Monday, July 23, 2007

Random acts of busking

An article by James Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press gives another example of how The Forks is no less a public place today than it was 25 years ago when CN Rail owned it. A magician ran into trouble last week when he decided to re-locate his show away from his sanctioned "busk stop" in order to provide his young audience with more shade from the blazing July sun.

Always handy with their banning forms, The Forks banned the magician from performing anywhere at The Forks for two weeks.

Andrea Clow of the Forks Market explains why:
"...we have to have some sense of order," Clow said.
Clow said the canopy area is not a designated area for buskers to perform and if they didn't impose penalties on people not following the rules, they'd be overrun by random acts of busking.
It's about following the rules and regulations, Clow said. "We have them so we don't have situations like this come up."
Situations like what? Keeping children from from prolonged exposure to the hot sun?

I would recommend that more buskers begin to either eschew The Forks and take to what busy sidewalks of the city can be found, (which, for now anyway, still remain true public spaces), or become like Joe Ades the famous huckster who sells his wares at Manhattan's popular Union Square without a vendor's licence, slyly dodging the authorities each day.

(For related commentary on The Forks and their draconian rules, go here or here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I mean, like, we don't even have an IKEA

It looks like Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Sun wrote a column.

It's about the population figures from the 2006 Census that were released.

Back in March of this year.

Five months ago.

He bemoans in yesterday's Sun, the fact that Hamilton's population is closing in on Winnipeg's.

Soon our city be in ninth place.

It was the third biggest Canadian city 85 years ago.


Strange that someone who takes such a backwater attitude toward city issues would be sad we're not getting any bigger. Classic case of Winnipeg's debilitating we-don't-have-freeways-or-an-IKEA insecurity:
"We have wiggle room. We don't suffer from the mind-numbing congestion they do in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. I wouldn't want to be like them."
In other words, I wouldn't want to live in a growing city, but I am upset that the city I live in isn't growing. Similar to other ignorant and unrealistic wishes that come from both the right and left, and the "thinking classes" and Brodbeck's readership alike: I want Manitoba to be prosperous like Alberta, but I don't want to pay market rates for hydro; I want downtown to revitalize, but I don't want to pay more for parking; I want the inner city (slums) to improve, but I don't want property values to increase there.

There are numerous things that would help to make Winnipeg a growing city--a city, for example, where constructing new buildings along the river in the middle of the country's biggest, best historic warehouse district are not financially assisted by governments--but I don't know if this kind of insecure populism is one of them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Destroying the good

A photo of Simcoe Street between Sargent and Wellington, circa 1946, featuring familiar elements of traditional Winnipeg urbanism: the three-storey (plus raised basement) walk-up apartment block; the vaguely Edwardian, vaguely American Foursquare house with an enclosed verandah and front garden; the small grocery store. Note the shop-keeper keeping a watchful eye on the street.

This photograph of what is considered good and desirable about city neighborhoods. It's the kind of things you hear your parents or grandparents describe when talking about the good old days, or see on a painting. To planners in the immediate postwar period, however, this scene is a disaster. When I found this photo among official documents at the City Archives, the accompanying caption demonstrates the perversity of Modern city planning succinctly: "LACK OF ZONING ILLUSTRATED BY MIXED USES, NEED FOR RELATED SET BACKS, NO SIDE YARD ALLOWANCE, APARTMENT SHADES HOUSE."

The reasons we don't build neighborhoods like this anymore is because we're not allowed to.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

White Stripes break the rules

Risking harrassment, or banishment from The Forks, a dou of travelling musicians eschewed The Forks Renewal Corporation's byzantine busking regulations when they gave a short performance at the foot of the Esplanade Riel--without a Busk Pass, and in a location that is not sanctioned as a "Busk Stop". Jack and Meg White busting out the guitar and maracas was clearly outside of the Renewal Corporation's mandate for a healthy, bustling Forks, since they most likely did not audition to perform under the Busk Program on May 26th or 27th.

In their defence, it was The White Stripes' first time in Winnipeg, so they were probably unfamiliar with how art and performance are handled in this city's "public" places. So for future reference, Stripes, here's what you need to know:
"1. Busk Pass must be clearly displayed during all performances.
2. Acts must be of similar content and quality as that of the audition.
3. Busker license valid from date of validation to June 15, 2008.
4. Performances are permitted at designated Busk Stops only.
5. Management retains the right to relocate, remove or close Busk Stops at their discretion. - Scheduled events & programs have priority over Busker performances.
6. The maximum single performance may not exceed thirty minutes, including set-up time.
7. Maximum 2 performances per Busk Stop per day.
8. No consecutive performances allowed at any individual Busk Stop.
9. Outdoor performances must not exceed six sets per calendar day.
10. Performance appreciation is at the discretion of the audience. (NO SOLICIATIONS, NO INTERCEPTS)
11. Buskers who play bagpipes must play only at the Busk Stop on The Forks Historic Port.
12. Amplified performances are permitted only at the exterior Caboose Busk Stop.
13. All musical acts are required to maintain a repertoire equivalent to 2 – 30 minute sets.
14. Buskers are Ambassadors of The Forks. Appropriate attire must be worn at all times.
15. Transference of passes will result in immediate termination of Busk Pass.
16. A Busk Pass may be revoked at the discretion of The Forks.
17. Smoking is not permitted at Busk Stops during performances.
18. Based on performance at auditions, Buskers who are granted licenses will be allocated a standing of either “Tier A” or “Tier B”.
19. All licensed Buskers will be required to sign a liability insurance waiver.
Failure to comply with the above terms and conditions will result in termination from the Busk Stop Program.

Also, don't forget your $10.00 audition fee, or the $32.00 for a license should the judges deem them worthy enough to be "Ambassadors" of The Forks.

Monday, July 02, 2007


James Kunstler's always amusing and profound eyesore of the month has a selection for July--an environmentally-friendly parkade in California--which shows that the popular Green Movement has officially become North America's new excuse for both continuing to destroy cities and towns with garbage architecture, and continuing to pollute the earth with tailpipe emissions as never before.


Winnipeg historian and blogger of I, ectomorph fame, Andrew, presents a stunning aerial photograph of Winnipeg in 1928 that shows a large chunk of what was the central business district south-east of Portage and Main that is virtually non-existant today. He writes: "Any smugness one might feel about Winnipeg's preservation of its historical buildings is kind of deflated by this. I remember when they demolished that entire block of Main Street south of Portage all at once, to be replaced with nothing. Not to say that it looked that great by the 70s, but if you could imagine it restored in the way that Princess Street has been restored, the city would have an amenity worth a lot more than a crappy looking office tower (and a whole block's worth of ventilation shafts and emergency exits from the underground mall). Also, this pic makes the demolition of the TD-Childs-Nanton corner appear to verge on the criminal. The irony is that most of that office space wasn't really needed anyway. TD was gone from the city within a few years.

I think the lesson is that when you build a few buildings that are totally out of scale with the rest of the city, you can end up making the whole look smaller rather than larger."

Indeed, unlike the dozens of buildings they replaced, the five or six modern buildings at Portage and Main weren't built in response to high land values, or the growing need for a greater concentration of office space, but simply because of the city's post-war pre-occupation with winning that golden ticket, the big score, the magic tenant, and with being "like other cities." It was this kind of unreal thinking that allowed what would today be a southern half of the Exchange District to be demolished--even into the late '80s and early '90s.

Large version