Monday, June 30, 2008

A revision for Point Douglas

Dan Lett, on his The Sausage Factory blog, seems to misunderstand what I've been saying about the current condition of Point Douglas in regards to the stadium.

(If I wasn't so used to people telling me they know better than I what's good for my own neighborhood, and that I must be wearing rose-colored glasses if I like it here, I may be inclined to take offense to some of Mr. Lett's comments.)

Not once have I ever said that Point Douglas should be left alone, and that the good people here have enough among themselves to make the neighborhood reach its full potential. Businesses, residences, a hotel, water park, and new riverfront parks are all wonderful things when designed for an urban context, and I don't think I have ever suggested that I wouldn't want a private individual doing any of those things here. There are many vacant sites in the neighborhood where these things can be done. (In principle, I would take private dollars over governments doing these things.)

Nor did I say that the neighborhood was fine the way it is. What I have been saying is that if any megaproject doesn't fit into the context of the neighborhood, it is not renewal, but destruction doomed to fail.

While everything else is conceptual, it is inescapably certain that a stadium is the cornerstone of this plan. This cannot be hidden no matter how many renderings are shown depicting riverfront promenades bustling with people and businesses, or how often Point Douglas are promised "community access" to new sports facilities, and that obnoxious truck yards would be replaced with inviting cafes.

Stadia have an incredibly poor record of ever stimulating any of this. Land values remain low, and parking becomes the primary land use because there is no financial incentive (and I mean the real incentive of making a profit, not the piddly lure of a tax credit, or of "doing good") to do anything more substantial than lay asphalt.

When it opened in 1982, the Metrodome "transformed" the slummy East Downtown of Minneapolis

If community activists, artists, new immigrants, old-timers, and regular joes like me that came here to escape Wolseley's high prices, can't rid Point Douglas of "slum landlords, transients and crack dealers" or build a "deep foundation", you think the Winnipeg Football Club can? Can a parkade revitalize the banks of the Red River better than a carefully restored house from the 1880s?

Related: Shills rush to defend stadium plan - TRU Winnipeg

Urban Incubator

This article appeared in the most recent issue of The Uniter

Around the time that Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg was making its way through the film festival circuit, Maddin left Winnipeg for Toronto. Many Winnipeggers feared the worst: that the city’s most successful and influential film-marker was moving because he didn’t like it here. Turns out, he was moving simply to be closer to his granddaughter.

Smaller interior cities like Winnipeg have continually been incubators of brains and talent that eventually leave for one national metropolis or another. While this may be an unfortunate reality for any local civic booster, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing... (Continued)

More (second) thoughts

My cautiously tentative support of this stadium thing seems to be is withering as the hours go by. Everything Mr. Asper said to some of us Point Douglas residents (several of whom lived south of the CP tracks), that made me excited had nothing to do with the stadium itself. A finished river trail, new residential, commercial, and recreational development is great--who in Point Douglas would oppose it?

My friends and I were out on our bikes tonight, when we ran into Wanda Koop and her family (whom one friend/neighbor I was with knows) on the north end of Waterfront Drive (which was surprisingly busy with pedestrians and cyclists). She is quite dismayed by the prospect of a stadium, and fears that her residence/studio--an old warehouse which she has for five years worked at restoring--would be threatened by a new access to the Disraeli Freeway.

Tidy houses on Grace Street in south Point Douglas - Photo by Christian Cassidy

It is not development in south Point that she opposes--it's obvious from her personal and financial interest in the area that she believes there is much potential there, but she believes that a stadium would completely undermine not only the nice renderings of riverfront condos and shops that Mr. Asper made public on Friday, but what progress has already been made there, thanks largely to people like her.

Funny thing is, if residents like Mrs. Koop start vocalizing their opposition to a Point Douglas stadium, the city's philistine rabble (many of whom are licking their chops at the thought of a faster Higgins and wider Louise Bridge) will ostracize them for being cantankerous building-huggers. Let's see the reaction from the residents from ANY other neighborhood in the city. No where else could David Asper have sat and had a civil conversation with residents who believed his football stadium would displace them, or at least that it would dramatically change the nature of their neighborhood.

