Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lot better ways to spend $7M

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With a handful of exceptions, airport districts are unusually unattractive, even ugly sorts of places. Most of the world's major airports are located at the edges of expansive industrial areas that have developed over the decades to serve the needs of major transportation hubs.

Once you leave the gates of an airport and step into a taxicab, you'll be ferried past the same ugly sights in practically every single city.

First, you'll see massive parking lots for airport passengers and employees. Then you'll see the massive structures that house all the machines and equipment that allow airports to function.

You will then pass warehouses stuffed with goods bound for intermodal transfer before entering an even uglier industrial area, packed full of businesses that either find it convenient to operate in close proximity to an airport -- or are not allowed to exist anywhere else.

In short, there's no such thing as an attractive drive into any city from an airport. In Toronto, you leave Pearson International and get accosted by the sight of Mississauga. Leaving LAX in Los Angeles, you see little more than concrete freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, punctuated by garish movie billboards.

Even when you fly into Vancouver, a city blessed with natural beauty, you will end up stuck in the annoying start-stop traffic of Granville Street if you choose to take a cab downtown instead of opting for the cheaper and more efficient Canada Line.

Given the almost universal ugliness that surrounds airports, it is infuriating to find some Winnipeggers are obsessed with the beautification of Winnipeg's own ugly little drive. But that's what the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has become fixated upon for more than a decade.

The chamber, it must be said, is made up of well-intentioned people with excellent ideas. Unfortunately, some of those excellent people have become obsessed with the idea it isn't much fun to drive down Wellington Avenue and Route 90.

Granted, this area is ugly -- as are all airport districts. But the chamber crowd fears visitors to Winnipeg will be so unimpressed with their first glimpse of this city they will form negative lasting impressions and flee, screaming back to from wherever they came.

In reality, visitors to Winnipeg are so busy playing with their iPhones during the short ride to their hotels they don't bother to look at anything along the way.

Nonetheless, to remedy an imaginary problem, the chamber wants to spend $7 million to pimp the ride in from the airport. This is completely insane. Not Rob-Ford-on-crack-and-still-believing-he-can-be-mayor insane, mind you, but Sam-Katz-wanting-to-spend-millions-on-a-water-park insane.

Katz, if you recall, had a dream of blowing $7 million worth of public funds on a private water park, as if Super Slides somehow constituted a pressing infrastructure-renewal priority in this city. Eventually, our mayor accepted this was a bad idea.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, however, is now outdoing Katz when it comes to pushing quixotic infrastructure policy on the populace.

In a report that comes before council next week, the chamber proposes hiding the rear end of homes along Route 90 behind soundproof fences as a first step toward the creation of "Chamber Way," a grand new entrance to the city that will be decorated with banners imploring visitors to patronize Winnipeg's attractions.

Those banners might advertise the human-rights museum that hasn't opened, or the Assiniboine Park Zoo exhibit full of polar bears who've tried to bite Churchillians. Banners advertising attractions aren't a bad idea.

But spending $7 million on a Potemkin Village near the airport is a ridiculous move at a time when this city faces far more serious infrastructure needs, starting with a $4-billion tab for beefing up sewage treatment, hundreds of millions in deferred road, bridge and building maintenance and a so-far-unfinanced rapid-transit system that may eventually cost more than a billion dollars itself.

The chamber, of course, has no money for its plan. It intends to approach corporate sponsors and ask the city and the province to pony up cash as well.

There have been times when the chamber was more progressive than the city itself. But this obsession with beautification has to stop.

Winnipeg is a city with real problems, not just limited to infrastructure. The combined political weight of the chamber's members could be used to lobby city hall to create a better environment for business in this city -- yes, I'm talking about a level playing field -- rather than blowing precious political capital on something as ephemeral as pretty fences.

Yes, the drive from the airport is ugly. Accept that fact and move on. Hiding garages behind posters of polar bears is not going to improve this city.

There are better amenities worthy of $7 million worth of public and private funds.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 B1

History

Updated on Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 10:25 AM CST: added photo

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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