In the past few weeks, I have driven over half of Manitoba and Alberta so coming home to Winnipeg’s dilapidated streets hits the eye with more force than ever.
The patched up pavements, the crumbling curbs, the sorry, ugly boulevards full of red stone, infested with weeds, or even worse, barren, grassless, muddy spots where once was a smooth field of green all depress me.
And don’t even get me started on the trees – well, I have to say something, because seeing their sad plight actually hurts me. Even here in “beautiful” Charleswood, there are a dozen leafless, dead trees on the boulevards and, of those that are not dead, many are dying. Others display lifeless limbs or great wounds near ground level where machinery has carelessly gouged the bark during winter snow clearing. Dead trees adorn the edge of Assiniboine Park, too.
Recently, Gail Asper wrote a letter to the editor of our daily newspaper decrying the lack of a “logical, coherent and efficient” road repair program. She was so right. Not only does the city disrupt a large number of neighbourhoods and main arteries every summer, but they do so in a manner that guarantees they will be back again soon. Case in point, are the half streets that get repaved for a block or maybe two, then stop, sometimes at an intersection that is filled with patches and potholes. Moreover, they do these repairs and don’t touch the curbs (a different department?) so they have to come back or, as is more and more often the case, allow the curb to crumble away to nothingness.
More disturbing is the latest lazy wrinkle in boulevard management. In a few cases, the grass has been replaced with a paving of cheap asphalt, drab and gray and dirty looking. This was done when the bridge was repaired a couple of years ago in the centre median of Roblin approaching the Perimeter Bridge. This has also been done on Kenaston in the median at the corner of Beaverbrook. Why?
It wasn’t always like this. Back in the day, I would frequently travel to Edmonton where the same condition we see here in Winnipeg today prevailed there. I felt pretty smug about our well-kept streets. I remember feeling some scorn for that pretentious town that couldn’t even maintain its public spaces.
Now I despair at my own hapless city. Our once showcase avenue, Broadway, has its boulevard lined with broken concrete blocks, the grass unmaintained, the trees losing ground to disease and insects. The irrigation system that once watered the grass and the trees has been shut off due, one supposes, to a lack of interest in maintaining the equipment. Thank God, the province has determined to repair memorial Boulevard, and one hopes, part at least of this once lovely avenue. However, this will make the rest of the street look even worse in contrast.
Portage Avenue is a patchwork of maintenance and disrepair. Hard to believe that in this day of green consciousness empty tree coffins all along the Avenue remind us of a kinder, gentler day when trees actually were a priority for the city.
St. James is a mess, and then it becomes ordered, then turns into a mess again at Polo Park and beyond. Things pick up for a while as you approach downtown, but even there the maintenance seems to vary greatly and there are several dead, dead, dead trees very near Memorial. Even the quality of the floral displays varies greatly. Some look terrific, others are barely hanging on. Is this inconsistency due to zonal management? If so, where is the supervisor or inspector who should be maintaining consistent quality control?
Finally, we come to Portage and Main. What prompted the multi-coloured painting of these ugly lumps of concrete? If this was meant as a nod to gender diversity, I am sure the artists among them are horrified. The barriers looked bad before. Now the paint just brings attention to them and to our bad taste as a city.
When I drive out to surrounding communities, curbs are tidy, boulevards are green, trees are trimmed, streets are unpatched. What has happened to the priorities, the organization, the management of our City? In so many ways, it is such a lovely place and it could be so much more so. Here and there you glimpse little bits of possibility – the beautiful floral planting in front of the Fairmont is an example, but down the street, the Hudson Bay store has been allowed to decay both inside and out.
It breaks my heart.