At least Mr. Asper came to talk with them: the elected 'representatives' that are too busy cheer-leading (or too senile) to get the facts straight, would never bother with such a banal task. You think Sam Katz would volunteer an hour and a half from his Sunday afternoon to talk to a dozen "inner city residents"? You think Harry Lazarenko has set foot in north Point Douglas in the last five years? You think the people in south Point have ever talked with Mike Pagtakhan--the guy who suggested a theme park-like "artists village", where Jordan Van Sewall's house, after 126 years near the corner of Rachel/Annabella Street and Fonseca/Higgins Avenue, could be moved to some more expendable locale?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Maybe I'm just getting optimistic in the my old age...

I submitted an article to the Free Press early yesterday afternoon, as David Asper was unveiling conceptual plans for a south Point Douglas redevelopment to the media.

Presently, I am not paying too much attention to the conceptual map unveiled, which shows the foundation of what could be a great urban neighborhood wiped away and replaced by the most profane of suburban developments. Unless Mr. Asper was continually lying to the faces of Point Douglas residents for an hour and a half, this plan will work (in some way, at least) within the fabric of the neighborhood.

I wrote this in good faith. I'm sure there will be plenty of time for my opinions to develop as plans become more concrete.

"Right now, the people that live on the south Point, tucked away in tidy little enclaves on unknown leafy streets, love where they live. While they do not have millions of dollars in government funding, they have something far more essential to renewing urban areas: their actual presence there, a vested interest in their investment (however modest), and their quality of life. Many are artists, and add invaluable "cultural capital" to the area. All the tri-level funding in the world could never begin to revitalize the neighbourhood without them.

Save for hotdog vendors, business would not come to Point Douglas on account of a football stadium alone, but many different kinds would come on account of a stronger residential population of all incomes in a more interesting and beautiful Point Douglas.

While Mayor Sam Katz has regularly expressed his support for Asper's plan, city council is slow to remove the antiquated manufacturing zoning that blankets the south Point and prohibits commercial or residential development there. Removing this zoning designation is the simplest way the city can ensure Asper's plan succeeds..."

Art, history and football - WFP

On CBC Radio yesterday afternoon, I heard an interview with Point Douglas artist Jordan Van Sewall, who said he is selling his 126 year-old house for around $750,000. Good for him--he could get five times that sum in any less economically dysfunctional city--but a bad sign for anyone thinks buying out residents in
disposable old Point Douglas is going to be an affordable walk in the park.

Point Douglas looking west, c.1890s. The two houses on the right are still standing, on Annabella and Curtis Streets

Friday, June 20, 2008

This again?

Policy Frog seemed to think my head would explode upon learning that, astonishingly, the "plan" to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Point Douglas is actually some kind of option again. While my head has not exploded, it has begun to hurt a little as I try to wrap it around how this can actually be a consideration.

A quick look at Google Maps will show that a stadium the size of the existing one would not fit anywhere in South Point Douglas without obstructing either the CP mainline, the Disraeli Freeway, or Higgins Avenue--to say nothing of the Red River. And this does not include the necessary parking spaces, but only the footprint of the stadium itself. Anyone interested in paying the cost to re-direct any one of these major routes?

How about paying the extra cost of land acquisition and expropriation? (Keeping in mind that the south point is owned by many different people, and that the biggest land owner there is a famously erratic and unpredictable fellow.) And what about the cost of closing minor streets and avenues that make up the myriad of small blocks in South Point Douglas?

And not that many people care about heritage north of Market Street, but there is also the removal of the many historical buildings and sites that dot this neighborhood to consider. Or the matter of building a football stadium (with acres of surface parking spots) on the site of the first agricultural colony in Western Canada, an early hub of activity in Winnipeg's history, and the actual graves of the men killed at Seven Oaks (who were laid to rest by Chief Pequis and his men just north of the present-day Alexander Docks). Friends of Fort Douglas, where are you?


