, that we should ensure that those people that have mobility issues should be taken into account and shouldn't have to suffer. I mean, for me, I can kind of skinny my way down a sidewalk as I do when I go to Tom Bargain in the morning, but if I'm in a chair, I don't have that luxury. But I have no voice, and nobody seems to be listening to that. What are your thoughts on that?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:46:26
I totally agree. It's even bigger than construction, but construction is a big thing. I totally agree. It needs to be considered really deeply in the construction plan. But even beyond, I think, of snow clearing how when we're clearing the sidewalks, the sidewalks are often left to last, and they're not scraped right to the concrete the way we scrape the streets. They're sort of left with a two inch scrim of snow. And it's fine for you and me who can walk on the snow, but it makes it a real challenge for people. And the big snowbanks are left on the corners. And you can't see around them as you're in a wheelchair. Or even the giant cracks in the sidewalks and all the things that I play hockey every Friday night at the Birch Rand Arena. And my manager is in a wheelchair. And he was saying at our last game that there's a little one inch gap between the door and the parking lot that he can't get over. And when I walk over it every time, and I don't even think about it, of course, because it's just a one inch gap, but he literally can't get into the building because of that one inch gap. So even little things like that, making sure that our city is built appropriately, that those kind of things don't happen. And you're right, there's a shortage of strong voices really advocating for that. But it's really in a winter city, it's critical, and I feel like maybe we're hearing about it more. Three one. One is a really great resource to sort of attack things one by one. But the idea that we sort of have to change how we think about it more holistically and think from that perspective because the population is aging and all of us, I think, are going to face that challenge at some point. I hope I do at some point. I hope I live long enough to have that challenge. But we're all going to face it. It's not just we're all going to have some disability in our life at some point. And so hopefully we can begin to think more holistically about how we build our city from that perspective.
Stuart (Host) 00:48:31
For sure. Okay. So The Fountainhead, anne Ran, have you.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:48:35
Read that book 25, 30 years ago?
Stuart (Host) 00:48:38
Yeah, I don't know. Well, I mean, for sure. So you did. That's all good because, I mean, I see a little similarities between what Howard work went through and what you're trying to describe Brent. I mean, there's an uphill battle there. It's a fight for creativity. It's a fight for change. It's a fight for doing something else. So I just thought I'd throw that one out at you.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:48:54
I have it on my desk, actually.
Stuart (Host) 00:48:56
Yeah. Okay. Have any of the eleven mayoral candidates reached out to you for advice? And you don't have to say which one? I'm not asking you to take a side. I'm just asking you the answer is really more of a yes or no if has any of them reached out to you for advice?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:49:11
Many of them have tried.
Stuart (Host) 00:49:13
Okay, yeah, sure.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:49:14
But I'm trying to stay as I think people understand my politics, and I don't really have to endorse anybody. I've tried to stay it's hard, but I've tried to stay out of it as much as I can.
Stuart (Host) 00:49:30
Yeah. And I mean, part of it is and I should refrain because I wasn't asking you if you're supporting. I just am more interested in if you're being the mayor of a city and if you follow what you do on Twitter at Brentbellum, you provide vision opportunities, thought processes, something that's different. And if I'm a merit candidate, of course I'd love you to support me, but more importantly, it's like, can you share what you're learning? And if I become mayor, would you be a part of a process to help us make this a better city? I mean, you're one voice, Brent, and it's not that you have a big white hat and ride a big white horse, but you do have one voice, and it's a thoughtful voice. You've got a platform. How do we use that?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:50:10
Yeah, actually, when I run into them at newly launched and things like that, that's when the conversations really happen. And it's always great to chat, for sure. And it has happened. I would say half the candidates maybe I've run into just out and about and had good discussions with them. It's always great to be able to sit down with someone and sort of pick their brain and have them pick mine. I always welcome at any time, 100%.
Stuart (Host) 00:50:38
Would you ever think of getting involved in civic politics?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:50:41
I get asked that all the time. I love my job. I have just the greatest job, being an architect. I'm working on the Hudson's Bay building right now. Such a transformation to me that's, like, I have such impact on my city through my job, and it's such an outlet for creativity that I love it so much. So I would have to be at a point where I don't love my job anymore, to be honest. Because it doesn't seem like the greatest job to be mayor or counselor, to be honest with.
Stuart (Host) 00:51:12
Yeah. So that's going to be an exciting project, that Hudson Bay project. And my last question to you, Brent, and I. Again, thank you for finding some time. I really appreciate you giving your perspective. As I say, once this podcast gets launched, we'll have a new mayor, and so we'll get a chance to see what vision they do deliver. For the city of Winnipeg, you can't choose one of your own, such as the Qualifier Family Center. But in Winnipeg, if you were to sort of say, that is a great building because it touches all of the things, it's architecturally well presented, it is friendly to be inside. It makes sense, the environment, everything internally. Is there a building in Winnipeg? You would sort of say that's my.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:51:51
Favorite my favorite building in Winnipeg is not my own, obviously, is the Royal Manitoba Theater Center in the Exchange District. People are always surprised when I say that. What I love about it is it's brutalist. And everyone hates brutalism. The old public safety building, everyone hates brutalism. But it shows how brutalism can be done in a human way. And if you really look closely at that building, the details on it are just exquisite. And it sits in the Exchange District so comfortably, even though, like, it sits within those heritage buildings so comfortably, even though it's not referencing heritage or historic architecture in any way. It's fully modern, but because it has such a visual weight and a gravity to it, it sits comfortably within its surroundings of those big, heavy stone buildings. So, to me, an inside is just beautiful and so perfectly designed. I love the way it becomes a poster board during the Fringe Festival. It gets plastered with all those posters and it sort of comes to life to me. That's my favorite building in the city.
Stuart (Host) 00:52:59
Awesome. Okay. Are you still riding your bike?
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:53:01
Last year I got to December 15 before I decided, this is ridiculous, and I started up March 15, so it was nine months. But other than that, I drag my heels as much as I can before I start getting in the car. Good for you.
Stuart (Host) 00:53:17
Well done. Hey, Brent Bellamy. Thanks for being on this podcast and thanks for all of the writing you do. And we need more conversations to challenge people on their thought process to make our city better, our life better. And you certainly do that. So I just want to say thanks very much for being a guest on Humans on Rights.
Brent Bellamy (Guest) 00:53:36
I really appreciate you have me and yeah, it was a great discussion and I'd love to go for coffee and keep going.
Stuart (Host) 00:53:41
We will do that for sure. Take care.
Humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray, social media marketing by the creative team at Full Current in Winnipeg. Thanks also to Trixie Mabituan. Music by Doug Edmond For more, go to humanrights hub CA produced and distributed by the Sound Media Company.