Sunday, April 8, 2012

The reason why I want to leave Winnipeg, in 69 words

*Update I*

This didn't take long. The day after I wrote this post, is a piece by blogosphere favourite Murray McNeil, about a building downtown that is to be converted to offices instead of apartments. And why? Because of parking, duh.

Having a car in Winnipeg is such a must that it even prevents someone from pursuing the conversion of a heritage building into apartments. That's huge. Of course, the number one issue this man will face with inquiries to his new office building, is but what about the parking? He's damned if he does and damned if he does something else.

Isn't it sad that there is no interest in a developer to create an apartment building in the Exchange, because there is no parking? Is that the mentality, you need a car, even if you live in urban Winnipeg? That's another several dozen hypothetical living units lost. Another several dozen hypothetical people living and walking the streets of downtown, making it safer. This is how downtown is lost. One building at a time.

*Update II*

I'm sure Stefano Grande and Dan Lett will find a way to spin this to say that crime is only our perception, but a headline that says "downtown crime is getting worse" only gives the sigh1's of the town more reason to - not - go downtown. And the sigh1's don't even have to read the article to affirm their beliefs, they only have to walk past the newsstand and glance at the cover.

Add to that the inevitable parking rate increase, and you aren't giving these people any reason at all to come downtown. Even if there's a water park. All this news is a perfect storm of bad news to validate and even increase their already-negative view of downtown.

Of course, screaming about lack of parking and taking away green space that isn't really green space to prevent any improvement (such as apartment buildings) from going up in a downtown you never go to, is a great way to keep your view of downtown as a place to never visit permanent.

*Update III*

Speaking of apartment buildings, Winnipeggers in the community of Whyte Ridge have vocally opposed such atrocious improvements just last night. To quote Blogger cohort The Rise and Sprawl...What is this, New York?

Then again, you could put those apartments downtown, but you'd be there to oppose that as well. Thus keeping the cycle of suburbia and non-improvement running like a two-stroke Honda.


* * *

Comment posted on Bartley Kives' "Waterloo" piece by a "citizen journalist" (just for you, Dan) who goes by the name "sigh1."

So the mayor wants to cram MORE stuff into The Forks area?! Geez. As it is, you can't park anywhere close to the stuff that's there. I dread going to events there because the space is more and more limited and I may as well park near Portage & Main and walk there. Am I the only one in Winnipeg who likes green space downtown? Or 'space' at all?

At the time of publishing, the above comment has a +35 rating, which means a lot of people agree with it. A comment in reply by "Dr Zaius" who reflects my viewpoint scores up a -11 rating. This is my problem. These people are holding this city back.

Dear god, MORE "stuff" might go into the Forks! The MADNESS! But you hate that, you hate it, because there is already not enough parking, and because that green space is even more sacred than the sacred Indian burial ground it grows on. You hate not parking exactly where you're going, even though you'll park at the mall, walk 100m to the entrance, walk 1km inside, and 100m back to your car and raise not a single blood pressure point in ire.

Never mind that the sacred green space isn't green at all, rather, it's a dusty sand colour and/or a solid grey. Because that green space we are talking about is actually either a gravel parking lot, or a paved parking lot. But such silly, minor details are lost on you.

Why should you pay attention though? You don't go to the Forks, or to downtown anyway, you complain about the parking and lack of green space. There's no parking, so you don't go. Besides, there's nothing new at the Forks, right? It's always the same. You fear for your vehicle to be broken into and while walking through Portage Place, you fear being mugged, stabbed, or shot or worse, all three.

Why go to the Forks or downtown, when IKEA is opening up with 7517 parking stalls! And green space between the rows of parking to boot! Now THAT's what I call progressive! When someone floats an idea for downtown or the Forks, you're there. You're there with bells on and in spades. They're taking away our green space, and where will we park, goddammit?!

