Urban jewels need care

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The deadline for developers to make proposals for seven large pieces of prime real estate scattered across Winnipeg was Oct. 26. Not surprisingly there were lots of proposals, although the city won't let us see them yet.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/12/2011 (3886 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The deadline for developers to make proposals for seven large pieces of prime real estate scattered across Winnipeg was Oct. 26. Not surprisingly there were lots of proposals, although the city won’t let us see them yet.

The potential sale of so much public space should be of great concern to Winnipeggers. Why sell it? Who wins and who loses? What alternatives might there be to selling these properties? These questions need to be answered before any decisions are made.

The lands under the hammer are seven city-owned golf courses: Windsor Park on the Seine River; Crescent Drive, Canoe Club and Kildonan Park on the Red River; John Blumberg on the Assiniboine River, as well as Harbourview in North Kildonan and Tuxedo across from Assiniboine Park. They are the most attractive opportunities Winnipeg developers have seen in decades.

It doesn’t take a property developer to imagine the upmarket condos on the riverfront lots, or the suburban housing across from Assiniboine Park, or even the new strip malls or shopping centres.

There’s clearly a lot of money to be made.

The decision to sell these urban green spaces, which we have collectively owned for decades — and in some cases for almost a century — flows from a consultant’s report commissioned by the city.

The report concluded that “Winnipeg has a surplus of open park space” that can “be sold for commercial or residential development.”

It’s not clear what “surplus” green space means, but it is easy to know what “sold for commercial or residential development” means. And it won’t be low-income housing or rental accommodations for the working poor.

Our mayor and council were eager to hear this song. They responded by putting out requests for “expressions of interest” for the use and development of these seven properties. In various statements to council and to the media, the city’s leading politicians and administrators have made clear that they have in mind the sale of the properties for commercial and residential development.

With little more than a month to put together proposals and a required $50,000 deposit, the process ensured that it wouldn’t get cluttered with proposals from sports associations, golfers, community clubs or naturalists.

In fact, it appears only the Nordic Ski Association, which operates out of the Windsor Park Golf Course, made a non-commercial proposal.

Mayor Sam Katz and chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl have argued selling and developing the property would increase the tax base and bring in cash to use for other good purposes. Both are doubtless true, at least in the short term. The same, however, could be said for selling every inch of green space in Winnipeg.

The question is why sell these properties, and why now? Perhaps they hoped there would be little sympathy for golfers. Perhaps they think Winnipeg has become so poor under their guidance we can no longer afford the amenities we could afford in the 1920s or 1960s, when these courses were built.

For residents and wildlife, these are priceless community resources. And there is no doubt any decision to sell and develop these lands will be permanent.

Once they have been built on, there is no way future generations will be able to afford to buy them back for recreational use.

But there is another approach. Instead of asking who we should sell them to, we could first ask some different questions. And instead of limiting the discussion to developers and city hall, we could involve the community in finding answers.

Are golf courses the best use of these lands? If they are to remain golf courses, can we find more imaginative mixed uses — such as the Nordic Ski Club’s use of the Windsor Park course in the winter? Could the courses be modified to make them friendlier to wildlife, hikers and riparian ecosystems? Just thinking about these questions shows how outrageous are the city’s plans for these urban gems.

It’s good to periodically review our common possessions, such as these golf courses and rethink how we use them. But that is the discussion we should be having as a community.

Let’s have some real consultation, where all of us have a chance to put forward suggestions, so we can be proud when we pass these lands on to future generations.

Let’s look at ways to make them the focus on healthy communities, where people want higher densities, because it allows easy access to such wonderful green spaces.

And let’s look at how to create opportunities for new housing through developing some of the decaying or abandoned commercial and industrial areas of the city, even — dare we dream it — the Weston Rail Yards.

Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces (OURS) is fighting this attempt to sell off these urban jewels on the quiet. The group is gathering signatures calling for a halt to these sales until a proper community discussion takes place.

It is believed the proposed sell off will not survive a public debate. Only slipping it through quickly and quietly will work.

Dave Hall is retired, and spends his time enjoying family, friends, and Winnipeg’s green spaces. He doesn’t use a golf club in his walks, but understands those who do.

www.ours-winnipeg.com

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