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.

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