It’s time to return to the City Beautiful vision that steered our growth a century ago.
“It is clearly a dictate of common sense to plan a city as it is to plan any other intricate and important structure.”
-City of Winnipeg Planning Commission Report 1913.
Civic planning started out being important to Winnipeg, the first city in Canada to appoint a civic planning commission. It was supported by the Public Parks Act passed by the province in 1892, and by 1897, no less than eight parks had been established. Later, Winnipeg adopted the City Beautiful concept, which held that beautiful surroundings help curb crime and bring out the best in people.
While still a beautiful city in 2014, our ability to step back and see the big picture needs a reset. This is evident after examining the variety of documents that came out of the OurWinnipeg visioning process of 2009 to 2011.
The dreamers and drafters have looked at a variety of issues, including arts and culture, housing, parks and green spaces, and they spent lots of time on managing water and waste and even more time talking about “sustainability,” but the reader is left feeling confused and frustrated by a lack of specifics and an overall vision. What will the city look like by the target date of 2020?
A return to the City Beautiful concept of the last century, where streets are wide and tree-lined, and buildings conform to an aesthetic code, would be a good first step.
This requires leadership that can see past the mundane issues of the day and envision what might be.
We need retail and commercial development bylaws to mandate green spaces in front of buildings and prevent construction from butting up against city sidewalks. Street-front parking in new strip malls should be banned. It makes better sense to put the parking at the back of the strip facing the alley and to leave a space for greenery – grass, shrubs and trees – in front. Existing malls could remedy bad later-20th-century planning by adding greenery in raised beds and in plant islands.
There should be plenty of curbside parking spaces in retail and commercial areas. New parking garages should be built underground or at least with attractive facades such as the one on Lombard Avenue.
We need a city-wide strategy to replace aging lamp standards with attractive, well-designed fixtures to enhance the beauty of our streets. We need to insist on having hydro and telephone lines buried in areas where they still loom overhead.
There should be aesthetic standards built into our building codes, complete with bylaws restricting certain types of signage.
We need to return to green boulevards, replacing the ugly bricks and concrete that look good for a year and then deteriorate, collecting sand and dirt and heaving and cracking after their first rough winter.
Beautiful surroundings do bring out the best in people. They attract business and development. And they instill pride in our citizens.