Winnipeg could be a much better city if we concentrated on constructive action, instead of beating each other up over ideological agendas. The golf course issue is a case in point. A discussion that could have been about the best use — and best opportunities for enhancement — of public facilities has instead become a war of ideological agendas.
One of the agendas is that of Mayor Sam Katz, who advocates for an American governance practice that starts from the proposition that anything that could conceivably be done by private businesses should never be done by public officials. Katz’s argument is that Winnipeg’s 12 public golf courses are losing $850,000 a year, and that they could be managed by golf course companies, which would be able to turn the loss into a profit. (See Free Press and Sun articles.)
The other agenda is that of OURS, which stands for Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces (Full disclosure: I’m a member.), whose position is that City Council should “protect public golf courses from commercial or residential development.” That’s it. A perusal of its web site offers a wealth of names, contacts, news stories, and other relevant material, but I was unable to find further exploration of the issue.
What we’re not discussing
Katz’s position makes much of an $850,000 annual expense for maintaining the courses (not, on the face of it, an intolerably burdensome proportion of a $111 million community services budget), but offers no enlightenment regarding entrance fees. Those of us who love Winnipeg know at least two things about our city:
• Winnipeggers like to take full advantage of our short but salubrious summers by engaging in outdoor activities, including golf.
• We wouldn’t be lying if we renamed Winnipeg Frugality City.
I take the position that golf is a good walk spoiled, but if I loved golf, my first question to Mayor Katz would be: How will the cost of a golf game be affected? I could find nothing in the material released in support of the sale and private management of city golf courses that addressed the question of entrance fees.
Unfortunately, my friends at OURS are vulnerable to a comparable line of criticism. If it’s really true, as Mayor Katz’s audit claims, that the golf courses are suffering from a “declining user base” (Winnipeg Sun), is it outrageous to suggest that there might be a better use for open space than golf courses? If we open that question to discussion, at least two other considerations come into play.
▪ Golf courses are not really open spaces in the usual meaning of that term.
On a golf course, we can’t take our dog for a walk, play touch football, or lie down in the shade. So, suppose, for the sake of an argument that may get me expelled from OURS, we decide that one of our 12 golf courses would be suitable for residential development. Suppose further that we decided collectively, at long last, that we’re a real city, and not just an awkwardly oversized, gawky prairie town, and took the almost unprecedented step of using the former golf course for a real urban development, with multi-family dwellings and stores within walking distance. We could then think about a second consideration:
▪ Public transportation:
A Google search of Winnipeg golf courses suggests that at least a few of them are strategically located near such major transportation arteries as Main Street, Pembina Highway, Fermor Avenue, Archibald Street, and Inkster Boulevard. If so, a small part of a golf course could be used for multi-family housing or apartments, and stores, within walking distance of a transit stop, and the rest could become real open space, not just space for golfers.
But we can’t consider that. That would be addressing real urban issues, and beating up our ideological enemies is so much more fun.