No, this city will stay the same, downtown improving at an abysmally slow pace a snail could out-gun. Any attempt to do anything real to make downtown better, say, putting apartments at the Forks, or building a 20 storey apartment tower downtown, will get pulled down, and pulled down hard. Because there is nothing more revolting to the sigh1's of this town than improvement.

You can't be proud of green space and parking. Ask San Franciconians if they love their green space and parking, ask Vancouverites about how all those apartments and condos that ruined their view of the ocean killed their city. Ask the truly world class cities of the world what they are proud of. Their vast, sprawling suburbs? Their gorgeous, well-maintained Kentucky Bluegrass mini urban parks? Their plentiful and free parking?

No. They aren't proud of those things because they have something better. And no, that 'thing' that is better is not a water park. They have a fucking city to be proud of.

But no, you love it here. You love your franchise chain restaurants with parking lots, you're gonna love your IKEA, you love your house, your yard, your driveway (that comes with free parking), you like the mall, your Superstore with a massive parking lot, and last but not least, you love the fact that you don't have to go downtown for anything, and you can get everything you need without ever having to go downtown or to the Forks.

And when winter comes, you go away to Cuba, or Mexico, or Jamaica. To an all-inclusive where you don't have to ever leave your luxury resort, barred off and secluded from the rest of the reality of the third world country you are vacationing in. You don't go to Vancouver or New York or San Francisco or Copenhagen or Paris. You go to a sunnier, beachier, warmer version of what you already have.

You come back and vociferously and raucously oppose anything that might change Winnipeg. Status quo all the way, baby. Leave things the way they are. Winnipeg is just fine the way it is. And WHAT? You want a PATIO for your PIZZERIA?! Close the damn place, don't need anymore shitty mom and pop restaurants, just go to Boston Pizza! They have a parking lot AND a patio!

A wise man once said "should I stay, or should I go now?" If I stay, I am destined to hear this and fight this for my entire existence. A city is only as good as the leaders they elect to lead it. And our leaders love to cave, they cave on Upper Fort Garry, they cave for the Museum. They cave on apartment projects and tear buildings down for parkades. Our leadership is a reflection of the people who live here and what they prioritize.

By and large, our priorities are keeping everything as they are, building more suburbs, keeping green space and parking plentiful, and all the while moaning for recognition and world class status. We should adopt a new moniker, we are not the Chicago of the North, a phrase that may illicit a picture of a man in a tuxedo and top hat with a moustache, looking bold and stoic, imposing his will and creating greatness out of nothing.

No, in the 21st Century, we are the New Jersey of the North. A vast, sprawling wasteland of not only the intellectual type, but also the physical space type. And our welcoming message painted on highway signs around the 101 should not read "heart of the continent" but rather, "home of future ex-pats."


moc said...

And that's why I haven't come back after leaving to pursue higher education in urban planning elsewhere four and a half years ago. I get asked "will you go back to Winnipeg" on a regular basis, and I can't say that I ever will at this point.

unclebob said...

Have you started the thinking process to define what sort of environment might be more agreeable and what potential locations contain that type environment?

Ed said...

Don't agree with all you write Graham but I'm 100% with you on this one.

The View from Seven said...

Re: "And when winter comes, you go away to Cuba, or Mexico, or Jamaica. To an all-inclusive where you don't have to ever leave your luxury resort..."

I've noticed a huge divide between university grads and the rest of the city on this question. University grads tend to be a little more exotic in their tastes, many having been across the Atlantic or Pacific at least once. Non-university grads (including college grads) tend to be more conservative, relying more on friends' recommendations.

It would be great if Winnipeggers were more adventurous in their travels, even if they started with a safe (for those who follow the most basic of precautions) low-culture-shock destination like Ireland or Australia, and worked their way up from there. Traveling is as much an education about one's own city and society as it is about another's.

jannelle said...

I also left Winnipeg to pursue higher education in urban planning and I constantly get asked by people like "sigh1" if I will go back and "fix Winnipeg."

Jess said...

