Monday, November 9, 2009

Walkin' Around, Downtown

For those of you who didn't know, Mr Slurpees and Murder himself has been back in town for awhile. He put this post up after taking a stroll downtown:

"... empty storefront. One of the top twenty arenas in the entire world, and nobody can put together a business plan for prominent adjacent storefront."


It has all sorts of win. Check it out.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Red River College officially begins Union Bank Tower makeover

Can you fall in love with a building? I think I did.

Earlier today (much earlier), Red River College officially begins renovations to turn the Union Bank Tower into a high-end culinary arts training machine, restaurants, and most importantly, student residences. I think the King's Head is going to need a 3rd floor....

All the suits were there, smiling away for the photo-op, including the Mayor, Vic Toews, Ron Lemieux, and RRC President Jeff Zabudsky. Jeff looks mighty fine in them pinstripes. Each made a short speech, which I must say, did not sound like most political rhetoric about downtown and whatnot that I expected, with the exception being Lemiuex's little talk. It seems like people are genuinely excited, and they should be, to put to use this beautiful and iconic building that has been empty for far, far, far too long.

After the little speeches in a somewhat blustery Exchange District we were able to go inside the building and take a look around the main floor. Most of it was as predicted, in shambles, peeling paint and such.

But my goodness is that building ever gorgeous on the inside. They sure as hell don't make banks the way they used to.

As someone who has never witnessed the inside of the building, I was absolutely awestruck. Such a powerful and grand interior. This is something that people stopped doing, this is why I love urban environments. This is why I'd rather shop downtown than in some boring stripmall with a bunch of souless buildings and half empty parking lots. This was a thing of beauty.

Although the building was still in use when I was in my early childhood, I have only stories from my mom and grandparents about what this building used to be like. The only other thing I know about it is what I've learned from working at Pantages Playhouse, an underground tunnel connects the theatre to the bank.

Below are some pictures I took of the interior. Architect Dudley Thompson from my favourite Prairie Architects was also on hand with some renderings of the completed building.

The first two pictures are of the ceiling and the pillars. The detail in the ceiling is quite amazing. I hope not too much of it has been damaged beyond repair. The ceiling is easily the most striking feature of the interior, with those pillars in a close second.




A close-up of the detail of the ceiling around the pillars.



A perspective shot, for those who haven't been inside. The camera guy on the side should hopefully give you an idea of just how huge the interior space is. Also note those giant windows. Whenever did those awful flourescent lights become the norm...



This is the single greatest project that is happening right now in our downtown, in recent memory, and probably in not-so-recent memory. Red River College is taking a risk. They are investing in a 105-year-old building, they are moving students and classrooms downtown. They are taking advantage of old vacant buildings to build a unique and buzzing college experience.

Out with the old, in with the new is not a strategy that should be applied downtown. Infill is nice, new condos are nice, but....every building that can be saved downtown should be. This is our infrastructure, and it's already there, waiting to be put to good use. Like I said, they don't build buildings like they used to. Tearing them down and replacing them with newfangled curvy things, glass, and parkades does not do our downtown justice.

I only wish that every politician in this city acted like Red River College. That way progress downtown might actually happen on a consistent basis. Instead of saying their hands are tied, we need more parkades, its not cost effective.

The Union Bank Tower will serve as a shining example of what political will and vision can accomplish. Hopefully it's proximity to City Hall will be a constant reminder of what "downtown progress" really means.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Here's another one for the Museum

Will the Canadian Museum for Human Rights have the balls to unveil some of the atrocities oil and gas corporations inflict on third world countries? This is nothing short of appalling.

After all, the most relevant human rights issues are the ones that are happening right at this moment.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Observation of the summer

Malls close at 9pm on weekdays and 6pm on weekends.

Sugar Mountain on Corydon, is open until 11pm.

What do I do, throw my hands up in the air? Here we are, wondering how to attract people downtown and how to bolster the Exchange District. The solution to this apparently, is to erect parkades, to make downtown more like suburban shopping malls than Corydon Avenue. Malls and retail franchises shut down at 9pm, while Corydon is just getting started.

Corydon is also conspicuously missing any sort of parking structure. Good grief Charlie Brown, ye must walk to Sugar Mountain.

But of course, people don't go to Corydon for one store. You might go for a drink or dinner, and walk around after. I wonder why Downtown is not approached in the same manner.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spoke Impact, Tour for Life

I'd like to let my readers know about a feat of great physical and mental strength happening right here in Winnipeg.

Tomorrow will be the final day of the 23-day Tour for Life lead by ultra-cycling-marathonist Arvid Loewen. The Tour for Life is designed around the start and end dates of the Tour de France, and starting early Sunday morning, Arvid will embark on a 24-hour marathon day to raise money for a Kenyan orphanage. A whopping $69 dollars will be pledged for every kilometre Arvid packs on during the final 24 hours.

You can check out the Tour for Life page right here.

Of course it doesn't end there, the more physically active readers out there can participate in Spoke Impact as well.

On Spoke Impact, you can contribute to the charities by keeping track of your physical activity. It works by pledging a nominal amount of your choosing, per kilometre or per minute you run/bike/swim/whatever it is that you do. You can sign up at spokeimpact.com.

I have decided to pledge 5 cents per kilometre I run, which should work out to around 8 or 9 dollars per month.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

So...how serious are we about this new Plan Winnipeg?

Here's the first test.

City councillors? You can get on board the new plan. Before it's even drafted.

Save the Grain Exchange Annex from doom. We all know the last thing we need downtown, is more fucking parking.

The city's historic buildings committee says it's a rare downtown example of 1920s architecture, but council's Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee supports the owner's plan to demolish the Annex to make way for a parkade.

The committee did not have quorum on Tuesday, so the hearing is now slated for July 13


Seriously, these kinds of shit plans only send our downtown into further debauchery. If the easiest thing to do in this city is bulldoze an old building an erect a parkade, then no wonder our downtown isn't a bustling centre. One only needs to use half their brain to figure out that something BETTER than a parkade can go on an empty lot or old building.

Ultimately the new Plan Winnipeg will not have room for this kind of stupidity of putting up parking lot after parking lot after parkade. So why not get a head start on things?

Isn't that what we want downtown to be? Better?

Friday, June 26, 2009

How To: Consult the public.

Better late than never, but here is the as-promised post on the other open house event on Wednesday, David Asper's consultation for the new stadium plans.

Walking out of the Active Transportation open house at RRC and walking into this one in University Centre was like night and day.

Asper used a large public area, at University Centre in the multi purpose room on the second floor. He had a panel composing of four people including himself. There were two large, clearly visible screens in which slides were projected, depicting well-defined plans, easy to see and understand. Presentations were ver clear and, everybody could hear every word via the sound system that was set up. There was even complimentary cookies and drinks. When you walked in, you felt welcome and you felt like your attendance mattered.

Although it was mostly NIMBY-types who attended, this is what set Asper's open house in a different league than the Active Transportation open house. Asper WANTED THE DISSENTERS TO COME. He WANTED to hear the MOST CRITICAL people of the community. His intention was not to slap something together and advertise for this in a cowardly manner, hoping that only supporters would show up.

There was a microphone set up so that if you had concerns, you could step up and voice them. Everybody would hear you. And in most cases, David Asper himself answered the questions or addressed that person's concerns directly. For more technical questions or something to do directly with the plans, the panel helped out. They did not approach people's questions with a defensive attitude, no, they really did want to hear what residents had to say.

Although most of the concerns were about parking, noise, and rock concerts, some of them were legitimate concerns and I can say with 100% confidence that Asper will adjust his plans or add new policies based on these.

I will now outline a few awesome points about this new stadium because, as far as I could tell, there was no journalist there to formally report this and I haven't read anything in the papers about it either. Unless I missed something. I think some of these points haven't really been brought to people's attention yet.

The new stadium will boast improved security...if you're drunk and are weilding a big shit-disturbing stick, you will not be tolerated. Neither will fights. The days of rowdy shananigans in the upper deck of the East Side will be no more. The whole stadium design is part of a larger "active living environment," where all kinds of healthy choices will be promoted. Concessions, for example, will also include healthy food on the menus.

All of this according to Asper, "Sends the message....don't come here and be an idiot."

