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

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. 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 ( 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 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

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

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.