My God, was this post awesome. Anyone who knows me also knows that I will only go back to Winnipeg to see my family after I leave. If they want people with good ideas to stay, they'll start listening to the good ideas we've already been screaming about for years.

cherenkov said...

Good post Graham. Save our concrete!

In don't understand people saying they can't park at the Forks. Do they only go there on Canada Day? I never have a problem parking there. Sometimes I'll even park in St.B -- the walk across the bridge is very scenic.

RM said...

While I agree with most of the post, the parking at a water park at the Forks really IS an issue. At -25c, parents don't want to bundle up their kids to walk a block or more, especially when the kids haven't dried their hair properly. Heck, I don't want to walk from the doors of Pan Am to the vehicle in the adjacent lot when it's that cold. It may not be "parking at the Forks", but might be about "Water Park parking at the Forks".

Graham said...

Seriously, RM? Your kids hair hasn't dried yet?

Heard of a hair drier?

What is the difference between this grave concern of yours, and the thousands of kids who play hockey all winter long, walking out of arenas with wet hair?

You aren't helping my case, RM. This is exactly the kind of sad non-issue that holds things back in this town. Really, you're going to go to a public hearing and say "wait what about my kid's hair still being wet!"

Finally, we seem to be able to knock down buildings everywhere else and put up parkades. So why is surface parking the only option people see at the Forks?

Bobby said...

I don't know if I can contribute much to the conversation, but I have to agree with almost everything in the article and the follow up responses.

I left a few years to continue my postgraduate studies in Europe, but I have always been hesitant when asked if I will ever return to Winnipeg. In a lot of ways, I am torn by the question. On one hand, it is home. It always will be and you can't change that. However, after living in a culture where not owning a car is not seen as a handicap, I feel that returning would be more of a culture shock than leaving.

It is a much more complicated matter (as you have pointed out in numerous other posts Graham) but the car ownership seems to be at the root of a lot of the problems. I don't think this is unique to only Winnipeg, but due to how isolated it already is from other major cities, this only contributes to the frustration.

Anyways, good read Graham. You should really get away for a bit and experience what the rest of Canada/the world has to offer.

azedda said...

A bang up of a post. Parking is not an issue anywhere in Winnipeg at least not enough to compromise quality urban design. The fact that people think so speaks volumes to their car-oriented perception of everything urban.

If I could count the number of people I run into every year who left Winnipeg (like I did 15 years ago), it would make for a pretty impressive creative class of folks who have excelled and found opportunity elsewhere. Just think if they had felt it possible, career wise, to stick around without wondering daily whether there was someplace "better" to go? When I read Steve Job's biography, these two paragraphs reminded me of Winnipeg('s politicians). Perhaps a little harsh but from my career experience definitely true).

"'You guys failed," [Jobs] said, looking directly at those who had worked on the Lisa. "You're a B team. B players. Too many people here are B or C players, so today we are releasing some of you to have the opportunity to work at our sister companies here in the valley.'"

"It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players," Jobs said. "The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players."

Alyson said...

This is one of the best things I have read about Winnipeg in a goddamn long time. Which makes me both happy to have read it, and ashamed to be able to agree with you.

I don't know what the hell is happening to Winnipeg, but I don't like it, and I don't know if there's anything any of us can do to change the trajectory.

Carney said...

As long as commuting via a one occupant car costs the same as taking the bus in Winnipeg, cars will be the culture.

If you want to fix this, have buses run an hour past last call and impose automated commuting taxes on people travelling through downtown.

Dave said...


"...and impose automated commuting taxes on people travelling through downtown."

Luckily this already happening, albeit indirectly. The cost of parking spaces downtown and the cost of gas seem to help more than anything.

I moved to Winnipeg 4 years ago and worked out by the Airport, commuting from downtown everyday. 4 months ago I started a new job at Portage and Main and was actually surprised by the amount of coworkers at my office who use the bus simply because parking is so expensive.

PS: I ride my bike to work everyday, rain or shine now.