Marcy Markusa: Our urban-suburban problem

As CBC Radio One presents the series 'Winnipeg at 1,000,000' this week, Marcy Markusa is calling on people on both sides of the urban-suburban divide to stop picking on each other.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to stick up for suburbia.

I'm going to play the role of the "friend" of neighbourhoods like Waverley West and Sage Creek today. I'm the friend that's going to stand up and ask, "Why are you picking on them?"

Here's the context: I have sat in on far too many conversations lately, both private and public, about urban sprawl that end up turning into discussions about "those people."

Let me describe "those people" in the way that they have been described to me:

  • They are the people who live in suburbia.
  • They are the people who must have no taste because their homes are bland and homogeneous.
  • They don't value trees, they drive everywhere, they own multiple cars and, as such, must have a careless disregard for the environment.
  • Their palates are bland because you spot them inside chain restaurants.
  • They have postage-stamp yards, no sidewalks and they are afraid of downtown.

Did I miss anything? Wait — I did.

Usually after offering the description of "those people," this rhetorical question gets posed in a sarcastic tone, "Who would want to live there?"

Depending on the crowd, knowing smiles and even a chuckle can follow that last remark.

'Those other people'

Now, to be fair, I have also been involved in a number of discussions with suburban residents who talk about "those other people."

Let me describe "those other people" in the way that they have been described to me:

  • They are the people who live in urban neighbourhoods.
  • They wear natural fibre clothing and eat hemp seed.
  • They would happily give up a vehicle for a good pair of Birkenstocks, and they are prepared to protest everything.
  • They purchased their character home for a fraction of its current value but they can't fathom why you would choose something twice the size for the same cost in the 'burbs.
  • They live in houses with heavy traffic volumes so their kids can't run freely outside, yet they feel superior because there is a cool Ethiopian place nearby instead of a Boston Pizza.

Alright, enough painting with the wide brush.  

I seriously fear that our attitudes about "here" and "there" are not productive or positive in a city that is struggling with the question of how to grow.

Last night at the University of Manitoba, we had a wonderful discussion about what our city could be like in 2033, when the population of greater Winnipeg is projected to be one million.

We talked about the idea of creating "human" neighbourhoods that people could fall in love with, and there was analysis about how newer areas like Waverley West aren't developed to encourage walking.

The divide gets personal

Inevitably, the urban-suburban divide got personal.

One person asked a question and actually prefaced it by saying she "used to live in one of those neighbourhoods when she first moved here, but now lives in the inner city." It was almost shared as an embarrassing fact with the crowd.

There was also a comment on Facebook that said, "Winnipeg at 1 million will look a lot like Whyte Ridge as huge farms of beige garage doors seem to be the only architecture we are capable of constructing."

Inevitably, suburbia tweeted back to @cbcmarcy: "Sage Creek. Best neighbourhood and street ever. Tons of kids playing outside all day. All neighbours know each other."

Panelist Wanda Wuttunnee also felt the need to weigh in, offering that she used to live in a suburb with a culde sac and people made efforts to get together for block parties and fireworks to stay connected as a community.

We deserve a well-planned city

My point is this: as long as there is an "us versus them" mentality in Winnipeg, on either side of the debate, we won't figure out how to move forward.

The people who have purchased houses in Waverley West aren't responsible for the downfall of downtown. Everyone deserves a well-planned neighbourhood, no matter where it is, and collectively we all deserve a well-planned city.

Perhaps if we stop judging each other's decisions about where we live and seek leadership from our decision-makers about the future planning and development of Winnipeg, then we might be better off.

Business leader Jim Carr said we need decision-makers who will have the guts to stick to their city plans.

Carr also said we are about to have a generation of boomers who would love to downsize and live in the city centre, but can more readily afford a smaller house out in the newer suburbs as they seek the best bang for their buck.

So we need vision and we need to stay on topic.

Where I live

Since I made it personal, I will end with the answer to a question you may have been asking yourself while reading this: "Where do you live, Marcy?"

I live in River Heights. I love it! It's beautiful, centrally located and full of trees and sidewalks.

Most of my family and closest friends, however, live in North Kildonan, Southdale and Riverbend, so those are neighbourhoods that I find myself in quite often.

They live there because it works for them. I live where I live because it works for me.

Once someone tried to give me credit for choosing a neighbourhood in the city centre and not giving in to urban sprawl.

"Funny," I thought, "I just like big baseboards."

About the Author

Marcy Markusa

Host, Information Radio

Marcy Markusa hosts Information Radio on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM / 990 AM in Winnipeg. Born and raised in the Manitoba capital, Marcy is passionate about the future of our community and loves how it's growing in both confidence and prosperity. She thrives on getting honest and straight-forward answers for listeners and infuses the show with her energetic warmth and sense of humour.


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