Monday, May 15, 2006

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The 18th Street Bridge that crosses the Assiniboine River by Elanor Kidd Park (properly known as the Thompson Bridge) has been receiving a fair bit of attention. The 2-lane bridge has seen increasing traffic and congestion problems, as has the rest of 18th street. Manitoba Premier Gary Doer in addressing the Brandon Chamber of Commerce recently, mentioned, among other things, plans regarding the bridge. The fact that the headline drawing attention to the speech in the print version speaks for itself. A few days prior, another article asked what was happening with the bridge.

The main reason for the bridge attracting more traffic is the Corral Centre. It's a new shopping development that was built in the north end of Brandon, between the Assiniboine River and the North Hill, right across from the Riverbank Discovery Centre. The first major store to arrive was Home Depot in the summer of 2004 and it has continued to expand rapidly. It now houses stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart, and construction on it continues. A second set of traffic lights has been added near the base of the hill on 18th street. The developers were attracted to the open space, and some people living north of the Assiniboine were happy to have services available to them on their side of the river.

However, the Centre has caused problems. Even when it was first proposed, several people in the area were strongly opposed, citing such reasons as attracting too much traffic or the wisdom of placing a major mall right next to a nature area. As for the bridge? Not only will it be costly to expand whenever the political promises finally become reality, but on one side the land is owned by the government as a research farm, and a park on the other end. Where will the bridge expand to? Oh, but it will bring jobs, it's all worth it, the project's supporters will say. Brandon's economy is, in large measure, a service economy, and the Centre merely adds more of the same types of jobs Brandon already has, and as most of these are retail outlets, on balance they bring more dollars out of Brandon than they bring in. And it's not even known at this point if the Centre has had any negative impacts on business in surrounding rural communities.

What I just mentioned describes the problems with planning based on suburban sprawl. Aside from the environmental problems, there are also the public costs of providing infrastructure. Often this accompanys business closures and residential flight from core areas of a city, causing even more problems, as empty areas detract from a city and bring with them unpleasent elements. It's a planning model that is unsustainable, but careful planning and consideration can yield viable alternatives.


Post a Comment

<< Home