The active living plan will be continued through how they approach transportation. Apparently they will count how many steps it takes from each parking lot on campus to the stadium gates, and encourage people to walk to and from their cars. Although if you don't want to walk, apparently they are still on the Disney World style of tram-like "people mover." In addition to this, a new transit terminal will be built at the stadium site. Transit Park and Ride locations will have a game day shuttle that goes from a Park and Ride lot, to the stadium.

The entire concourse will be closed. As in, not open to the outside environment as the current stadium has. This will help contain noise inside the bowl instead of having it escape out. From any point inside the concourse, you will be able to see the field. All the lights, and speakers and TV screens and whatnot inside the bowl will be directed downwards towards the field, keeping as much noise/light inside as possible. (Read: this stadium is going to be LOUD).

This was consultation. Plans were presented in a clear and easy to understand fashion.

Although just an hour earlier, I was attempting to wrap my brain around very detailed and complex plans on little boards placed on easels, and talking to consultants who were largely unprepared for questioning.

The Asper method: to present information to people and explain what will be going on, and to directly engage those who are not happy about the plans. Well prepared, knowledgeable and articulate consultants answering questions.

The Active Transportation method: put pictures up for you to guess at while consultants tell you how great the plans are, and pretending it was an "open house" when in reality they did what they could to keep dissenters at bay. Unprepared and detail-lacking consultants more interested in defending their plans than putting them through public scrutiny.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the new stadium is a fantastic, great addition to Winnipeg and I honestly cannot find a single bad thing to say about it. I can't even say a single bad thing about how Asper went about consulting residents. Everything about this plan is great, everything about this plan is right, and everything in this plan is done in the best interests of Winnipeggers.

I wish I could say the same about Active Transportation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Active Transportation? Open House? Consultation? I laugh in your face!

Consultation? What does that mean?

It means there could be some preeeetty significant changes to you car-drivers in the somewhat near future and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.

The Active Transportation open house took place today at the Red River College downtown campus. The event had numerous boards depicting the plans for bike corridors, mostly attended by people who ride bikes and attended very sparsely by people who don't.

I thought this open house was a joke. It wasn't about consultation, it was about showing the plans they had. Upon questioning an on-hand consultant, they went into defense mode to defend their plans as were, or if you pressed for more information such as funding or budgets, they responded with "I don't knows." They had no idea, the details of otherwise completely OBVIOUS things such as snow removal, or how intersections work. It became very obvious very fast: these plans are made for cyclists without thinking about the motorist. Everything is about giving bicycles priority.

How do you do open house consultation? You do what David Asper did tonight at the University. More on that in a second post. But I digress....

Which doesn't say a lot about these so-called "consultants". Some of these active transportation things CLEARLY have things in them that HAVE NOT BEEN analyzed very well. Some things that should be obvious, completely overlooked. And why?

Well, because these plans are made for cyclists to accomodate vehicles. Whereas these plans should be made for vehicles to accomadate cyclists.

These plans are like, cyclist utopia.

Let's summarize the four proposed routes and then dive into some rather ludicrous details:

Assiniboine Avenue to Osborne
: I'll start with the biggest joke of them all. Simply put, this is a fucking nightmare. A few points....A cycling-only lane physically separated by a curb, 3 metres wide, from Main to Kennedy. This will result in "significant parking loss" and also completely re-route traffic on Assiniboine under the guise of "traffic calming," all to accomodate cyclists.

Bannatyne and McDermot, from Waterfront to HSC:
This plan involves, on McDermot, a cycling lane the whole way. Note that a cycling "lane" is just paint on the road and a "cycling track" is a lane physically separated by a special curb. That's all good and dandy. But on Bannatyne, because there is room, there will be a cycling track. This track will be 1.5 metres wide on the curb lane side of the street.

Alexander/Pacific/Elgin: This one is pretty good. This connects both Red River College campuses via Alexander and Pacific. Most of it is through somewhat residential streets, which makes things easier. What makes things stupid is how they handle high-traffic intersections, such as Alexander and Isabel. Clearly none of these consultants have driven a bike down this route. It also calls for changing some streets to a forced right turn, blocking off through traffic so bikes can go through, and funneling motor vehicle traffic elsewhere.

Eugene/Youville/Egerton: This one, like Alexander, makes some sense by using residential streets. Again, what doesn't make sense is the installation of forced-right turning in a couple of areas. Utterly stupid.


And now for some details...


As I said earlier the consultants could explain the diagrams and such very well, but were completely and totally inept at answering questions about any aspect of these plans that was NOT ABOUT BIKES.

And even if it was about bikes, they would simply defend their design. I personally watched one woman absolutely give it to two consultants, about the Alexander/Isabel intersection. She had incredibly valid criticisms. The consultants attempted to defend the design, but didn't get anywhere, because this woman clearly knew more than the consultants did on this issue. The consultants stood there and started nodding in agreement after some time. Did they take a few notes down? No. Ask for her information? Not that I could see. So what kind of consultation is this? Your complaints are duly noted, thanks for coming?

When I questioned the usefulness of a "cycling track," the answer was for cyclist safety and for "B-type cyclists." Remember, a cycling track is a lane for bikes physically separated from traffic by a special curb. A "B-type" cyclist is someone who does not ride their bike to wherever very frequently and are not experienced cyclist commuters. I asked this question because, really, is a dedicated bike lane and some paint not enough? How about snow clearing? But no, it's not the cyclist commuters they are bowing to here, it's everybody and anybody who owns a bike and may or may not be inclined to ride it.

And how DO you clear the snow, I asked? With a bike lane, it's simple. You can clear it just the same as you do with everything else. With a cycling track? That requires either a new machine or a sidewalk machine. I even had one consultant tell me that cycling tracks would get PRIORITY for snow clearing!

...WHAT? What kind of fucked up city do we live in where CYCLISTS safety in the winter comes BEFORE VEHICLE SAFETY?!

How much money would it cost to clear cycling tracks? No answer. Actually, anyt question about money was deflected. How much does any of this cost, ballpark figure? No answer. How much has the city budgeted for consulting? No answer. They couldn't answer anything about cost for ANY OF THIS! So how did they design these plans? Without regard for COST!

One of the things that makes the least sense, aside from cycling tracks on a street like Bannatyne, is the idea of creating a "forced right" situation in the residential neighborhoods. Say we have a four-way stop. With these plans, they would plunk down a barrier on one of the streets to prevent through-vehicular traffic. Of course, this adds to traffic volumes on other residential streets, and creates a thoroughfare for cyclists. It's a RESIDENTIAL STREET! We're talking about SAFETY right? Jeebus, it's not like these corridors are for cycling down Pembina where safety IS an issue, they're going down YOUVILLE!

I inquired about the installation of roundabouts instead of lack-of-foresightingly blocking off streets and creating forced-right turning. Makes sense to me, nobody has to stop and everybody wins. Bikes don't have to stop, motorists don't have to stop, it's "greener," it's win-win for everybody. But no....it was...TOO EXPENSIVE to install roundabouts in residential neighborhoods! Not only is it too expensive, but it also allows vehicle traffic on ALL neighborhood streets. No WONDER roundabouts aren't on the table. They keep cars ON THE ROAD!

What bothers me most about this? That consultants were directly involved here. What SHOULD have happened, was the consultants set up their little boards, and leave. They had a vested interest in what they were presenting, they defended every aspect of it. Was there true data collection? Was there any value to this "consultation?" Will any of these plans change? I highly, highly doubt it.

So why can't they use some common sense here instead of pandering to cyclists?

Why can't they install roundabouts instead of blocking residential streets and creating forced-right turns?

Why can't they take a lesser travelled residential street instead of a precarious high volume one?

Why can't they just paint a bike lane on the road and call it a day instead of making a new curb and new infrastructure just for cyclists?

Why can't they put a bike lane on Assiniboine instead of turning it into an absurd clusterfuck of intertwined one-way streets and single-lane roads with parking on both sides all designed for "traffic calming?"

Why can't they scale back their plans in the interest of saving money? Unless City Hall is prepared to doll out at least 10 million dollars, there is absotively no bloody way all four of these plans will see the light of day in their entirety.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm SUPPORTIVE of getting cyclists some road space. But this is absurd. There's good ideas in some of these plans, I'll give them that. But it's the bad ideas that they cling to and defend. It's when they make the motorist the second-class citizen in the transportation department that things go sour. It's when you put consultants in charge of drafting plans that would see the priority on roads go from car owner, to casual bike rider, things go awry.

