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From Vision to Action: Winnipeg’s Journey Towards Sustainable Urban Green Spaces

Nature and greenspaces are integral to the health and development of a community, especially in urban centres. Ample flora can maintain a city’s equilibrium, improve the mental health of its residents, stabilize biodiversity, and combat the effects of climate change.

Taking a step not only toward the future of sustainable urban planning and environmental stewardship but also for action in the journey of reconciliation, the City of Winnipeg is at the forefront of a groundbreaking initiative to integrate Indigenous perspectives into municipal policymaking processes.

“This policy isn’t just about green spaces, says Shauna Prociuk, a project manager with the City of Winnipeg, “the whole point of the co-development policy process is that we’re developing policy together because our green spaces don’t have they don’t see boundaries they don’t see edges.”

Incorporating Indigenous voices was crucial for the city, states Procuik, “to uphold commitments to the Indigenous Accord, Truth and Reconciliation, and UNDRIP. We’re located in Treaty One Territory; these Indigenous peoples have been here way before the city was even built.”

The City of Winnipeg approached the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIR) to embark on a collaborative leadership initiative. This partnership aims to co-develop policies that reflect and integrate Indigenous values and traditional ecological knowledge from the outset.

The Indigenous partners signing on to join the co-development team are:

  • Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC)
  • Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO)
  • Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF)
  • Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO)
  • Treaty One Nation
  • Tunngasugit – Inuit Resource Centre

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) was invited to attend a mayor’s meeting to discuss co-developing the proposal in March 2024. Although the project is still in its infancy, AMC has been invited to review the draft request for approval and to support the selection of a consultation once the request for proposal submissions is received.

In a request to AMC for comment, they stated they look forward to continuing this work and that involving First Nations organizations in policy discussions is crucial as it acknowledges the land in question in Treaty land and the rights and deep connections First Nations have to it.  

“First Nations have been stewards of the land long before the creation of federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Including First Nations from the planning and development stages is part of what reconciliation is about. This inclusion is a vital step to understanding how First Nations and non-First Nations can work together in a way that is respectful of First Nations inherent and Treaty Rights. Additionally, First Nations bring invaluable traditional knowledge about environmental stewardship, ensuring that policies protect, enhance, and restore natural areas within the city’s built environment for generations to come. This approach not only supports sustainable development but also ensures the long-term health and preservation of natural areas.”

At the heart of this policy initiative lies the concept of greenspaces. These are defined broadly as any living area not covered by concrete, asphalt, or buildings. From parks to boulevards and river corridors, greenspaces play a vital role in environmental sustainability, social equity, economic prosperity, and the overall well-being of city residents.

“Greenspaces are vital to environmental sustainability, social equity, economic prosperity, health and well-being of our city and its people,” Procuik explains.

The initial discussions have emphasized the significance of river corridors as ecological networks that sustain both wildlife and urban communities. Enhancing these corridors protects natural habitats, safeguards against erosion, and enhances water access for all residents, including Indigenous communities.

Looking ahead, the City of Winnipeg has launched a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit consultant services to develop a comprehensive plan and policy framework. This framework includes a state-of-the-landscape report to assess current conditions and the value of green infrastructure across the city. It will culminate in a green space and natural corridors plan, a biodiversity policy, and a strategic implementation plan.

Public engagement is integral to this process. While the website detailing these developments is still in the works, Winnipeggers are encouraged to stay informed through official channels and the ongoing RFP process on Mercs. This transparency ensures that stakeholders, including Indigenous communities and equity groups, have a meaningful opportunity to contribute to and shape these policies.

Procuik emphasizes that this initiative is about creating a sustainable future where urban development and environmental conservation go hand in hand.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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