Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking back

-Ken Zaifman, immigrant lawyer, would-be boutique motel developer, and SRO manager, had a plan to demolish a commercial building for a drive-way off Albert Street. The plan came and came again. While Mr. Zaifman did not bring mud wrestling back to the St. Charles as threatened, he did quietly re-open it as an single-room-occupancy hotel for a number of months.
-Welcome to Winnipeg, you trendy corporate pigs. A chain retailer moved to an existing building on a traditional shopping street for the first time in decades. They were vandalized for their efforts.
-The Friends of Upper Fort Garry and their allies had a busy year. Between contradicting themselves, misleading the public, learning that business people outside the perimeter actually follow contract law, interestingly ignoring the Manitoba Club, and just plain embarrassing themselves, it is understandable they did not have the time to get moving on their World Class Heritage Park. We'll see what next year brings.
-Waverley West, the Manitoba NDP's model suburb of tomorrow, turned out to be yesterday's Linden Woods.
-The City picked up where they left off in the 1960s, and took out a good chunk of Main Street. Lavish tax breaks soon followed. All for a building of which the final "architectural" renderings were too ugly to show the public, and the ultimate outcome was even worse.
(And during this willful desecration of Main Street, the City removed two port-o-potties at Higgins and Main in the name of aesthetic context. Heh.)
-David Asper was in Point Douglas to sell his football stadium snake oil in June. I almost bought it. Almost. But at least Mr. Asper came out to talk with residents when a stadium in Point Douglas was was still an issue.
-A specter began to haunt Ellice Avenue, which thanks to this blog, made local and national headlines. (The Globe & Mail even quoted from this blog AND attributed it. Gee whiz.)
-Winnipeg Centre M.P. and grand-stand afficionado Pat Martin, along with some make-the-inner-city-a-[Zionist-free]Kibbutz activists, began fighting for Canada Post to turn its recently acquired land on Portage and Broadway over to Gordon Bell H.S. for recreation purposes. Could a regulation-sized soccer field even fit that triangular piece of land? Or is that besides the point?
-Who knew? Converting a residential street to one-way traffic for the sake of a handful of obscure express transit routes make for good urbanism according to the founder of the Institute of Urban Studies.
-The Main Street Monstrosity wasn't the only visual abortion thrown up by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in 2008. They also managed to make Portage Avenue look a little more dismal. Can't wait to see their 100,000 square-foot office downtown.
-Merry Christmas, insecure provincials. IKEA is coming, and people can't stop swooning, even though it will take longer to drive there than it will to the one in Minneapolis.
Of course, there were some good and not entirely ridiculous things going on: the sidewalks in the West Exchange District, around Albert Street and McDermot, became increasingly populated, and the area continued to develop as a bona fide retail district; Birk's Jewelers returned downtown--to Main and Lombard; the Black Sheep Diner on Ellice and Langside began serving delightful omelettes (and perhaps the only vegan breakfast in town?); Willows Coffee shop at Sutherland and McFarlane finally got up and running; parts of north Point Douglas continued to clean up, ditto West Broadway it seemed; and the Tallest Poppy and Yuki Sushi on Main Street appeared to continue to do well.

A happy new year to everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who says we don't build tall buildings?

Eighty-three per cent parking, seventeen per cent commercial space. No, that's not the land use ratio of downtown (it's more like 77/23), but the plan for the parkade adjoining the Boyd Building that this blog showed a conceptual drawing of on Monday.

The Free Press reports that two floors will be dedicated to commercial uses. Capitalizing on central Winnipeg's booming sickness industry, they will be pharmacies.

But no industry is as big as parking (sorry, money marts). The ten-story parkade will have some 420 parking spots, with the majority leased to "nearby businesses" (hello, Hydro), and public parking. (And at ten stories, that must be a new record for tallest parkade in the city. Maybe even the tallest west of Detroit.)

"The project still needs to be approved by the city, and city planner Kurtis Kowalke said that at first blush, it sounds like it would be a suitable development for the area."

A ten-story parkade on a block that every major transit route passes by is suitable? A gaping garage door and curb cut (driveway) across Portage Avenue does not immediately offend you? Portage Avenue is not a back lane, or even a side street. At least it wasn't once.

