Blumberg green space is worth saving

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IN June of this year, members of Winnipeg city council made the bold move of asking administration to add amendments to city planning documents to create a Master Greenspace and Natural Corridors Plan. This recognizes the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, 2021-2030.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2021 (367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IN June of this year, members of Winnipeg city council made the bold move of asking administration to add amendments to city planning documents to create a Master Greenspace and Natural Corridors Plan. This recognizes the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, 2021-2030.

According to the UN, this means not only helping to restore ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, but also conserving ecosystems that are still intact. Further, council promised to take steps to add 1,000 acres of public park space by 2045. It approved two reports, OurWinnipeg 2045 and Complete Communities 2.0, with a biodiversity policy and consideration of municipal golf courses as major nature preserves and green space, which would eliminate the sale of green spaces such as parks and golf courses for private development on these city-owned properties.

There is an issue outstanding, however, and that is to save the John Blumberg golf courses. In 2013, the city declared the golf courses as surplus. This historic property, purchased in 1964, encompasses 200 acres on the Assiniboine River just outside the city of Winnipeg in the rural municipality of Headingley.

The city built professional 18-hole and nine-hole golf courses in 1969 in order to attract major golf competitions to the city. In addition to the original forest bordering the river, the city planted 3,000 trees, evergreens and shrubs. The property has a wild and delicate beauty.

But Winnipeg is already lacking in green space compared to other major cities in Canada; we have only six per cent, compared to nine per cent on average elsewhere. With the public golf courses included, we have seven per cent, but if John Blumberg is removed, that number will be greatly reduced.

According to the Canadian City Parks Report 2020, Winnipeg ranks in the bottom third for total city land area that is parks, and for the amount of natural areas within its parks.

Every major city in western Canada has preserved access to its rivers for their citizens except Winnipeg, where the majority of land bordering our rivers is in private hands.

The draft Regional Growth and Servicing Plan for the Winnipeg Metropolitan region, also issued in June, sets a bold expectation for establishing a path toward building a sustainable, climate-resilient region positioned to meet the challenges of the future and thrive.

Green spaces provide many physical, social, and mental-health benefits. Large green spaces such as Blumberg are green infrastructure, and must be part of our strategy to adapt to the climate-change crisis. Blumberg helps mitigate flooding from storms, protects the Assiniboine River, reduces water scarcity, improves air and water quality, regulates temperature and aids soil nutrient cycling, all while sequestering carbon.

John Blumberg also is an active wildlife corridor and provides habitat for endangered bird species.

Many thousands of Winnipeggers flock to city-owned parks that lie outside of the city’s boundaries, such as Little Mountain in the RM of Rosser or La Barrière in St. Norbert, or provincial parks such as the Trappist Monastery, Beaudry and Birds Hill.

While outside city limits, Blumberg is easily accessible for citizens in the west side of the city, where the city is planning major future growth.

The Blumberg golf courses have provided easily affordable and important recreational activity for families. With competent management, the golf courses have significantly improved and the use of the courses has subsequently skyrocketed.

Blumberg could also be used for cross-country skiing and as an off-golf season park in winter, as is already done on other courses in the city. The green space also includes more than 40 acres that could be used for nature walks.

The city must consider future sustainability of the environment, building resilience against the shocks of climate change and making decisions that consider the well-being and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

The 200 acres that make up John Blumberg were purchased for $200,000 in 1964. Today, a single acre in Headingley costs $200,000. Land inside the city limits is scarce and costs significantly more. It makes no sense for the city to plan to purchase 1,000 acres of green space at exorbitant prices in future, yet sell 200 acres for limited value now.

Currently, the city receives revenues from Blumberg golfers. The sale of the land will eliminate this revenue stream and all future taxes will go to Headingley. We have to look at the long-term vision for the city, regarding climate change mitigation and our mental and human health.

As Mark Carney, current United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, has stated, “Every financial decision should take climate change into account.”

This beautiful jewel doesn’t have to be sold; all it requires is a majority of city council voting to remove it from the surplus list. Councillors have already shown great vision for preserving and protecting the city’s environment.

Remember: once John Blumberg is sold for development, this greenspace is gone forever.

For more information, see the OURS-Winnipeg website: https://www.ours-winnipeg.com/save-john-blumberg-gc.html.

Shelley Sweeney is a retired University of Manitoba archivist, and Muriel St. John is a retired University of Manitoba law research librarian. Both are volunteers with OURS-Winnipeg (Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces).

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