SOME volunteers are skeptical the City of Winnipeg’s proposed parks investment plan will adequately replace the reparative work they do in their communities.
Council voting was recently delayed on the blueprint for a $162-million capital investment starting in 2024, because of its potential impact on the city’s debt. Divided over 10 years, it would allocate money to renew and replace park and playground equipment, acquire more green space, and for restoration and environmental education efforts.
The delayed decision will have little effect on local green spaces in the meantime, Alan Sideen said.
"It doesn’t take a lot to beautify a park. We cannot just rely on the city to take care of them," Sideen, who has been volunteering to rejuvenate local parks since 2005, said. "Between you, me, and the fence posts: the city workers are burnt out."
Affectionately nicknamed "painting parties," Sideen teams up with community members to freshen up green spaces, painting and sanding benches as a part of the city’s Adopt a Park program. With donated paint and tools, volunteers have transformed local parks, with occasional help from city workers.
"The city is very good at helping citizens," Sideen said. "They always tell us, ‘If you want to plant flower gardens or rock gardens, phone us, we’ll till the soil, and it’s up to the public to do the rest.’"
Concerns Winnipeg is below other Canadian cities in terms of parkland per person is what initially inspired the plan, but local interest has furthered it.
"Go into almost any park in Winnipeg, and you’ll see groups of people gathering and connecting. I think coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic, and honestly even through it, parks were a key to helping us, you know, kind of survive," Shane Ray, executive director of Recreation Manitoba said.
"Recreation centres were closed. There wasn’t a lot we could do, but parks were there."
A survey taken in connection with the proposed funding plan found, "Winnipeggers want a careful balance of both local parks and facilities with multi-use centres and regional parks," and "would be more inclined to volunteer if promotion of available opportunities increased, more incentives were offered, and flexible, short-term commitments were introduced."
"I think it’s amazing that the city recognizes the resource parks are, have always been and continue to be through the pandemic, but as we know, city plans don’t always translate into concrete action," Mellanie Lawrenz, secretary of the Glenelm Neighbourhood Association said.
Her neighbourhood is "blessed" with three parks, as well as the Elmwood Cemetery, which acts as an "unofficial fourth park," she said.
"Elmwood Park in the summertime is just fantastic," said Lawrenz. "It’s full of families, people walking their dogs, kids playing soccer, we have a cute little wading pool/splash pad… that’s always packed. It’s just such a wonderful little resource."
Lawrenz attributes this atmosphere to community efforts, not the city’s.
She hopes the recent plans and funds commitment will bring some life back to local parks and inspire the city to consider further investment plans if this one falls through.
"Our parks are getting older here in Glenelm. We had one park that we were looking at doing some improvements in, and our parks person told us it was 26th on the list for improvement. There were no funds allocated to it for a minimum of five years," Lawrenz said.
"Parks haven’t been invested in in a really long time, so I’m really hoping that there’s funds committed for those little parks because they just make such a difference for quality of living."
While unable to comment until the proposal is voted on, Coun. Sherri Rollins said, "The proposal provides a logic (with) which to reinvest. That is good. It provides a logic to prioritize green space and, in fact, support a plan towards investing in increased green space."
Volunteers such as Sideen maintain they don’t mind the work and will continue regardless of whether the investment plan is approved.
"The beautiful thing about Winnipeg is we have so many trees, and where do you find those trees? Parks," Sideen said. "A lot of people in the city still aren’t aware of the (Adopt a Park) program, and so I hope to continue expanding our horizons and bring it to other communities in Winnipeg."