Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Keeping the young

From the May 16 issue of Maclean's Magazine entitled "Lonely in the Peg"...
"...Carter [U of W prof Tom Carter] agrees that the problem is larger than the oil patch. "Manitoba hasn't really captured the 'new economy'-type jobs -- in high-tech and R&D," he says. Others blame the dearth of quality urban neighbourhoods -- which typically attract the young and creative. "Allowing boundless suburban expansion," says University of Manitoba architecture professor Eduard Epp, "has generated a genuine problem in the core.""

From The Weakerthan's Complaint Department (
"3. No More Parking Lots Downtown
Heritage buildings are vital to Winnipeg, and those we have left are the soul of our city.
4. No to Waverly West
10,000 new homes. Where? Oh, out by the dump. Makes sense. Empty lots within the core of the city should be filled 1st before any development on the Waverly West project goes ahead.
5. Like a local ecomomy? No To Walmart and Thier Big Box Buddies
Where to begin... Local buisness can't compete with the #1 enemy of local economies who build cinderblock shells and acres of asphalt. Paying our citizens terrible wages to man their isles. Sending profits out of the city to their stock-holders. Killing the centers of the city by drawing people away from the city itself to their temporary shelters. Then closing up and moving on..."

From a local discussion forum's thread entitled "Winnipeg Exodus"...
"The main reason for quitting Winnipeg is the lack of vibrant urban life. I want to live in a city where I can walk a few minutes to the bakery, grab a good cup of coffee, head to the market for quality produce or just sit back and relax on a patio with a glass of "something" watching the people go by. Not only this, but I want to live in a beautiful city, not in a city that complains when modern architecture isn't strictly utalitarian and where we tear down or let heritage buildings rot.
Winnipeg has expanded too quickly, which has left us with a dead core (I work in the Exchange district, and I can't even get a cup of coffee before noon on a Saturday) filled with parking lots and suburban people who complain that there is no parking downtown."

From the same person, on a different post...
"The problem is that you can't build both a vibrant downtown and projects like Waverly West at the same time. Mayor Katz states that his top two priorities are infrastructure and safety; both of these problems would be solved if we stopped expanding and had a higher concentration of people living in the core of the city. We need to restrict expansion and force a strengthening of our core if Winnipeg is to retain it' creative class (a sort of urban planning Pilates I suppose)..."

Another poster writes...
"Obviously people leave for many different reasons. For me it wasn't career opportunity or excitement of the big city. Nor the mosquitos or cold - they're only minor annoyances.
It's the frustration of trying to live the "urban" in Wpg. After living 20 years in inner-city Wpg, trying to live simply, locally, and car-free life in a city dominated by suburban commuters.... I gave up. It's much easier elsewhere.
Wpg grinds you down - you grow tired of crappy transit, limited recreational opportunities, and the lack of amenities in the inner-city. You begin to imagine a world more civilized, the kind of place where you don't get the finger for riding a bicycle. A place with people on the streets, and endless variety of shops and services. The kind of place your "cool" freinds have long since left the for. Wpg certainly has a progressive subculture... unfortunately you're the minority...
Anyone passionate about Wpg develops a love hate relationship with the city. Love for what Wpg used to be, and what it could be in the future. Hate for wasted potential and the mediocre vibe that permeates.
There's amazing architecture, beautiful inner-city neighborhoods, and a tolerant, earthiness about the population... Sadly however, Wpg has for the most part become a sprawling, empty, depressing place. There are pockets of street life, but they are few and far between. It's a great place to drive, and you're never far from easy parking, but well, who cares."

Others still...
"I'm part of the demographic that makes up a large proportion of those who are leaving Winnipeg for greener pastures elsewhere - educated twenty-something - and more than at anytime in my own life I'm wondering what will keep me in Winnipeg for the next 10-20 years. I have the quintessential love-hate relationship with the city I've grown up in, and can see the potential everywhere...
Am I quitting on Winnipeg if I pack up and leave for a more urban centre? To a point, yes - it'll likely be because they offer the opportunity to truly be urban right now, a quality I am indeed looking for, and not be in the small minority for thinking and being that way. While steps Winnipeg has taken in places to retain and/or reclaim that lost urbanity have been positive, they have been small, uncoordinated, and lacking a defining and strict plan. And, most frusteratingly, they are often negated by the negatives happening in other parts of the city (i.e. Waverly West). Winnipeg simply doesn't have the critical mass or the real momentum in its urban neighbourhoods and downtown so to speak in the inner city to shrug off new suburban development or poor political leadership the way other cities can; it is in many ways too fragile a process too easily set-back by seemingly unrelated events, processes and people. Instead of a large lawn, attached garage, quiet cul-de-sacs, large car and large floorplan, I'm looking for a neighbourhood that can offer a choice of amenities for all times of day - from coffee and newspaper in the morning to rock bands and beer at night that offer multiple and viable ways of getting around besides the private automobile. And I'd be willing to pay for those luxuries similarly to the way someone would be willing to pay for a ride-on lawnmower for their two acres of grass..."