Who was that guy who was briefly a mayoral candidate in the 2006 civic election--the one that wanted to bulldoze the North End and replace it with woodlands for Bison to run around in? Sheldon something? Anyway, the only difference between his plan and a Point Douglas stadium is that Sheldon so-and-so thankfully didn't have more than $80-M of public money at his disposal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When coalitions don't coalasce, and the park no one can get to

Thanks to Hacks & Wonks for exposing (in real time) the latest chapter of Winnipeg's squabbling Left.

"7:56 - Social Action Committee chairs:

"Betty Edel"

"Allan Wise"

"Calvin Pompana"

"Giselle Saurette-Roch"

...Giselle is honoured, but politely declines. Ditto Betty...

Point of Order: Gender equality is suggested here with only two dudes left. Said POOer suggests Mary Anne Cerilli.

8:00 - First voice of anger I've heard all night. Post Mary Anne Cerilli suggestion, another gentleman rose suggesting that the process is getting flawed. Said angry comment suggested that the nominations never closed and that open process was still open...

8:01 - Male Voice: "I would suggest that gender parity is insulting and that it should be based on ability."

An older lady in the back: "Suuuuuure, says the male." She also muttered something about her grandmother, but I'll be honest, I was giggling too hard to really catch it."

And thanks to Policy Frog for showing exactly how "diverse" this coalition is. Where's someone from the business world? Oh wait, in a perfect world, there is no business, only Community Economic Development. (But who then would create the money to give to government coffers that fund CED projects?)


I suppose that in a city with barricades at Portage and Main, it's a little hard to forget about the other acts of inhumanity committed by city planners. It was confirmed in a story in the Free Press that the $2.1-M plan to upgrade Millennium Park, behind the Library between Smith and Donald, does not include returning sidewalks to either of those streets.
("Councillor says she's been left in the dark" - WFP)

If sidewalks are not provided to the public, there is simply no point in spending one dollar on improving this park.

Sure, the pedestrian could take the detoured walkway through the park, but then they would be hidden from the street by a high fence and the bunker-esque entrance and exits of a City parking garage. Do you think Winnipeggers (particularly women and seniors) would willingly subject themselves to such a dangerous, hidden, nevermind inconvenient route to their destination? How about at night after the workers and hot dog carts have all gone home?

Just as some citizens and unfortunate visitors would rather hop the barricades at Portage and Main than try to navigate the confusing and abandoned Concourse, pedestrians will continue to opt for the dangerous and degrading task of walking on the inside lane of Smith or Donald Street, rather than walk through a lonely and hidden park.

Related: "Library Park Update..." - West End Dumplings blog

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thanks, WT, you saved us another 20 years of discussing BRT

It's a good thing Bus Rapid Transit can "easily" be converted to Light Rail Transit later on, because it looks like Winnipeg may need to ditch the articulated buses planned for busways and the future Bus Rapid Transit plan, and get right down to laying railway tracks. ("Transit fails 'bendy bus' on winter road test, emissions standards" - WFP)

Not only does the ariculated "bendy-bus" not work well in winter conditions, it's a pig on diesel. Neither practical nor green. Yikes.

I know NewFlyer Industries don't manufacture them, but maybe Winniepg should look at light rail. I'm sure the City could purchase inexpensive rolling stock from Eastern Bloc cities that are upgrading their rail systems. When is Coun. Harry Lazarenko going back to the Ukraine next?

I should add that 75 years ago, the Greater Winnipeg area had over 200 linear miles of street railway tracks, on which electrically-powered streetcars rode. It was possible to ride the streetcar to Stonewall, Headingley, and, yes, the University of Manitoba. At the same time, the urban system serviced every significantly-built up neighborhood of the time, with cars going down Avenues like Corydon, Academy, Broadway, Portage, Sargent, Notre Dame, William, Logan, Higgins, Dufferin, Euclid, Selkirk, Mountain, and Bannerman; streets like Main, Donald, Osborne, Sherbrook, McGregor, and Arlington.