"But he [Mr. Kowalke] stressed that city officials haven't seen the design plans. Not only will they have to be approved..."

Not that "approval" from the City
means anything when it comes to design.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Hydro building: good from far...

Photo courtesy of, again, Adrian

The first Manitoba Hydro employees move into the new Portage Avenue tower today. Through the years of planning and building, Winnipeggers have heard from the professional boosters saying that the new Hydro building is an essential piece of the revitalization puzzle, and how employees will stick around after work to window shop new shops, and people-watch from new sidewalk cafes (or the prison mess hall that is the Portage Place food court) before actively transporting themselves back home. The unfortunate reality was summed up by one Hydro employee in the Winnipeg Sun:

"We're not going to revitalize anything. People are going to leave as fast as they can, to go home."

This of course is just one man's opinion, and this might be that of a cantankerous dinosaur that would not be happy with anything, and this individual does have co-workers who are excited to work downtown. Bu he has stated the obvious truth: the vast majority of people who work downtown leave as quick as they came.

With some twenty-five per cent of the city's workforce of 385,000 already employed downtown, can another thousand or so make a difference? Hydro employees haven't done much for Chinatown by being at James and King Street, for example, yet different results are hoped for by transferring them to Portage and Edmonton.

The James Avenue Hydro office, by the way, is among the offices already downtown that will be vacated by Hydro as the new building opens. So in this game of downtown office space Whac-a-Mole, it's hard to know how many Hydro employees will be transfered from outside downtown anyway.

*Edit* Jim at Daily Rants figures there will only be about 1,150 employees moving downtown, with the other 850 coming from James Ave. and at 444 St. Mary St.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Parking problem to be solved?

A rendering of some kind of parking garage next to the Boyd Building on Portage and Edmonton Street. While the transit bus may be yellow and orange, and the drawing style looks like product of the 1950s, there is reason to think that this architectural rendering is not as out-dated as it looks: the soon-to-be-opened Hydro tower that is drawn in the background.

(Thanks to Adrian for finding this.)

Add to that the fact that I hear of "stomach-churning projects coming to downtown in the near future, and the supposed "parking crisis" that will come when Hydro employees move into the new building, and it suggests that Portage Avenue might get a lovely multi-story parkade and gaping curb cut where shops used to be.

Which would be a good thing, because this city block (bound by Portage, Edmonton, Graham and Kennedy) is one of the last blocks in the entire downtown to that did not have some kind of parking facility. (It also happens to be at the centre of one of downtown's last functional retail nodes. Not that a lack of large parking facilities would have anything to do with commercial success in urban areas, right? Of course it does not.)

Clearly, the parking situation is dire.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's the intention that counts

The Cato Institute vice-president David Boaz made an interesting, but not at all surprising point:

"I don’t know much about Arne Duncan, President-elect Obama’s choice to be Secretary of Education. But I do note this: In seven years running the Chicago public schools, this longtime friend of Obama was apparently not able to produce a single public school that Obama considered good enough for his own children."

Meanwhile, the New York Times story on Arne Duncan's appointment led off with this paragraph:

Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice as secretary of education..."

Because, you know, it's a tough balance.

Also from the Cato blog, Daniel J. Mitchell attempts to explain the fundamental flaws of Keynesian economics that people everywhere are finding themselves enamored with.

Civic inferiority complex to be cured this morning

The first word I heard on this was from a friend's email, entitled "The Manitoba Furniture Maker's Union will NOT be impressed." Indeed, it may be time to learn how to swim. (Or maybe just to flap your arms and scream louder.)

IKEA store coming to Winnipeg - WFP

Thankfully, I may never again have to ship cabinets and furniture from Bloomington MN to Dunseith ND, then drive there, load it up, pay an unholy duty at the border, and bring it home.

Interestingly, though, I have been to the Bloomington (Minneapolis) IKEA store perhaps ten times in the last three years, compared to the zero times I have shopped, nevermind driven on Route 90 south of Grant Avenue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who asked you guys?

[Sarcasm ahead]

This is interesting: the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses is hoping the Province does not increase the minimum wage.