I'm ALL FOR improving cyclists' lives. But unlike the multitude of bike lobbies in this city, I ACCEPT that Winnipeg is a car-driven city. We aren't going to change that, and it's absurdity to try to do so.

What we can do is put some things in place to make it easier and more attractive for cyclists. We can make little bike lanes like there is on Princess now. We can use existing infrastructure and turn it into cyclist's paradise such as the Marconi Line. We can plan bike lanes and even cycling tracks when we build new roads, or widen existing ones. That's how you can do it intelligently.

Up tomorrow: How to consult the public properly, featuring David Asper and the new Stadium Plan.

Until then, look forward to road blockages, new one-ways, cycling tracks, bike priority queing at intersections, and potentially dangerous, not-very-well-thought-out cycling lanes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'Round and 'round the Charette we go

Lots of info and stuff in this post. Warned.

Today started off with the Speak Up Winnipeg official launch outside City Hall. The Mayor said a few words and had the Speak Up Winnipeg Street Team there for a photo op. Why do I mention this? Well, cause, I'm one of the 8 Street Team-ers. Tom Brodbeck was taking pictures, I'm not sure if he's writing a piece on it for tomorrow or what.

Here is the website if you haven't checked it out or signed up yet. And yes, it really is important that you register and post comments, which may become clear later in the post.

So that was the morning.

In the late afternoon, one of the Speak Up Winnipeg one-week special topic discussions was also started. This would be the special topic of what seems to be a recurrent theme on my blog here, downtown. It started at 5pm at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I missed the opening speeches but managed to make it for the charette. If you don't know what a "charette," is, it is more or less a roundtable event for idea generation.

These things are organized by Placemakers, a consulting firm that gathers ideas and data from groups and discussions such as these, and tables a report about it. I had quite a lengthly talk with Ben Brown from Placemakers after the event about this. One of the things I talked about was my reservations about this plan working, if it had teeth, if politicians and planners would actually follow the ideas generated from these forums, if planners and politicians listened to Placemakers' recommendations. Ben put it quite simply....the City is paying for Placemakers to gather this data from the citizens of Winnipeg and make their recommendations, and the report will be available to the publc. So this isn't a summer's worth of events to gather data that will just get sucked into the deep, dark, black hole of beauracracy and red tape.

Placemakers also has a blog called PlaceShakers with quite a lot of interesting content.

I had a great time at my table, so I'd like to say thank-you to Eleanor, Brittany, Rob and Keith McCaskill. Yes, even the Chief himself was there, which I didn't know it was him until the introductions went around, I wouldn't have been able to recognize him otherwise. It became obvious that our little group of 5 was very like-minded and shared a lot of the same views and opinions which was great because it made everyone really comfortable to talk about things we liked and disliked.

There were 3 questions/topics asked to the tables: things that make you happy in Winnipeg, favourite buildings and natural spaces.

Our group had a lot to say about culture, diversity, mixed use communities, downtown buildings. Things like festivals and block parties, areas like the Exchange and downtown in general took most of our discussion time up. I made sure to mention the importance of having buildings come right up to the sidewalk, with no setbacks. For natural spaces we talked mostly about riverbanks and waterways.

Other notables from other tables included:

Jeff Browaty's table stating an observation that perhaps needed to be stated. That people seem to appreciate compact urban design, yet want to keep their suburban home, yard and garage.

Surprisingly, somebody mentioned the value of riverbottom forests. Loyal readers may remember that this was one of my top 5 "wishlist" of things I hoped people would address at the Mayor's Symposium. It's good to see people talking about it. Riverbottom forest, to begin with, is awesome, thick, and diverse. It keeps the riverbank where it's supposed to be. Preserving these forests could very well save tens of millions in the future, from having to uglify the banks with giant walls of limestone rock.

Someone mentioned the MTS Centre as a favourite building. Regardless of what you think of it's current location and what was there before it, and even though it is "too small" for an NHL team and definitely cramped up there in the 300 level, it's a huge draw. It's a busy venue, we get tons of concerts to fill our cup of ego and we've proven we can pack it for AHL hockey. That means more people come downtown more often. That's a plus in my books.

There were also several comments about biking and cycling and whatnot, but....I'll hold off commenting on that since I'll be at the open house on Wednesday.

As far as the rest of the week goes, it's pretty full. There is a schedule of events right here. Wednesday is Transit type stuff and a visioning workshop (not sure what that entails), Thursday is a mixed bag of sorts, then it wraps up on Friday. I'll try to attend whenever I can.

If you can make it out to the WAG for any of these things, do so. You'll probably be surprised at whats going on and the kinds of ideas being tossed around. It's a really great, positive environment.

After the Charette was over, I headed over to Rinskide for a brewski. I just thought I'd plug the place because it was sadly empty. Although downtown was also sadly empty at 7:30pm. They also started serving breakfast as of last week.

Closing up here, as I mentioned I will be attending the Active Transportation open house tomorrow at Red River College, so I'll have another post tomorrow about that stuff. Following that I will be dropping in on the conversation on The Great Canadian Talk Show sometime around or just after 5pm to talk about all things bikes, bike lanes and bike paths.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thumbs-Up to The Forks

**Update**

Turns out the city sold over 2000 compost bins over the weekend. I'm not sure how many years they've been doing this, but it's been at least a few now for sure. This is the biggest reason I think, that makes curbside pickup questionable. A lot of people do it on their own already. It would seem like a waste to do curbside pickup that would include people who already do it.

**End update**


The Forks will start composting organic waste from it's restaurants which is, frankly, super cool.

According to Paul Jordan, 80% of the 400 tonnes of waste produced every year can be composted. This means a staggering 320 tonnes can be converted into useable soil instead of taking up space at a landfill.

Landfills will become known as a very silly and utterly stupid idea in the history textbooks of the future. Humans of course being the only organism on the planet with smarts, is apparently also the only organism on the planet that willingly pollutes it's own environment. What enters landfills is already an issue in some places that are running out of space. Most of it is completely useless crap. That is, useless crap that won't break down for thousands of years, if ever.

The other stuff in landfills is organic waste. Although many people are under the impression that this stuff just simply breaks down, this is not true. Because the organic material is thrown into a plastic bag, it is in an anaerobic environment and takes years and years to break down. A newspaper may take up to 20 years to break down under these conditions.

At the end of the day, a landfill is an ugly sight and only serves as a reminder of the consequences of our lifestyle. After the Brady landfill is filled, we'll need another one. Oh where oh where to put it? And you think there's NIMBYism in this town?

I'll be the first to say that I'm not sure curbside pickup would work or at least, I'm very skeptical of how effective it would be. I'd like to think that with a good public education campaign more people would take on home composting on their own. It's completely effortless and quite rewarding.

Until then, thumbs up to places like The Forks which take it upon themselves to go the extra step. That is really a huge commitment and incredibly beneficial for all of us. I also know that Kildonan Place Mall has implemented a composting program for it's food court businesses.

This is great news. Progressive news.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The True Value of Wetlands

I just don't give a damn about the Friends of Upper Fort Garry anymore. If you want to catch up on what's going on there, see Policy Frog or the Rise and Sprawl.

I also decided not to write an in-depth piece about wetlands. If you're interested in more, drop me a line and I'd be happy to oblige.

In short: Wetlands are invaluable. Manitoba, before settlement, was covered in Tall Grass Prairie and had uncountable acres of Wetlands and watersheds. We've killed off all but the last remnants of native prairie, one can still experience it if you drop by the Living Prairie Museum on Ness.

Wetlands, the other crucial part of Manitoba's Ecology, have suffered similar consequences to the aforementioned prairie. Unfortunately for us, this has hurt us in more ways than one.

To focus on one issue for the purposes of this post, wetlands, which I'm sure most are aware of, are a natural filtration system. They filter and clean sediments and nutrients from the water. Since settlement, they have been drained for farmland, decreasing the amount of natural filtration and increasing the stress on existing tributaries. In short, this means more sediment and more nutrient overloading streams and rivers.

With the intensive agricultural zone we live in, the effects of nutrient loading is more pronounced. Runoff from farmland and such often does not go through a wetland before entering a stream or river, on it's way to Lake Manitoba or, Lake Winnipeg. And thus, we come to what I consider to be the truth behind climate change: man has literally changed the face of the earth. In the Amazon, they might cut down trees. Here in Manitoba, we drain our wetlands. Our "swamps" or we "fill in that low spot over there," or we'll "build a driveway over that ditch."