"Apparently you can buy up Portage Avenue and let it rot, and no one will care. Knock down buildings, no one cares. People only complain about potholes and cool-looking bridges.
Winnipeg, while it has pockets of hipness, doesn't have much that makes it a cohesive city nor does it seem like there's much drive to change that. I'd rather live somewhere with better parks, a little more active nightlife (that's not separated by cab rides), and a better attitude towards "development...""

"I moved to Montreal because its full of creative people who are encouraged in their artistry, even by local and provincial governments. The streets are full of people, architecture is taken seriously, its dense and vibrant, the women are gorgeous (they are in Winnipeg too, don't fret about that one)..."

Finally, the unfortunate obvious is stated...
"Since this stuff [the urban fabric that does remain] has nothing to do with positive-statement economics but is rather normative or qualitative, nor does it necessarily concern our climate (I eschewed the bothers of cars and buses both by walking all winter), and might only be considered by one well-schooled in street culture, it's entirely possible, in fact inevitable, that this has remained unnoticed, unconsidered, ignored by local politicians and the business elite, who move about primarily in automobiles and through suburbia."

Winnipeg can't offer the temperate climate of Victoria, or the fast-dollar jobs of Calgary, but we could offer a compact, dynamic, tree-lined urban centre, where creative young people thrive. However, like the nearby beaches and lakes--our other great draw--are being polluted by industrial farming, our urban environment is being polluted by suburban-styled development and neglect on the part of government and the business and financial elite, who--occasional lip service aside--are apparently unaware that people between the ages of 18 and 35 exist here.

Instead of wondering why the young abandon Winnipeg, perhaps we should start asking why Winnipeg has abandoned it's young.

Monday, May 15, 2006

As if it were in response to my most recent update (May 8th), the formation of the Green Party of Winnipeg was announced, to add a much-needed voice of reason in the October civic election, and hopefully, to the council chamber floor in the next four years.

From their website (
"The city is crying out for an end to reckless and costly urban sprawl and the car-centred development that accompanies it. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to maintain what we have before adding more."

Winnipeg Green Party spokesman Marcus Buchart is not the only former provincial MLA candidate from Winnipeg who has been talking about putting together a slate of candidates for the upcoming civic election lately. It seems that winds of change are brewing in the background, and this could prove to be the most lively civic election in recent memory.

And while it may not come in time for the October election, I believe that in the coming years, economic and social reality will align, and ordinary Winnipeggers will finally be able to see things for how they are. Once the housing bubble bursts like a neglected water main, everyone will see Waverly West as a provincial NDP scam to keep central Winnipeg impoverished (and therefore NDP-voting). Once property taxes and gas prices skyrocket to the heavens, people will demand a government that doesn't bankrupt its citizens building expressways around "town centres" in the middle of farm land. Like G.W. Bush's White House, it is my prediction that the approval ratings of Sam Katz' City Hall will dissolve by the time his second term reaches the halfway point.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The City Summit came and went, and the consensus the two hundred randoms on the invite list came to, is that Winnipeg must 'fix' its downtown, keep its bright young, and reverse its negative image. Most importantly, the time for talk is past: it's time to start talking about doing. Money well spent, wasn't it?

Another great problem, is the Mayor and City Council themselves, who consistently fail to inspire the citizenry, or to take seriously--indeed acknowledge--the numerous problems facing this city. But really, who cares about sticking to a particular vision (remember community centres?) when you can create a new one every few months? Who cares about keeping young people in Winnipeg when it's seniors who keep re-electing you decade after decade anyway? Who cares about the greater good when you can just worry about looking good?

Just a few of the potholes on the road to a better city...