Monday, September 08, 2008

Notes from the combine

One thing I noticed listening to CBC Radio while piling hay bales all afternoon earlier this week, was that Winnipeg "finally getting rapid transit" (on a day that "has been close to fifty years in the making") was not nearly as big a story as Sam Katz' hint of a wish to one day see light rail transit, instead of what is essentially a glorified express bus going only half-way to the U of M. Clearly, people care more about unsubstantiated talk of Light Rail than about an actual bus "rapid transit" line.


Andrew Marquess is a residential developer who not only develops multi-family projects in neighborhoods the rest of the development industry turns their nose at, he installs them with geothermal heating. All of this while eschewing government subsidies. Where does this man come from? Certainly not Winnipeg of the last, let's say, 89 years.

Mr. Marquess is now eyeing the former Fort Rouge CNR yards with an ambitious plan to build row-houses and multi-story condos. Unfortunately, the prospect of this project having any tangible impact on the quality of the surrounding area has been thwarted by the little patch of junky drive-in suburbia that the City so carefully allowed to sprout up there. At what would presumably the entrance point of this development--Osborne at Mulvey Avenue E., a Co-op Gas Bar & Snack Shop and McDonald's Restaurant, each surrounded by their own giant parking lots. What might have been a fine way to mitigate the huge boarder vacuum that separates the relatively pedestrian-scaled Osborne Village and South Osborne strips--build dense residential above and behind new commercial spaces along the Osborne sidewalk--is now marred by suffocating dullness one would expect to see on the ex-urban highway strips of the nation, not the middle of Fort Rouge. Way to go, City.


"Creating More Housing Downtown" has been talked about by governments for decades, yet when someone comes along with a great way to do this--restore a warehouse at Princess and Pacific into rental apartments and commercial space--they both clamor to avoid helping through offering tax breaks. I guess it's too must to ask, since the Province already put so much into developing Waverley West, while the City must have little left over after giving WRHA $550,000 to move a couple hundred bureaucrats to Main Street. Add to that the amount both gave to help Friend of Upper Fort Garry keep an apartment block from going up at Assiniboine and Fort Street...

There is no apparent move by the City or Province to abolish rent control, yet there is no wish to live with its consequences, in this case, the need for governments to subsidize developers who build new rental properties. What do they hope will happen? That downtown Winnipeg will fill out with nothing but high-end condos? That the city-wide vacancy rate will sink to less than one percent? That rental property and the market for them will simply vanish?


Councillor Harry Lazarenko woke up for his semi-annual "give the media some tough-talkin' Nort'-Ender soundbytes" event today, this time, focusing on overgrown front lawns in his ward. While I applaud this kind of effort to punish willful dereliction on the part of both private and public slum-lords in the North End, I have to wonder: does this mean that constituents in Coun. Lazarenko's ward can now call or email his office with this issue and get a response? Or will they have to continue the practise of sitting outside Council chambers hoping to catch a glimpse of their councillor, as many active citizens are now having to do?

Maybe I'd have better luck signing the guestbook on his website with any concerns.


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