Monday, February 27, 2006

Knox United Church is soon going to be adding much more than just a positive physical impact on the Central Park neighborhood. With the help of architect David Penner, they are planning to open Knox Cafe alongside their Late Gothic Revival facade on Edmonton Street. The objectives and intentions of this project are listed as follows:

"1.To further invest in community-based enterprise to ensure the future viability and continued sustainability of the community economic development society, the faith communities housed in Knox Interfaith Centre, and the existing church facility. The endeavor should be profitable, meaningful, and contribute to the well-being of the existing facility and the neighborhood;

2a.To provide the church building with a greater degree of public accessibility through creation of a welcoming community space, increasing the perception of ‘openness’ to the broader community;

2b.To provide a facility in which the neighborhood’s cultural diversity can be celebrated and developed, through menu and live performance/music reflective of that diversity;

2c.To enhance the community economic development activity of the existing hospitality and retail job training, expanding this program to include barista/service training, restaurant management, financial administration and entrepreneurial incubation;

3.To provide a gathering place for the neighborhood, attracting university/college students, young professionals, social-justice advocates, the arts community, etc.

4.To provide an impetus for the revitalization and redevelopment of Central Park itself, through conversation and informal or formal partnerships with both the City of Winnipeg and the Central Park Residents Council.

More of today's churches can take notes.

More information can be found at:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

This town is more alive than people realize. This afternoon, after attending an exciting community consultation meeting with the Bridgman Collaborative, the architectual group heading up the Barber House project, my wife and I drove to the Library via the West End, to finally get to the Ellice Cafe at Ellice and Sherbrooke. A lunch rush was just winding down as we walked in at 3:30. Our server, a friend of ours, told us they had been busy all day. This was a Saturday in the middle of a brutal cold snap. We took the corner booth and watched the foot traffic flow on Ellice. Buses would stop at the corner and drop off handfuls of people of all different races and somewhat varying economic groups... This wasn’t exactly the dangerous core of a dead city we always hear about.

Yesterday morning, I had a breakfast meeting at Connie’s Corner Cafe on Main and Selkirk. With the wind-chill, it was a brisk -44C. Yet ten minutes after opening, the place was hopping with regular old timers and construction workers, as someone got the jukebox going with early Cash and Metis country-rock tunes.

The day before that, I walked from my house down through the Exchange District, Graham Ave and West Broadway to my church in Wolseley... It was -30C with the wind-chill that day, but people were on the streets: well-dressed men in suits (a rarity in this golf-shirt city) going up and down Albert Street, transit riders going about their business on Graham Avenue, student hipsters walking home from the U of W through West Broadway, and cyclists riding everywhere...

It is a reminder that urbanity still survives in the centre of Winnipeg in the face of wholesale opposition by traffic engineers, sprawl developers, politicians, the media, fairweather cheerleaders on internet forums, and yes, even the bitingly cold winds.

As William H. Whyte said of Winnipeg pedestrians in his book City, they “are a hardy lot". It is not at all comfortable on winter days like these, but it still works. Seeing all kinds of people on the streets through this cold snap, demonstrates that this city of ours can operate today in the same basic arrangement of urban life that made Winnipeg great in it's first 80-90 years. Downtown streets, storefront commerce, and neighborhood corner stores are not things that need to be discarded simply because our winters are cold.

Just dress in layers and keep on moving.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Waverly West is continuing to become more and more of a mess every passing week. It's getting to the point where it's almost hilarious watching the foolish greed that trumped common sense in approving this thing, begin to unfold.

Witness a bewildered Bill Clement in the Free Press yesterday, wondering where the money for extending Kenaston as an expressway will come from, as the City cannot pay for it entirely. "While I think it's very innovative, [the expresway plan] it's not something the city can afford by itself..." Mr. Clement, these are the kinds of things you should have been asking about on, and leading up to, January 3rd and 4th, 2005, when you voted in favor of this whole thing. Were you asleep at the Council table on those days?

Witness Ladco Developers (the only party standing to profit from Waverly West) and the Province attempting to placate the critics of sprawl by planning a "commercial town centre" for the development, which would be bound by a split Kenaston. Meanwhile, the real desire for the expressway turns out to be "largely because it will serve as an intercontinental trade route connecting the airport to the border..." Yes, there is nothing like running across a high-speed trucking route to pick up a litre of milk or an ice cream cone, is there? Like the notion of affordable housing for affordable housing that disapeared long ago, new urbanist-style development seems to be nothing more than convenient lip service.