Wetlands or "swamps" or whatever other derogatory term people use to describe them, unfortunately have a bad rap, for some reason they are unpleasant and seen as an eyesore, a nuisance, something to get rid of.

Say what you will about nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg, hog farms, the Red River, or whatever else the NDP government attempts to convince us is the reason for the declining health of the Lake. Restoring old wetlands would be leaps and bounds towards improving the health of the Lake, the watersheds in general and, Manitoban ecosystems.

In the city of Winnipeg, I've had a long-standing belief that any new retention pond built for a suburb should REQUIRE that it be constructed as a wetland. If you think this is a bad idea, look no further than the Royalwoods development off of St Anne's road. Take a drive someday. The lush wetland retention ponds created by Ducks Unlimited offshoot Native Plant Solutions has completely transformed the area into an oasis for wildlife, complimenting the existing watershed and wildlife of the Seine River.

Simply put, wetlands are a part of our history and our heritage here in Manitoba. They should be embraced as a crucial part to the health of our environment, our lakes, and even our suburbs.

And talk about a hotspot for wildlife. Especially birds.

To see a wetland in action, one can take the drive out to Oak Hammock Marsh. If you go now, you will see some serious Swallow action as they are nesting and feasting on newly hatched insects. On the water, you'll see just about everything, but I find Coots particularly interesting, as they seemingly run along the surface of the water to escape danger, you the photographer.

You can enjoy the sights and the sounds of an ecosystem that has been restored and representative of what once was. If you've never been to Oak Hammock, the number of birds flying overhead and all around you will seem truly unbelievable.

Wetlands aid in water filtration and the overall health of our water. In the future I hope more are restored, I hope politicians at the provincial level stop wasting their time on hog farms and start spending time figuring out how to restore what has been lost. They are a vibrant oasis of life, and when in great health, mosquitoes are almost non existent, without the use of larvicides or malathion.

With a little education, they could easily become an aesthetically pleasing and desired part of our landscape.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tipping point?

"I think (RRC Union Bank Tower redevelopment) will go down as one of the greatest days in the history of the Exchange District, in terms of the tipping point toward it becoming a vibrant residential district," said Ross McGowan, president and CEO of Centre Venture

I think he might be right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Progress 101

RRC could start Union Bank Tower this fall.

Now I haven't checked the dead-tree edition of the newspaper but something tells me this "back-slapping, hand-shaking and non-stop thank yous" over at the U of W is a more prominent story. Which, and someone tell me if I'm wrong about that, is a shame. Grants for research happen all the time, this one just happened to be big.(Update...I have now seen the print edition today and it seems this will be ye-day-old-news in tomorrow's paper. We'll see which is the more prominent story.)

The real winner today, is downtown Winnipeg. Which will see the beautiful Union Bank Tower restored to something resembling it's former glory.

Now if we could only get a decent grocery store there in the Exchange...



In other, completely unrelated progress news, owls replacing pesticides in the Middle East. Chemical over-use and improper use is a huge problem over there as well as in Africa. This is good news to hear.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Death By Popcorn

Please take the 60 minutes to watch Death By Popcorn, a documentary about the Winnipeg Jets.

'Kub in a glass? Really?

Monday, April 27, 2009

All in one, convenient place

All of my posts on the Mayor's Sustainability Forum right here.


Wrapping up the Symposium
30 Seconds Ahoy...Summary of Saturday's events
Live update from the WAG on Saturday
My Top 5
Prologue Part 2
Prologue Part 1
Prologue

Wrapping up the Symposium

Unfortunately, I had to leave the WAG shortly after 4pm on Saturday and didn't get to hear the closing remarks. Duty calls.

Luckily for me someone has posted something at local internet watering hole New Winnipeg which gave me some insight to how the day's events were closed up. What piqued my interest is that Terry McLeod gave the last words, and posed this great question:

Why do new shopping developments look like they were designed by people who hate cities?

Why indeed.

On the subject of New Winnipeg, I don't post there so I'll post here, but I really do not agree with some of the later comments on that thread. People stating the Mayor is just doing it for PR before an election, that he's only doing it because it somehow benefits himself, is complete and total bullshit. The first thing wrong with this ill-informed attack on the Mayor, is that the people NOT voting for him because he isn't "environmental" are faaaaar far far outweighed by people who DO vote for him. If he's running a symposium to get an additional 200 votes, he wouldn't be Mayor right now.

Secondly, why can't people accept that our Mayor REALLY IS TRYING to get stuff done here? At some point he was labelled an anti-environmentalist by some people and he can't shake it. I find I often stick up for Mayor Sam because many people don't recognize the little things that are accomplished....making a backasswards city "environmentally friendly" just ain't gonna happen overnight. People also miss out on the fact that these things start with baaaaaby steeeps. Those get overlooked far, far too often. The fact is the Mayor has spearheaded many environmental-type things in this city, do they really need to be listed on Sam's resume or something?

I don't see this as some sad attempt by Mayor Sam to "make peace" with the green people at all. As far as I can tell, he understands that we need to get going on a lot of these things and citizens by and large don't understand that it TAKES TIME. That you can't just sprinkle fairy dust and make a bike lane appear. Sam could easily draft up the new PW and shove it down our throats, but he's not. And he chose a very PROGRESSIVE way to go about doing it.

Moving on...

There were TONS of people there, I couldn't talk to them all. I contemplated putting a list of people from organizations/websites but holy crap that would just take way way too long.

I did talk to a lot of people, but I will mention George Toth, whom I had lunch with. George sits on the Mayor's Environmental Advisory Committee. After seeing several members of MEAC here and what they do/have done, it was a miracle I even made the shortlist of applicants and scored an interview. George and myself talked over lunch about a lot of things, mostly about wild, crazy things other cities have done to address the problems that face them. Really...in comparison to Winnipeg, the least we can do is take a sustainability symposium seriously.

A couple people I unfortunately did not get a chance to talk to but I wanted to, was James Beddome (Green Party MB), Paul Jordan (The Forks) and Anders Swanson (onegreencity.com). Just too many people there and not enough time.

And lastly, several people were registered to speak but did not attend for one reason or another. In particular of these absentees, I really would have liked to hear Jino Distasio (U of W Urban Studies) speak.

* * *

My "Top 5" I posted on Friday, very few of those did actually get mentioned:

1) I was disapointed to hear nothing about apartments at The Forks, but I suppose that does go in with downtown/urban density.

3) Nobody said anything about Disraeli or Louise. Or bridges. Or linking Marconi to downtown. Or anything.

5) Although nobody brought up my exact points on Transit, transportation was the number one issue on Saturday.

* * *

And there you have it, that's all I'm going to write about the events on Saturday. I will forego the roundtable discussions. Although they were interesting and certainly generated a lot of ideas I hope our politicians/planners take seriously.

Any questions about the sustainability forum I have not covered, I would be happy to answer.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

30 Seconds Ahoy

Now that I have some time and I'm not exhausted, here is an overview of yesterday morning's events. I'll go over what the Mayor said in his...keynote of sorts, summarize what people were saying in their 30 seconds and post a few quotes, and post quotes by the (only) 3 people who didn't have something good to say.

On to business...

First Nations elder Wilfred Buck opened the event with a blessing and performed a song intended to open minds and be willing to listen to others. Very nice.

Mayor Sam gave his speech, which was quite good. I was still very skeptical at this point but it was nice to hear the Mayor not bring out the usual rhetoric. In his introduction he stated that "business as usual will make it challenging to address future issues." The most promising part of his speech was more towards the end where he emphasized citizen INVOLVEMENT, not consultation.

It was at this time we were bombarded with information. One of the very, very SILLY parts of this whole thing. There's the sustainability forum we were all there for, there's some kind of eco-pavilion thing at the Forks, there's FLEET vehicles behind the WAG for being hybrids or something and, looky looky, Winnipeg joined the 21st century and launched an interactive website!

Speak Up Winnipeg.

A "call to action" draft of the plan will be out in November of this year.

