Next Wednesday, Aug. 20, the city will host a gathering of interested citizens at the Keystone Centre.
In a hall at the Keystone Centre, city staff will present — and listen to — ideas for a new Greenspace Master Plan. That’s the plan that will guide this community’s greenspace vision for the immediate future.
Greenspace is an oft-overlooked amenity in civic life. It’s all the parks and playgrounds and pools and paths that turn a city from a place to function into a place to live.
People who attend next Wednesday will have the opportunity to participate in an interactive workshop that will identify greenspace needs and wants. This is the best opportunity for people to shape the master plan before a first draft is done.
The hall they’ll hold this gathering in has a capacity of 140 people.
We hope it will be full to bursting.
If, however, the past is any guide, far fewer than 140 people will bother to show up. Probably fewer than 40. Possibly fewer than 14. And that’s a shame.
Brandon’s current Greenspace Master Plan dates from 2002. Many of the community workshops held to identify priorities at that time were done the year before. They reference — a lot — a Brandon of the 1990s. That’s a city that had just come off the ’97 Canada Games. A city that had just opened a Maple Leaf plant. A city where Dave Burgess was a first-term city councillor.
Brandon has grown and changed dramatically since then. Although we don’t need to enumerate the ways here, so too have our recreational needs changed.
Even the city, in its media release, allows that the current plan is "outdated." Left unsaid is the fact that it expired more than two years ago, and the pressing need for a new plan was identified in 2011 in the city’s original Roadmap for Growth.
Despite the fact that it is just now being gotten around to, the city still lists a new plan as a "green" item (meaning on track for completion and on budget) in its current Roadmap.
The existing, badly dated master plan still guides some city planning. The very popular new Rideau Park Spray Park opened a little more than six weeks ago but was first envisioned in 2002, although much of the planning work, of course, was far more recent.
But other items in the plan have fallen by the wayside. A "downtown greenway" was ripped out last year to make way for a new Lorne Avenue bike lane. A grid of many other bike lanes proposed in 2002 just never materialized, in particular ones planned for Dennis Street, Ninth Street, 17th Street, 25th Street, Brandon Avenue, Van Horne Avenue and Stickney Avenue.
Brandon’s popular bike and walking paths still suffer from a lack of connection into the centre of the city, which those bike lanes would have helped with. They also suffer from poor connections at many places where cars rule —most pressingly at 18th Street and Maryland Avenue and at the First Street bridge.
Many other cities are beginning to treat cycling as transportation, not greenspace recreation, and the state of the art for urban bike lanes is moving forward extremely quickly. In this regard, Brandon is now a dozen years behind even its own plan.
In other respects, though, the plan has been followed quite well. Much of the envisioned recreational trails that still needed to be finished in 2002 have since been laid out and paved. Parks, playgrounds and schoolyards were updated and are still, largely, in good shape.
But there’s no debating that the city is correct when it calls the plan outdated. Huge residential developments, in particular at Brandon’s south fringes, have sprouted since the turn of the millennium; they’ll need new consideration now for greenspace and recreation.
Neighbourhoods that may have been filled with elementary schoolkids when the last plan was crafted will now be home to families of high schoolers and university students. Recreational facilities that were appropriate in 2002 may seem juvenile today.
Climate change, too, should play a role in the new plan. What was hotly debated then is a settled question now. As we wrote in this space yesterday, the massive floods of 2011 and this year may force us to re-evaluate our relationship with the Assiniboine River — a significant part of the city’s greenspace that has been dealt a double whammy of flooding.
But floods may be followed by droughts, and planning for a good greenspace will have to take both extremes into account.
Other cities, for example Chicago, are changing the types of trees they are planting, with the knowledge that a warming climate will favour different species than they have planted in the past, and that trees planted now will have to thrive in a climate 30, 40 or 100 years hence.
We are certain that every reader has their own ideas for what greenspace priorities are important. Does the city need new parks? Larger parks? Smaller, pocket parks? Wide trails? Drinking fountains? Decorative water fountains? Playgrounds? Sports facilities? Grassy areas? Flowerbeds? Trees and bushes? Paddling pools? Adult swimming areas?
What about hours of operation? Many city parks officially close at 11 p.m. — tragically early in late June when the sun is still setting at that time.
What about weddings and other private bookings? What about organized sports leagues and pickup games? What about winter use?
Do current greenspaces need better signage? More washrooms? More natural spaces? More manicured areas? More dog parks? Do they need to take safety more into account? What about the environment? What about costs and funding? Should corporate sponsors be allowed? What about private donors?
All of those and more are questions that are up for debate at Wednesday’s meeting.
The plan will guide city planning for a decade (or more) and Brandonites who are interested in having their views on civic greenspace heard have a duty to attend. It’s in the CKLQ Hall at the Keystone Centre, on Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 6:30 p.m.
Shall we see you there?