Witness Darth Steek, the skipping record of sprawl propaganda, desparately taking every chance he has to advocate the particle-board getting put up, and the money starts rolling in, before his developer fantasy-land gets stalled indefinately.

Witness Christopher Leo from the Department of Politics at the U of W, in his letter to the editor of the Free Press on the subject of raiding the city's reserve funds to fill potholes: "Our troubles began... when the city set out on a policy of building roads, sewers and water systems across the bald prairie, far in excess of our actual needs, and far beyond what we could afford to maintain." As it has for decades, his advice will go unheeded at a greedy and narrow City Hall.

This would all be even more funny to me if I didn't know that my children and I will be paying for it all.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Barber House, that old house on Euclid Avenue that pre-dates both incorporation and confederation, will very soon become used again. Plans for the house, and the large vacant property surrounding it, include a day care, coffee shop, and laundromat for the neighborhood.

Open houses for the plan are scheduled for:
-Wednesday, February 15 at the North Point Douglas Women's Centre (corner of Austin and Euclid) from 1:30-3:30pm
-Saturday February 18 at the Church of the Open Door (corner of Euclid and Hallet) from 1:30-3:30pm
-Wednesday February 22 at Norquay School (Euclid and Lusted) from 6:30-9:00pm.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Waiting around at a bus stop for a ride that never comes could be a thing of the past; new technology at bus stops will soon be able to tell you that your bus will never come.

Some of the transit upgrades announced for Winnipeg are nice, and have been planned for awhile. Now that the City announced they would start flowing to Winnipeg Transit again, it will nice to see some of those plans acted upon. One in particular, is an improved radio system, which will hopefully eliminate the regular "platooning" of buses. (For those that go to Portage Avene to catch a bus and see an 11, 21, 22, and 24 travelling together, you know what this is.) Better communication among operaters and dispatchers would not allow this to happen, and a single bus would come on Portage (east of Polo Park) in four-five minute intervals, rather than all Portage routes travelling together every ten-eleven minutes.

Good news for strap-hangers, but unfortunately, it is lessened when you remember that there could still be a net loss of buses operating in the Winnipeg Transit fleet. As transit critic Nick Ternette has pointed out, Winnipeg Transit retires 30 buses per year. Less buses mean longer waiting times.

Many of the other improvements promised to come in the next few years will not do that much to make transit significantly better for its riders. They leave me with a few questions about how effective these improvements will be in the centre of our city (You know, the part of town where the majority of transit riders live, work, go to school, shop, etc.):

1) Where are some locations that the queue-jumping lanes will be able to be built? The example illustrated in the Free Press was at Pembina at University Crescent, which has been there for years... What other intersections can these be built at? Particularly, where in the downtown area, where the built envronment is compact, and property values and significance of many existing buildings makes the cost of building of queue-jumping lanes prohibitive.

2) Are these new "bendy-buses" going to take corners better than conventional buses do and not damage the curbs (ie: at Portage and Vaughan, Main and Euclid, etc.) ?

3) Are they going to be able to stop and go easily without jack-knifing (as they do in Ottawa) in snowy and icey conditions? Will they be able to do so once they are operating on the "real rapid transit corridors" supposedly coming in 10-15 years?

4) Where are the painted diamond lanes going to go within the downtown area, if at all? If they are, how are they going to be effective in the face of normal urban activity: cyclists, on-street parking, vehicles turning on and off the street at intersections, etc? If they are not impeded by these things, how then will the overall feeling of safety and comfort of pedestrians on the sidewalks (by which a city's vibrancy is measured) be affected when more curb lanes are turned into speedways for buses?

5) Will the "bendy-buses" and new improvements be "sexy" enough to lure more people with disposable incomes to use transit instead of drive? Will they be sexy enough to make people want to move downtown or to compact transit-oriented areas of the city? Will stores like The Gap move to Portage Avenue storefronts as a result? Will surface parking lots disapear along the Graham Avenue Transit Mall?

I think that the answers are pretty obvious, and I'm just wondering if $142-M is worth the price of finding out the hard way that the costs will outweigh the benefits.

When it comes to improving the existing bus-based system, the strap-hangers of this city want dependable and frequent service. They don't need technophilic gimmickry and showpieces for Newflyer Industries and their lapdog politicos.