Now, I'm critical of all this information because only 200 people like me were there. Aside from a couple of small newspaper stories about this forum, by and large the public did not know. Katz wants the whole city involved, but he's unveiling a website to 200 people. I think this would have been much better done if there was buildup and they got some kind of hype machine going beforehand. Also on that note, way too much information for one day. They could have limited today to registered attendees only, and used today (Sunday) or even next weekend to promote eco-pavilions and eco-races and even more events, whatever they could think of.

The Panel was introduced. They are:

Chris Corps. Perhaps the most valuable person on the panel, understands the financial side of sustainability. Most likely the Mayor's best friend on this panel.

Arne Elias. Executive Director of the Centre of Sustainable Transportation. Also on MEAC.

Ian Jarvis of Enerlife Consulting. Expert on green buildings and such.

Anne Lindsey. Executive Director of the Manitoba Eco-Network.

Jane Pagel of Jaques Whitford an environmental consulting company.

Jay Walljasper. Hailing from Minneapolis, Jay is an urbanist, focusing on the community/people level of neighborhoods. On The Commons.



Onto the 30 second epics.

CBC broadcaster Terry McLeod moderated the event. You could tell the room was kind of uneasy at first, as if everyone was thinking the same thing: how in the fuck is this going to work? But McLeod was enthusiastic about the whole thing and once we got going, it became clear that this would be a phenomenal sharing of ideas. You only get 30 seconds. That's not enough time to climb onto a soapbox.

As panelist Ian Jarvis put it, the 30 seconds worked like a "mosaic".

Some people like myself chose to focus on one specific message. Many people tried to cram in several points in their 30 seconds. Anybody taking a shot at the current PW and how it is not followed, got applause. Just about everybody there made a decent 30 second message. The people who's messages were weak, were for the most part people invited to the forum from an organization....not grassroots organizations but professional ones. The Suit would stand up and glaze everyone over with their company's rhetoric. It was lame. I say that only because it wasn't a personal, heartfelt message like the rest were. Thus they stood out.

Several themes were prevalent. In the order of popularity that I perceived:

1. Transportation/Active Transportation.
2. Density/limiting urban sprawl.
3. Accountability to the new PW/lack of accountability to the old one.
4. Social sustainability/Poor/Homeless/low income neighborhoods
5. Green/LEED buildings

I wrote down the names of everyone who participated, and wrote down the jist of what most of them were trying to say. On occasion I managed to get a quote, so here are the best.

Pam Tonsaker: Suggested using capital from expansion projects to improve urban areas and density. (Graham's note: very cool idea.)

Cam Dobie: Talked about urban sprawl and density. I'm only quoting Cam here because he used a line that I would later use in my presentation, which was about 100 people later. "Rebuild the heart of our city."

Grant Johnston: Spoke against the Stadium plan, suggesting that it was not being done in the best way and that all options may not have been explored.

Ken Klassen: Speaking of what the new plan must embody (and taking a mighty fine shot at PW 2020), "cannot cite when convenient and ignore when it's not."

Corinne Pierce: Identified herself as a professional who works downtown, and stated the need for cleaning downtown and safety. She mentioned the need for more policing downtown.

Alex Stuart: From Global Wind Group. Suggested exploring rooftop wind power. (Graham's note: Alex's presentation was met with snickers from the crowd. Unfortunately rude, I thought. I don't know how feasible this is either but at least let the guy speak). Alex silenced the crowd by stating that Mayor Bloomberg of NYC was laughed at when he suggested exploring this topic and that "I know Winnipeg is smarter than that."

Jenny Gerbasi: Wrote a Haiku poem, and got the loudest round of applause in the morning. Let's just say that some of the people in that auditorium were so left-leaning, that at times I felt like a staunch conservative.

Jeff Browaty: Spoke (surprisingly) about downtown. We need a "downtown first philosophy."

Harvey Smith: The only person to get on a soapbox. It was entertaining though.

Blaine Urban: Identified himself as being in the construction field, and shared an experience of his, "opened my eyes to new construction materials."

Eric Davidson: "Saying 'Winnipeg is a car city and always has been a car city' is not an excuse to maintain the status quo."

Gabriel Hurley: (Kudos for most entertaining presentation of the day). Gabriel crammed a 5 minute presentation into 30 seconds. He even used power point slides. While sounding more like an auctioneer, he would interject a "next slide, please!" and would continue his auctioneer-like speech. It was so fast I'm not even sure what it was about. But it was good!


* * *

People who didn't make any sense:

One person who was quite obviously at least a little bit disturbed by abou 130 presentations he had witnessed, and stated "you can't legislate where people live." No, you can't. Was this guy listening to people? I had someone make a comment like that on one of my posts quite some time ago and it didn't make sense to me then either. Nobody is LEGISLATING that you move downtown. Nobody is FORCING you to live in an apartment, and nobody ever will, so why even bother acting like pro-urbanists are going to somehow take your "freedom" away?

Another woman chose to waste her 30 seconds and talk about putting IKEA downtown. Oh! HERE they are! Where the hell were these people at the public hearing? Here you go, Tom Brodbeck. Now you can finally say that people want IKEA to go downtown. Funny, in not one of her 30 seconds did she suggest where to put it or how to do it. I suppose it could float magically above Portage Place? Also funny, IKEA is going through. Her chance to speak was at the EPC meeting which I attended, not at this forum.

And the last of 3 people to speak who did not make any sense was none other than Transcona Councilor Russ Wyatt. Wyatt went on and on about infrastructure, our crumbling infrastructure. That how we are building things isn't sustainable. "We don't have an infrastructure crisis, we have a sustainability crisis." While this is all good and true, I decided to put Russ Wyatt in the "did not make any sense" category because I personally witnessed Wyatt commit the City of Winnipeg to what will become the biggest, most unsustainable bout of infrastructure construction we have when he voted without even the slightest of hesitation in favour of the IKEA Development. You're right, Wyatt. This is unsustainable...how are we going to fix an 11 lane highway in the future when we can't maintain the 2 lane roads we have now?


* * *

That's it for now. More coming, I'm sure. I'd just like to say in closing that it was a very uplifting, positive an optimistic event. It really made people feel like we were going somewhere. The fact that the Mayor was behind this and was directly involved himself enforced this. I will also add to this and say that McLeod was a fantastic choice for moderator, he amplified people's enthusiasm and did a great job moving things along without causing any friction.

Hopefully, a lot of people sign up for Speak Up Winnipeg and take part in further events. As long as the new plan contains a measure for accountability, I think this is the real deal.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Update from the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Well it seems my Twitter was not updating, despite me sending an experiment text to see if it would work. Dissapointing.

Although I did not have many Twitter updates.

This is an enormous, enormous amount to absorb. We went through all the speakers in phenomenal time, and the 30 second format worked BEAUTIFULLY. The panel set up by the Mayor is well-rounded.

I've just finished 3 round table discussions and I must say, being here brings a great feeling of optimism.

Chatted a few times with Jeff Browaty as well as Harvey Smith, and a few other notables I've met here during the course of the day. One of my "Tweets" was that I had talked to Browaty and there were some very cool things happening in North Kildonan I will expand on later.

For now, I'm off for my Winnipeg Art Gallery tour.

Friday, April 24, 2009

PW Symposium: Top 5

If I had 30 seconds to spend on 5 different topics, this is what they would be. I hope somebody addresses these...I'm pretty sure 4 of them will. I won't hold my breath for all 5, though.


1) Apartments at the Forks.

This was a pretty bold proposal. It received mixed reactions from people, and really needs to be explored more. Combined with an expansion of the Forks Market, one wouldn't need to leave downtown for a comprehensive grocery store/shopping place. It would also get many, many people living in a place that is already designed for pedestrian traffic.


2) Green Corridors

Tree planting and such around active transportation corridors would really go a long way to make these routes look attractive and, hey, anybody planting trees gets a thumbs-up in my books for sustainability.

Particularly the barren Marconi Line. I've contacted Jeff Browaty about that already, hoping to hear back from him soon.


3) Somebody, please, for the love of God, have the decency to suggest building a 4-lane Louise Bridge with two wide sidewalks on each side for the purpose of cycling, and effectively connect the Marconi Line to downtown, kaiboshing the need for any extra pedestrian bridge or Disraeli extension.


4) Conservation of Riverbank Forests.
(The one I'm not holding out for.) Conserving potentially millions in riverbank stabilization via giant limestone walls. Also preserving rich and diverse forest types. Adds value to property. Maintains riverbank FOR you. This one is a no-brainer.


