Friday, October 15, 2010

That was the plan, anyway

Looking through the Manitobia project, I came across several interesting items that show some of the rationalization behind the planning and urban renewal that reshaped the metro Winnipeg region after the Second World War.

In a letter to the Tribune in March of 1941, a Mr. A.V. Turner said that a city doesn't need to suffer a Blitz to be bombed to be rebuilt. Also interesting is the "anything and everything for employment" which has continued to drive much of government economic policy since the Depression.

The Tribune could see what was coming, and in May, 1944, an editorial proclaimed that "the present crowding of people into the city proper cannot be expected to continue indefinitely after the war. The residential and dormitory suburbs will undoubtedly make themselves felt once the restrictions on gasoline and rubber are eased. Families will spread out to the neighboring municipalities once "walking distance" is no longer an important consideration."

Another editorial later that year encouraged more planning as soon as possible:

"Now is the time to devise an overall plan for the city as a whole. When building starts it can be guided to conform to this master plan." In England, town planning had "made great strides with provisions for green belts, shopping centres, and decentralization." Planning, it went on, could keep Winnipeg "from expanding in haphazard fashion with business residential and industrial districts hopelessly intermixed."

Hopelessly intermixed: Simcoe Street near Sargent Avenue, c.1948

Not everyone was entirely on the bandwagon. R.H. Avent, a former City Surveyor, told the Town Planning Commission in 1944 that "[the pre-Unicity] Winnipeg itself, with an area of 25 square miles, contains a population of 223,000 where there would be ample accommodation, without crowding, for over 400,000."

Avent also noted that "the scattering of population... has increased the cost of municipal administration, distribution of utilities and of transportation. It is my opinion, therefore, that the policy of the future should be centralization, without crowding, and rehabilitation of the central areas now served with utilities."

Today, only 220,000 persons live in the former City of Winnipeg boundaries, slightly less than the 223,000 that lived there sixty-six years ago.