Don't small business listen to the experts who have been continually pointing out that an economic downturn is the worst time to have low wages? And since cutting wages is economically devastating, it stands to reason that increasing wages would increase consumer spending. Because that's all there is to the economy: recycling money, and the more you get the more you spend.

That is why I propose the minimum wage be raised to $30/hour--so Working Families, Hardworking Canadians, and The Working Poor can better whether the economic storm.

Sometimes I really wish those slaves in independent businesses would stop whining, and let the experts do what's best for the economy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

R & S answers your questions!


Thoughts on the veto of the new apartments in North K and the River Heights by-election race?"

I haven't followed this story that closely. But I suspect that the developer will be in for a surprise if he thinks building a rental high(ish)-rise will be quick and easy in any other city.

Anyway, things should be approved based on precedent, and on what is appropriate for the surroundings, not simply on the squawkability of NIMBY's. Arguing that an apartment block is not good for a street that already has two is desperate. To make decisions on that argument is stupid.

This article does bring up a very good point: that the apartment vacancy rate in Winnipeg continues to be 1.1 per cent, and only 319 new units were created last year. Ending rent control is an obvious way to lessen this tight rate, and afford the City the ability to be a little bit pickier when it comes to development proposals. Reducing car dependency through building a rapid transit system (you know, a real one, that runs above or below grade) would also assure that high-density development is built on transit arteries, and not on little dead-end streets in North Kildonan.


The by-election in River Heights (sometime in February) will be the first election since the formation of the Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition. Will they put a candidate forward, or endorse one? River Heights is a ward that can go (and in the past has gone) either way, so it would be interesting to see if the WCC is "broad-based" enough to win there.

Will the Katz machine put someone forward? Maybe Jennifer Zyla will try again.

Looking to 2010, I suspect that whether or not dear ol' Harry Lazarenko retires, the Mynarski race will be the one to watch, with the Citizens Coalition and big Labour lining up to put someone in office in the cradle of socialism in Western Canada.

Also, since half of council apparently wants to be mayor in '10, the elections in the wards they vacate will bring new faces, too.

Losing ground

But as I posted last year, practicality can get lost in Active Transportation hoopla. This is apparent in the City boosting funding for cycling routes, but cutting funding for riverbank stabilization.

Losing city land along the riverbanks is a loss of something of value to the City, either taxable private property or as public land for public use (ie- recreation, walking, cycling). Once that land is gone, it cannot come back without any great cost. And it is disappearing rapidly, not just for house-owners in St. Vital, but for the City's existing and future active transportation corridors.

These photos, scanned from the pages of "The North End" by John Paskivievich, show how much useful land has been lost, or in the process of being lost, on the Point Douglas riverbank in recent decades.

Here at the foot of Curtis Street, is where a portion of trail runs along the Red between Waterfront Drive and Annabella Street (on the east end of the old Hobo Jungle). The land that the railway track (a line between the CP and CN mainlines) stands on in this photo is now is partly sunken to near the water level, where spring water levels keep it unusable to cyclists for much of the year. The trail that is there now dips with the sinking riverbank, and could likely disappear to further erosion in the coming years.

At Norquay Park on the north side of the Point, this awkwardly-sitting man looks out over a portion of the park that has sunk down to river level to be flooded throughout spring, then stand as a muddy marsh the rest of the year.

Both these views are on the North Winnipeg Parkway, which will follow the Red River from The Forks to Kildonan Park. One of the final links of this parkway has been the land between the Redwood Bridge and St. John's Park. The completion of this portion, according to the City's website, riverbank stability:

"The Public Service will conduct a study to address riverbank stability issues along the Red River pathway and under the Redwood Bridge."

The city's riverbanks are the best places to put bike trails, and it would be tragic if this land was lost from under our feet. Perhaps the cycling lobbyists and their allies on council will recognize that more funding for riverbank stabilization benefits everyone, including cyclists.


I highly recommend buying John Paskievich's photography book "The North End." Or to view his film "Ted Baryluk's Grocery", the touching story of a grocery store proprietor and his neighborhood. The store was at the NW corner of Euclid and Austin Street. (Which incidentally is today the site of a dismal social housing complex over-run with gangs. But, hey, the intentions were good...)