5) Transit
. Night time service, increasing transfer times (especially at night), more express routes, more buses. The works. We've done a lot recently, but there's still tons we can do.


Part 2
Part 1
Prologue

Plan Winnipeg Forum: Part 2

A sustainable city has a vibrant, dense core where people live, work, and congregate for daily activities.

Cities where things are happening, cities that draw people to them, and popular tourist destination cities all have this in common. If you go back in time, people congregated at trade posts and markets, and cities formed around those. There has always been a need for a central area where people go and where things happen.

This was even evident in Winnipeg, of course started as a trading post. Old photographs of Winnipeg show Portage and Main full of people, streetcars and horses.

Somewhere along the line we stopped doing that. That isn’t to say that nothing happens downtown, just that we stopped placing importance on making growth there self-perpetuating. It would make sense that people would want to live close to one of these congregation centres. We have a bunch of apartment towers, but none of the ones downtown were built recently. Did people stop wanting to live in apartments? Or was there some kind of avoidance in pursuing the construction of new apartment
towers downtown?

Or was there not enough parking?

A self-perpetuating core has things happening in it. As places to work spring up, so would places to live. Residents have access to everything they need, so a car may not be something people view as a need. Transit downtown is great. Work may be a few blocks away. You don’t really need to “leave” your neighborhood.

At 13 000 residents, downtown Winnipeg has the amenities and resources to support a neighborhood of probably 25 or 30 000 people. Yet so much prime real estate is taken up by parking lots to satisfy the extremely demanding needs of those commuting.
We spend so much time trying to attract suburbanites downtown, when they have everything they need in their own neighborhood.

Every functional and successful downtown in every city has a fair share of people who do commute to work there. There’s no getting around that and in Winnipeg, it will only get worse with construction of new suburbs. This requires more road construction (…jobs! Jobs!) and in the long term, more road maintenance and ever-increasing pressure on existing roads in other parts of the city.

This is not sustainable, for many obvious reasons that one could deduce from just thinking about what kinds of additional infrastructure is needed for every new suburb.

All the sustainability benefits aside there is one more big, gigantic benefit to a vibrant, dense core: Identity. Isn’t this what Winnipeg is desperately searching for, something to unify the city? A soul? Something that says “this is what Winnipeg is.” Right now it’s hard to do that, our city is fragmented and people have allegiances to different areas. A lot of people seem to have a real identity crisis with the city, as evidenced by how many people proclaimed IKEA coming as making us a “real” city.

It will be hard to make this transformation but as with anything, you have to start somewhere. And I personally think we can start by changing our attitude towards downtown.

Downtown as a destination. And downtown as the single most important piece of the puzzle to start us down a road to sustainability.


Part 1
Prologue

Plan Winnipeg Forum: Part 1

"700 000 people live in Winnipeg, but only 13 000 live in the heart of the city: our downtown. "

This forum is about sustainability. In fact, that's exactly what it says on the City of Winnipeg website, "The Mayor's Symposium on Sustainability."

The focus here is on sustainability. I have no reason to believe that the ideas floated during the course of tomorrow's events won't actually be taken at least semi-seriously. "Smiling and nodding" is generally how this kind of thing is perceived around here, but given that the entire point of this forum is to address sustainability, I think results will go a lot farther than "smiling and nodding."

I had a choice to make about setting up my message. What I wanted to do was compare these numbers to a number from Waverly West, but the time limit crept in and if I had 60 seconds instead of 30, I would have done so. Staying on the general message of focusing on downtown and linking a dense core to sustainability (theres that magic word again) seemed more important than taking a shot at Winnipeg's biggest suburb.

This has been, perhaps, my #1 point that I try to get across here on my site. I seem to have a history with this idea: two years ago I presented a project about building a mid-rise apartment tower on a surface parking lot (note: was not well received by city planners.) Recently, I cited focus on downtown and discouraging suburban growth as my go-to subject during the interview I had for MEAC. And now I'm doing it again for this Sustainability Forum.

The following number, IMO, perfectly illustrates how far away from sustainability Winnipeg continues to position itself: by the time it is finished at 10 000 homes, more people will live in the Waverly West subdivision than downtown. The only way to describe what this is, is Winnipeg shooting itself in the foot.

Of course, the approval of this plan happened all the while people were talking about "downtown revitalization" and the Mayor was boasting about his plans for BRT. Sustainability? Clearly nobody was thinking about that word at the time, BRT was planned to....NOT go to Waverly West.

The underlying reason why our population continues to grow while the downtown population remains completely stagnant is quite simple: we construct new places for people to live all the time, except that what we never do is construct new places for people to live downtown. When a chance comes up, it is squashed for one reason or another. Interpretive centres or not enough incentives for renovations, don't take away our green space (read: gravel lots) at The Forks.

Winnipeg's downtown has a staggering, enormous amount of potential. Will that potential ever be realized? It has the potential to be the beating heart of the city. It has the potential to be the place everyone talks about. Even the potential to be the place where people want to live.

Plan Winnipeg Forum: Prologue

Plan Winnipeg Forum: Prologue

Below I have posted the 30-second message I will be presenting to the Plan Winnipeg sustainability forum on Saturday. I will hopefully post more on Friday to expand the points that I feel are important.

As far as my 30-second presentation is concerned, I thought it better to go with a general, simplistic message rather than a grand scheme. I focused on one message/idea that I have developed here on my website, which is "downtown as a destination."

* * * *

700 000 people live in Winnipeg, but only 13 000 live in the heart of the city: our downtown.

A sustainable city has a vibrant, dense core where people live, work, and congregate for daily activities.

I believe for Winnipeg to be sustainable, to truly call ourselves progressive and move forward, downtown must become a destination. A place where many call home.

Downtown needs to become the true heart of the city.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

UMSU: This is for U

A great Op-Ed piece today by Carson Jerema, who used to be the editor for the Manitoban.

Many views that I also share. I also believe this is increasingly common amongst my generation. University is not necessarily seen as a means to further one's interests, but as a prerequisite for a job that pays well.

Thus many people entering the workforce are incredibly inept at their jobs, however they may feel a sense of entitlement to it because of their degree.

I've personally become tired of the argument that a degree somehow proves that you are able to work towards something and achieve a goal. The truth is, from my field anyhow, studying science for 4 or 5 years doesn't give you any real-world experience.

I have fought with myself over the past 5 years on the value of my education at the University of Manitoba. I have seriously considered dropping out at least 3 times. Because of this I find I sympathize with people who "go to school anyways". It is incredibly difficult to find someone to talk to about these kinds of feelings/issues because most people (99.9%) give you the same advice your grandparents do: stay in school and get a good-paying job. But for many of us young'uns, this advice is neither a path to happiness or fulfillment.

The biggest question students find facing themselves is "what do I want to do?" Jerema surmises only 10% are fully engaged with their studies (read: know what they are there for), which is probably frighteningly accurate. I'm sure you've all heard this story before: guy gets a degree and doesn't know what to do with it. I personally know one guy, who earned himself a History Major, only to come back to school at the age of 25 to start a Bachelor of Science. I asked him why, to which he replied "I got tired of being a bouncer." This kind of story is all too common amongst students.

This emerging attitude/problem has implications for the way UMSU and other student unions do things but I doubt they see it that way. Their single goal seems to be tunnel-visioned to lowering tuition as much as they can under the guise that it somehow makes post-secondary more attractive to prospective students. With Canadian universities the way they are, this is NOT an obstacle to attending a university. As long as you value your education, or you see it as an investment, or the first step to getting your desired career path, 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 grand a year is going to be a no-brainer. I wish UMSU would get their priorities strait.

For any UMSU people who may be reading this, the school that I WANT to attend is in Maine, and would cost me $30 000 a year to attend. THIS is unaffordable for me, as a Canadian, with limited access to funding and scholarships. I'm not about to launch into the differences between Canadian and American post secondary systems but the bottom line is that even if I was coming from a low-income American household, it would be perfectly within my means to attend this university in Maine. Why? Because funding is available. Programs are available. You aren't expected to handle the whole burden by yourself.

And it doesn't stop there for this school, they help you design your degree and they even help you find jobs. This university and many others like it only want to help and see you succeed and realize your dreams. This is why I want to go there, aside from the fact that I would be surrounded by people like myself....they WANT to see me succeed. They WANT to help me find a fulfilling career path, something I could do great things in.