Each of these routes were willingly ripped up and paved over one by one by the Winnipeg Electric Co. When this private utility was "purchased" by the City in 1953, they finished the job by getting rid of the last of the streetcars in 1955.


And since everyone likes historical photos...
A Portage Avenue that simply does not exist anymore, 1920s

Looking east on Portage from around Kennedy St. 1929

A fog falls on Portage and Fort, c.1920s

At Main and Higgins, c.1950. Note the Bell Hotel and the Bank of Commerce (Bridgman Architecture) in back

By the early '50s, not only were streetcars the bane of Modernist traffic engineers, but so were jay-walking streetcar passengers

Again, at the Portage-Fort-Notre Dame intersection, c.1953

Monday, June 16, 2008

If I wasn't paying for it, I'd be laughing

Not at all surprisingly, the issue of an underpass at Waverley Street has come up, only months after the first houses have sprung up behind the vast fencing that separates the NDP's sustainable Waverley West subdivision and the rest of the city.
"Time for Waverley underpass: Tory MP" - WFP

Apparently, a "cutting edge" suburb, that is, one with "[e]cologically responsible options, such as... alternative forms of transportation..." generates, according to a study by ND Lea, a paltry 10 car trips per household per day.

If 10 car trips per day is what a cutting edge suburbs generate, how much does the average, private-led, greedy, poorly-planned, conventional suburb generate? 20? 30?

Anyway, one has to wonder: how much energy and money that should be going to begin to tackle the City's $2-B infrastructure deficit be spent on inter-governmental haggling over who should pay for the Waverley underpass? When they finally figure out who is going to pay for it, will the roadway on Portage Avenue downtown still be enough to puncture bicycle tires and put the backroads of Burundi to shame, as they are now?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A gift from one looter to another

The public effort at Downtown Revitalization appeared to be even more farcical than usual yesterday, when City Council's Executive Policy Committee voted unanimously to give the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority a $552,000 grant--a reward for bothering to move to Main Street, to help pay their property taxes in the future.
(City helps pay for WRHA - WFP)

It seemed fitting enough. After all, one party takes to feed the host of growing agencies that exist precisely because downtown is unhealthy. The other takes to feed a growing bureaucracy that exists precisely because Winnipeggers themselves are (increasingly) unhealthy.

I wonder if B & M Land, the proprietor of the Yuki Sushi or any of the other true engines of revitalization receive such lavish tax grants. They are the ones who ultimately pay for these takers to reward eachother. They are the ones who create the money that the WRHA, Centre Venture, and the so-called "conservative" EPC feels they can milk from them, to throw around, decade after decade after decade, to show how much they care for Winnipeg's failed downtown.

It is no wonder that a growing number of business men and women are so disgusted by this that they are purposely making a point of avoiding downtown.

In addition to the half-million dollar grant, demolition costs for the WRHA project have been borne by the City of Winnipeg

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Skid row's high-end grocery; Waterfront Drive's phantom residents

I may not be doing any posting in the next week, so, if you're looking for snarky commentary on all things Winnipeg, you'll have to find it elsewhere--for now.


I will say, however, that I am pleasantly surprised with the new Main Meats & Groceteria location, which is just across the street from its former location at 654 Main Street, between Logan and Henry. While the west side of Main promises nothing but destructive banality (did you hear the ground floor retail in the WRHA parkade structure is out?), the new Main Meats has given the east side of Main the semblance of a functional city street, and the surprisingly attractive new facade gives Metro Meats the look of a high end grocer.

The interior space is much larger than their old premsises, so here is hoping, as someone who lives nearby, that they expand their selection of goods.

In the latest issue of The Point newsletter, artist and Point Douglas resident Jordan Van Sewall wrote of something that others have noticed as well: that in spite of condo units on Waterfront Drive selling briskly, very few people appear to be living in them. Will this "critical mass" of out of town condo speculators be enough for the streets of the East Exchange to liven up (outside of business hours), and for the district to finally get that magical supermarket? It's a little hard when your pedestrians and customers are living in West St. Paul or Vancouver.