Thursday, October 26, 2006

No plans

The Winnipeg civic election is now over, and incumbent mayor Sam Katz largely got what he wanted: more yes-men and women to fill council chairs.

The big news from last night, of course, was in St. James and North Kildonan, where a couple of old fossils were replaced with young fossils who promised to build and repair roads in thier wards, but will end up building roads in whichever yet-to-be-built new developments their boss tells them to. In River Heights, an articulate but unfocused incumbant was replaced by a stage prop so servile, that she will make Mike Pagtakhan look like Joe Zuken. In St. Boniface, the great francophone hope among progressives in this city (a leader of the opposition who actually dresses good, gets a haircut once in a while, and is able to formulate convincing arguments), replaced Katz' right hand man, Sam Losco (for the Trailer Park Boys fans out there)... I guess our city's active passenger rail terminal (Union Station) won't be turned into a gambling casino after all. And while Vandal is seen as the consolation prize for the civic-minded, it remains to be seen whether a man with eight years of being an ally can be an opposition. Anyway, the Katz Party is a ever-growing hydra, and a new head will quickly replace Magnifico's.

As for what the next four years will bring to Winnipeg, clues were found among the pages of the Free Press' election coverage today. Not in the actual post-election stories filed by bored reporters, but in two City of Winnipeg notices of public hearings, posted below the election stories. One was for ND Lea's planned first phase of Waverly West, complete with a map that shows that it is--surprise!--a low density island of cul-de-sac suburbia that is no more progressive, mixed, or transit friendly than Whyte Ridge.

The second notice was for the implementation of the Osborne Village secondary plan, which would support mixed-use development, design guidelines, and pedestrian orientation. All's fair in love and war--some people can take Waverly West, and some can have Osborne Village; so what's there to argue about? Well, for one, the Osborne Village secondary plan (part of Plan Winnipeg) took eight years to get to where it is today, while this first phase of Waverly West (not part of Plan Winnipeg) took less than two.

Secondary Plans can encompass an entire neighborhood or a single block, on land built up or unbuilt. They are implemented by council and are second only to Plan Winnipeg. The work to ensure that the character of a neighborhood is maintained, and that growth follows appropriate patterns; to keep strip malls off Albert Street, and hi-rise towers off Oak Street. (In the Village, it would likely have prevented disasters like the new Safeway/Starbucks/MLCC at River and Osborne Village from being built.) Every one of Winnipeg's old neighborhoods is in dire need of them, and when it takes eight years for Osborne Village--affluent compared to other urban neighborhoods, and with an active councillor--to have their secondary plan reach the council floor, it shows the ignorance and feeble attitude to progressive city planning that exists. We have half as many city planners at Edmonton does, and most are kept busy rubber-stamping the same old garbage for Ladco and Shindico, rather than working at keeping neighborhoods quality places people would want to visit and live in. Those planners that do strive for quality are mitigated, muzzled, and eventually move away.

With a council that has no plans, how can we expect City Planners to continue to be anything but poorly equipped and ignored? Will political will exist to ensure Sargent or Selkirk Avenue have secondary plans that stop the dilution of their urban character? Will Higgins Avenue--the obvious "phase two" of Waterfront Drive--become anything more than a dismal at-grade freeway? The answer is a resounding no, and city council will continue to serve the men and women who coaxed Sam Katz into seeking re-election in the first place: suburban developers.

With a council that takes a small town approach to planning and development, their big city approach to crime prevention will not be enough to control the effects of depopulation and sprawl in the coming years. Meanwhile, the days of $2.00 bus fares and frozen property taxes will be looked back upon with fondness by Winnipeggers going to the polls in 2010.


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