This should be your focus area, UMSU. Not tuition. If people can see a means to an end, your university would instantly become more appealing. Here I have to slug it out on my own. Faculty advisers are useless. Professors are in most cases, equally as helpful as the advisers. My suggestion is stop wasting your time fighting a useless and fruitless war in a vain attempt to get the government to continue to freeze tuition rates. The cold hard truth is a large majority of students CAN afford 3 or 4 or 5 grand a year. OF COURSE we don't WANT to spend more than we have to. Maybe Mr Brown's post can help you realize that pickle.

Invest your time and energy in programs to assist low-income families. If they really can't afford it, then let's help them, give them grants, scholarships, options of paying their tuition by other means. This is a minority of students...let the students who can afford it, afford it. Create programs for those who can't. Don't waste your time painting all students with the "we can't afford it" brush.

That's a wiiiide, wide brush. It detracts from what should be the top priority:

Investing in career counseling, better advisers (ie...advisers who don't just sit there and master the Aurora system), and getting more students realizing their dream career paths. Make this easily accessible. Right now, advisers are even first come first served basis! How pathetic is that? And all they can tell me is what courses I need for my degree...they don't offer career advice or options to explore. When you go back, you might not even get the same adviser, which means you have to start from zero again. It's unbelieveably frustrating.

Advisers and counselors should be one in the same. They should not only know how to work Aurora, but offer advice on career paths. They should be seen on an appointment basis (one that you can SET UP THROUGH AURORA OR JUMP!) and you should be able to see the same adviser, over and over, throughout your academic career, just as you would a family doctor, therapist or insurance agent. They should be savvy, tuned in to what is out there, what is available and what opportunities lie outside the confines of the campus and *gasp* the province, even outside the country.

The slogan for the University of Manitoba is "U of More." More what? More choice? Choice without direction or context? More choice when you don't know what you want to do, and have nobody to help you through it, is daunting, scary, and stressful.

The slogan for the Univeristy of Winnipeg is "YOU of W." I don't go there, so I really can't offer my opinion on whether or not the experience is about YOU.

But this is the right idea. About YOU. YOUR career. YOUR dreams. YOUR path in life. How about getting there? Tuition is low enough that it is not a factor for people attending university. If UMSU could get over that roadblock, in my opinion, applying pressure for more, better and comprehensive advising/counseling, would become a revolutionary step in post secondary education in Manitoba.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pffffffffffffft

"If we don't go through with [IKEA], we'll be the laughingstock of North America," Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Bill Clement

Oh yes, we must have been the laughing stock of North America up until yesterday.

And your ward will become the laughing stock of Winnipeg.

Will people ever learn that a city is not defined by which corporate retailers you can attract? No wonder our downtown is in ruins, historic buildings get demolished and Plan Winnipeg is so easily amended.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Good job, Brodbeck

Brodbeck wrote a very how-dare-ye-oppose-development column today. I might have been able to respectfully read and disagree with his column, except that I have a serious issue with it. He twisted and spun statements that I had made yesterday at the public hearing into a fabricated statement.

"Others thought the Ikea should go downtown. That's a laugh. Right, we're going to tell a multi-billion retail corporation they have to move into the old A&B Sound building on Portage Avenue. "

I will step forward and say both that I was the only person yesterday who said anything about downtown, and I was also the only person who made reference to the A&B Sound building.

Before you go to the "post comment" button and degrade any credibility I may or may not have, read on.

The following events happened yesterday:

1) I was the first to speak in opposition to the plan.

2) I spoke of downtown and the lack of focus on it. I was the only person to say anything about downtown.

3) I referenced the A&B Sound building as an example of vacant buildings as intense development happens on fringe areas of the city. I was the only person to reference A&B Sound.

4) Councilor Fielding was the only councilor to ask me a question. He asked me if I was suggesting IKEA be built downtown. I said NO. (In fact, I had never, ever, ever suggested that IKEA move downtown)

5) Nobody else following me who had to speak said ANYTHING about downtown. NOBODY else following me stated that IKEA should be built downtown.


So how does Brodbeck come up with a statement saying that people were there saying that IKEA should be built downtown, and specifically reference building it on the A&B Sound building?

Brodbeck's column is about people like me. How DARE we oppose IKEA! How DARE we! How DARE we question such a complex project that was rushed through the critiquing process!

Of course, the mood was much different, but Brodbeck failed to capture that. Most people such as myself were concerned not about IKEA, again, but the rest of the plan. The rest of the development. Not the IKEA store. I am confident none of us would have been there had the plan been JUST for an IKEA store.

3 strikes for Brodbeck:

- Made up information about people at the public hearing wanting IKEA to move downtown
- Did not listen to my answer to Fielding's question
- Did not approach me after to ask me any questions about my speech


Of course, he couldn't come and ask me directly afterwards. Otherwise he wouldn't have been able to make such a strong case against those of us pooh-poohing how rushed and quickly this plan has come to fruition without much consultation from anybody. He couldn't listen to my answer to Fielding, because I was the only one saying anything about downtown, and that fit his bill.

In my opinion, Brodbeck had already made up his mind about those of us in opposition before any of us opened our mouths. He wanted to write a piece about how ridiculous it was that people were opposing IKEA...conveniently stepping lightly on the fact that none of us in opposition were actually opposed to the IKEA store. Of course, such a piece would earn him roaring applause and no doubt generate comments and feedback about how ridiculous it is that "somebody" wants an IKEA on the A&B Sound building, and how DARE anybody speak against IKEA, don't people in this city want progress?

That "somebody" is ficticious. Nobody said that and, I reiterate, nobody said anything about IKEA going downtown.

In my correspondence with Brodbeck over this, he declined that he had actually quoted me and said that he didn't use my name, which is true. Based on this, he accused me of "making stuff up," and said that he never wrote anything about me wanting an IKEA downtown. When I asked him which speaker it was who said IKEA should go downtown, he did not answer.

Who's making stuff up, Tom?

We obviously don't see eye to eye on this subject, and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is somebody taking my statements and twisting them into fiction to satisfy his own argument, and then not having the audacity to admit it.

That's low, dude. Low.

The Good, the bad, the ugly, the uglier and the ugliest

I attended over 9 hours of the public hearing on the "Tuxedo Yards Redevelopment" yesterday. I am far less than impressed. Mostly at the Executive Policy Committee, who displayed true wisdom and Winnipegisms that will see this city develop as a backassward prairie town who wants to hang around with the big kids. In other words, about the same it's always been. Here was an opportunity to change things, and well, it's all but gone now.


The Good

I struggled to find any good.


The Bad

After sitting through over 6 hours worth of crap that included a presentation by the developer, traffic people, and then question after question from councilors over absolutely ridiculous things like the positioning of loading docks. Where sidewalks will go. How wide the sidewalks are. Question after question about traffic, how will I turn left, how many parking spots are there, where do the trucks go, how many trucks every day will be going to IKEA, where their product is shipped from. About bike racks and how many bike spots there will be.

After all that we finally got to stand up and say something. The thing is, all those questions, they aren't approval questions. They aren't Executive Policy questions. They're questions with the implication that, well hey, this thing is going through anyway, might as well try to understand it.

It took six hours for that, and by the time it was time for the opposed citizens to speak, it was like the councilors' eyes had glazed over and whatever anyone said went in one ear and out the other.

NOBODY in opposition was actually opposed to the IKEA. I want to say that and make it clear because it's important. The problems people have with this, myself included, is not actually the IKEA store. It's the rest. It's what's happening north of Sterling. While we're claiming to be advancing the city by getting an IKEA and it's going to be basically the best big box store ever (more on that later), the rest is going to be the same shit we have all over the place in this city, including what currently resides on Kenaston and other places like Kildonan Crossroads.

Absolutely no public consultation happened. There was an open house, and a public hearing. The plans were only available to the public for a whopping 13 days. 13 days, for a project that will severely impact the way this city functions for decades to come, was only consulted for 13 days. I'm no expert, but if I applied to put a shed up on my property that exceeded zoning limitations, it would take a lot more than 13 fucking days to get it passed.


