Communities everywhere do what Brandon has done — build public green spaces along waterfronts. People love water — it seems to connote peace, contentment and relaxation in cultures around the world — and we naturally wish to congregate along rivers, lakes and oceans.
Water drives city economies, too. Since the beginning of settled civilization we have built our townships near the water needed for life and the irrigation of crops. For millennia before the development of modern transportation technologies, the world’s rivers and lakes provided human beings with our transportation system. Rivers were the world’s first highways (and in many cases still are).
It is understandable then that so much of Brandon’s parkland is located along the Assiniboine River.
Should it stay there?
The Assiniboine has now given us a “once-in-300-years” flood twice in three years, not three centuries. A drive along First or 18th streets, Grand Valley Road or the western reaches of McDonald Avenue showcase vast stretches of flooded walking lanes, pagodas and other public gathering spaces, baseball diamonds, golf courses, picnic sites, soccer fields and family playgrounds, and the superb grounds associated with the Riverbank Discovery Centre.
Indeed, much of the city’s parkland is unusable; some of that drowned land has been unusable for several years.
Public green spaces are a city’s soul, the places where everyone can gather and mingle. Try to imagine New York City without Central Park or Boston without Boston Common, Vancouver without Stanley Park or Minneapolis without its fabled Minneapolis Park System, or London without Regents Park. You can’t — parks are as central to those cities’ identities as any piece of landmark architecture.
So too with Brandon. Our public spaces also help define us — music in Princess Park and movie screenings in Rideau Park are just two examples of how our parks bring us together.
But should parkland simply be redeveloped along the river’s banks, if it means rendering that parkland unusable every few years?
We are not suggesting throwing out the baby with the floodwater. We suspect that Brandonites are too attached to the Riverbank system and Dinsdale Park, and perhaps Eleanor Kidd Park as well, to give them up. We support redevelopment of the lands associated with the Riverbank Discovery Centre. Simply abandoning all of our waterfront park space is too radical a solution. As a soon-to-be-elected new city council grapples with the question of how best to restore our green spaces, we do not suggest abandoning our riverfront spaces altogether.
We do believe the city should consider whether some of that green space — such as recreational facilities and picnic sites — could be built anew, away from the increasingly frequent ravages of the Assiniboine. We recognize that the task would not be easy, beginning with a comprehensive cataloguing of possible locations for new parks to replace the old, and acknowledge that we do not have easy answers. For example, what would become of the old parks — could they simply be allowed to revert to natural flood plains? As such they could serve as unofficial nature preserves within the city, providing spaces for wildlife.
But we do believe this conversation needs to be held in Brandon, guided by the city’s government.