August 15, 2020

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We need a healthy, walkable Winnipeg

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press 
City council, with an $8-billion infrastructure deficit, bumped up spending on roads last year.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press City council, with an $8-billion infrastructure deficit, bumped up spending on roads last year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/2/2015 (2020 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is some talk these days of our cities and how they may be making us sick. It is said better urban design could add years to our lives and that our Canadian cities built for cars, need to be more walkable. I agree.

In simpler days gone by, there was a green grassy field and a stretch of woods where trees grew in wild abandon just behind our house.

A wooden burger stand where people lined up daily was just a hop, skip and a jump through the woods. As kids, we walked most places, or ran, sometimes barefoot, through fields and pathways where kids often played baseball or other games. We ran through the woods dodging trap doors leading to underground forts built by neighbourhood boys.

At the burger stand we exchanged our coins for treats and if we were lucky we'd be stuck outdoors playing until dusk.

Now there is a strip mall where the stand used to be and there are condos, a car dealership and lots of concrete where the trees and grass once grew and where we used to play.

It seems our green spaces, for that is what they are called now, are in greater danger of disappearing. In our cities, there are more condos going up and high rises and our suburban developments are spreading ever outwards. Our cities are constantly growing.

But I often try to go for walks today for exercise and am narrowly missed by some driver or another who fails to either stop at a red light or yield to pedestrians. It is not easy to walk in this city or to cross many lanes of traffic where there are few crosswalks or lights that indicate you have, perhaps, a few seconds to make it across the five lanes of traffic. My heart goes out to older people with walkers, or those unable to negotiate these barely walkable roads.

It's our green spaces in cities throughout the world that are immortalized in word and song, poetry and fiction. Not parking lots, freeways or lane after lane of traffic. And it's our green places that we remember nostalgically, when our thoughts wander during the long, cold months of winter.

When Wordsworth penned Upon Westminster Bridge in 1802 he wasn't just writing about the man-made beauty of the city of London, England. He wrote of the beauty of the morning, the fields, the river and the sun.

And when the iconic Canadian singer and songwriter, Joni Mitchell, wrote "they paved paradise to put up a parking lot... they took all the trees and put them in a tree museum," it was a bold commentary on the 1970s, which still rings true. They "charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em."

When folks who can afford it leave the city in the summer to go to their cottages or go to the beach, they are not leaving in search of more concrete. It is greener pastures they seek.

But not all are so fortunate. And so it seems that as more condos and high rises are built and more housing developments spread outwards, our green places, our parks and gardens and trees, do not simply just add to our enjoyment of life, to many they are necessary and vital as is the oxygen they provide.

Cancer is now the leading cause of death; heart disease and stroke follow close behind. This was not always the case.

Perhaps we should pay heed to making our cities more walkable.

A balancing act is required where people can walk, ride their bikes and do so safely. We would do well to cherish our cities' green spaces. The profit we gain should we dispose of them is nothing compared to the price that we may pay should they ever disappear.


Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

Cheryl Girard

Cheryl Girard
West Kildonan community correspondent

Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for West Kildonan.

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