The Ugly

Nothing changed. The plans are going through as you see them. Despite hours worth of "public consultation," many of whom gave compelling, legitimate arguments may I add, absolutely no concerns raised were addressed by EPC. After what I said, the councilors seemed to nod their head in agreement and say "thank you." Fielding was the only one who asked me a question, I don't know if he was playing on his Blackberry or what. Despite my whole speech being about how Phase 2 and Phase 3 don't make sense and would be better suited elsewhere in the city, he asked "so...you want to put IKEA downtown?" (IKEA is Phase 1 for those of you who have not actually looked at anything)

Despite all the concerns raised by councilors, nothing is changed. Nothing. I'd love to be a developer in Winnipeg, everything gets approved! I'm sorry, I must correct myself. One thing did change. IKEA now has a clause to, after 2 years, re-examine the use of their bike racks to determine if 50 spaces is adequate.


The Uglier

This shifts the balance of power in Winnipeg. Kenaston and Sterling Lyon should be re-named Portage and Main. 11 fucking lanes. Triple turning lanes. Asphalt everywhere. 8 to 10 years to finish this monster. Does that not have impact on Winnipeg? I cannot forsee any retail development happening anywhere else, other than this place, for the next 10 years. They are isolating it.

Plan Winnipeg is being completely ignored. Yes, they passed the amendment. But in doing so, and not even by voting on it, passed another amendment. The amendment of the entire fucking document.

What use is a plan if we don't follow it? Plan Winnipeg actually makes SOME sense. The first section, 1A, is about downtown. The importance of it, to promote it, promote development, and make downtown the bustling centre it once was. To evaluate the effects of new development on downtown. To get more people living downtown.

There's all kinds, sections on Transportation and Transit. The best they could do? Is re-route the 78 to IKEA. 11 fucking lanes of traffic and there's not a fucking bus lane. There's not any priority lights at the intersections. There is nothing else, despite IKEA claiming they are helping us out with public transit. They're not. They're adding to our problems at this point. Although the EPC seemed to understand this, they paid no mind to it when passing the plan.

Effects on other neighborhoods, concerns with the development, just about the entire fucking thing was axed yesterday. So I ask, what's the point of having a plan? And, furthermore, what is the point of drafting a new PW when it clearly won't be followed?


The Ugliest

IKEA. They pulled the wool over the EPC's collective brains.

It's better than any box store we've ever seen. They have sidewalks in their parking lot. They have trees and landscaping in their parking lot. They exceeded the minimum required number of parking spaces. They even have special lights for the NIMBYs.

But it's what we don't have. Compared to other IKEAs, this is complete garbage. This kind of shit plan doesn't pass in other places. It's just that compared to everything else we have, it's phenomenal. I suppose when you get used to mediocrity a small improvement seems exciting.

I didn't realize it until some of the opposed citizens started mentioning other stores. But Winnipeg really is getting fucked here. In the UK, IKEA gives all their employees bikes. At multiple IKEA locations, you get a discount at the store if you travel by public transit. In some other city, they have their own buses that go to and from downtown, an IKEA shuttle service. In Vancouver, they deliver your shit to your door. In Winnipeg, we have trees in our parking lot.

All of this only indicated to me, is that if you were to twist IKEA's arm, they would cough it up. All they want to do is become the cornerstone store in whichever city they are building in. They want to make it the best, they want to make it stand out and they want to make themselves seem like the best corporate citizen ever. Your best pal. They do it by doing things that other box stores don't do.

In our case, we don't have landscaping in our parking lots. The councilors didn't seem to notice that maybe we could get them to build a diamond lane. Maybe we could get them to agree to do more with public transit. Maybe we could get them to give back to Winnipeg a little more.

But nope...the best we can do is get IKEA to agree that, after 2 years, they will re-evaluate the number of bike spots. Thank you Mr Wyatt for that wonderful clause that is now in their contract.

Friday, March 6, 2009

State of the Blog address

This is more or less directed at reporters who may read my blog, or newspaper people, as well as other bloggers. I was originally going to tack it onto the end of my last post, but it was far too long, and after reading it back to myself I thought it was important enough to have it's own post.


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Note on the newspaper industry and bloggers

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After the latest layoff round at the FreeP that included Turner and Paraskevas, and the comment from Cox that it was "because of the economy," I laughed. Blame the economy instead of the switch to online news sources. Cutting loose two exceptionally good reporters isn't going to help the quality of your online content either.

However, the sad state of the newspaper industry is not one to take lightly. Myself and most bloggers rely on news sources for our commentary. [My last] post is an example of that. In fact, I have gone through all my posts thus far in 2009 and have, out of 31 posts, 16 that were not based on a newspaper article (or, roughly half). I based two from the CBC and one from the BBC, two from other bloggers.

10 of my 31 posts (or, roughly a third) are commentary on a specific article from a newspaper or are follow ups. The scary part about this, is that 6 of them are from Mr Kives, and one from the unfortunately sacked Paraskevas. One other is from an anonymous and very poorly skilled editorial writer. The last couple are from a couple random reporters.

I can only speak for myself, but the reason why I use so many of Kives' articles is because he happens to cover what I like to read and write about. I think I owe you a couple drinks, Bart.

This is all just to remind us that out here on the blogosphere, we largely depend on sources like the FreeP and Sun who employ actual reporters who get actual money. I and most bloggers, do not actually break news on a regular basis. I use this oxy-moronically named blog to vent myself on the frustrations I have as a young person trying to make his way through an oftentimes backwards city, and one that is full of many politicians, counselors and such who are stuck in their old ways and refuse to change.

Ultimately, I would rather put myself on the record here, un-anynonymously, than fire a letter to the editor off to the FreeP and Sun once a day, only to find that 1/30 or less get printed. Or sign up for commenting on the FreeP Online, only to have my often, err, passionate comments be modified.

As much as I depend on local newspapers as sources for updates to my website, I recognize that much and also support said local newspapers with my money. My household subscribes to the FreeP and I also purchase a copy of the Sun on weekdays. Especially Tuesdays, need that Sun, need those hockey stats.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Winnipeg needs this

I'm talking about Sport Manitoba's high performance centre they wish to build. All concerns about Facadism are noted, of course. I'm not suggesting this facility be built to sacrifice historic buildings.

Rather, the benefits such a facility would provide to our amateur athletes never seems to come up, we just expect these people to somehow magically become elite. It even concerns me a little, to think that criticism for the lack of these kinds of facilities in Winnipeg rarely if ever, comes up.

The problem lies in that all high performance centres are scattered, and many times, innaccessible. For example, the University of Manitoba Max Bell Field House is where I train, however, by it's nature, it was designed for University athletes and that makes it somewhat less accessible to other, non-UofM athletes. Purchase of a pass will cost a few hundred bucks, and for running, a sport that has almost no cost attached to it, many parents wishing to get their kids into the sport may find this to be a bit much.

The article mentions other sports, such as volleyball, swimming, and soccer. I'd like to take a paragraph and emphasize that we are speaking here, mostly of young athletes, high schoolers in many cases. If other aspects of training such as weights are not available at their high school, they may have to join a public gym. And public gyms are no places for aspiring high performance athletes to train. There are no other athletes there to help them out, nevermind coaches. All these things may be, and in most cases are, innacessible.

As a result we have little athlete development here in Manitoba. You cut your chops the hard way, very little is provided to you and very little is encouraged.

At a single centralized facility, all athletes from all walks of lifes and backgrounds would converge. Hey, I'm a runner, but there's a hell of a lot I could learn from hockey players, volleyball players, and swimmers....hand-eye coordination, acute muscle development, and balance. Vice versa, there's a lot I could teach them, mechanics, the understanding of how your muscles and body react during movement and the importance that can play in efficiency and injury avoidance.

In addition to that, Sport Manitoba can offer many interdisciplinary clinics for their athletes. This is already something they do to some degree, but could be applied across all sports and available to all athletes, under one roof. For an example of this I could refer to a pro athlete (and one of my favourites), Tim Thomas, who does yoga to supplement his training.

To summarize, Sport Manitoba can take direct involvement in the development of amateur Manitoban athletes.

The fact that Sport Manitoba has chosen downtown as the location for this facility shouldn't be overlooked. That's making a statement. They really DO want to have a centralized facility. On top of that, they want to make use of a historic building. Sport Manitoba is doing everything right here, but all I read is criticism for their potential plans for a historic building.

Sport Manitoba came this far. I can at least give them the benefit of the doubt they won't resort to Facadism.