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Power Broker?

I found a quote from "Opposition" (NDP/Labor) councillor Jenny Gerbasi in this story ("Girls school's plans draw fire" - WFP) quite funny:

Gerbasi said the school should have talked to her before making any plans.

"Before they come to city hall with plans, they should be talking to the city councillor," Gerbasi said. "It appears to be a school expansion by stealth."

A pox upon me, Your Highness, for I did not know that we lived in feudal times. Or that city councillors had become relevant.

(I wonder if the University of Winnipeg talked to Harvey Smith before they bought up half the Spence neighborhood?)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An exercise in redundancy

Yesterday evening I went to Argyle School to observe the south Point Douglas secondary plan consultation forum. It seems hopeful, but unfortunately the real plan for south Point Douglas has already been in the works for some time. It is called a four-lane Louise Bridge.

By replacing the Louise with a four-lane bridge, and possibly easing its connection to Nairn Avenue, traffic traveling through south Point Douglas Higgins Avenue will increase exponentially. It is a little hard to plan a "unique urban neighborhood" with a "village feel" when there is an at-grade freeway racing by. Hoping that "cars won't be here in ten years" (one suggestion from the crowd), or that "more people use the active transportation corridor" (suggested from the floor) is not a solution and will do nothing to change the fact that south Point Douglas will increasingly become an obnoxious automobile slum.

The imaginative wishing of an assortment of artists, graying planning professors and their students, planners, activists, union bosses (yes, CUPE Local 500 reps were there), and self-denying hipster gentrifiers, will not be enough to outweigh the need to get Transconians to and from Monster Truck Madness at the MTS Centre as quickly as possible.

Sadly, the participants put more effort into practical matters, such as finding ways to remove the Canadian Pacific mainline and restricting condo development, than on finding ways to calm traffic and mitigate the disastrous effects that traffic engineers have wrought upon the neighborhood.

Other goodies:
-Setting the clock back a couple hundred years, planners called for one square foot of greenspace for every square foot of building space. Does that include existing buildings, or multi-storied buildings? Either way, if I wanted to live in a neighborhood that had this kind of built/open ratio, I would have moved to the R.M. of Macdonald or East St. Paul
-Following the one-for-one idea, one suggestion was to have a subsidized residential unit for every "market" residential unit
-Much attention/public funding to go to artists, who appear to be the only white people who will allowed to reside in this utopia
-Mechanisms put in place so that taxes do not go up for "low income" residents
-Barely a mention on design standards from anyone

The Lord Selkirk Park developments offers plenty of affordable housing and a good percentage of green space

Of course, in spite of wanting a half-green space, half-low income ghetto with no increases in property tax values (sounds like south Point Douglas of the last 30 years), everyone seemed to want more services like grocery stores and cafes.

Preferably stores and cafes that sell (or better yet, give out) cakes that can be eaten and kept.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

...and out come the moochers

Unions aren't the only ones eager to save the economy, the Manitoba Assoc. of Social Workers/Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers are, too.

"Dear MASW/MIRSW members,
This email came to us from the Faculty of Social Work with a request to distribute to our members...

Thank you,
Diane Cullen
MASW/MIRSW Administrative Coordinator

"A group of folks have quickly come together locally to show support for the federal Liberal/NDP Coalition. There is growing support across the country and rallys
[sic] are being planned in several cities...

It is important that we get as many progressive minded folks out to this event. Social workers of course would have a particular interest in the possibilities that a progressive coalition government might offer..."

Mmm, high-paying social work jobs... a strategy to end child poverty... a strategy to end poor conditions among Aboriginals... a Big Three pickup truck in every driveway...

An A(ppointment) for Effort

Overthrowing the government so that $30-B can go to propping up car manufacturing (big auto?) and logging industries? Sure, says Green leader Elizabeth May. Anything for a seat in the Senate.

Monday, December 01, 2008

One growing bureaucracy, two disgraced thoroughfares

Much has been said here and elsewhere about the abysmal Winnipeg Regional Health Authority building on Main Street, while little mention has been made of the WRHA's other new office building, on Portage Avenue and (I think) Toronto St.

Anyone who enjoys the photographic work of Bryan Scott knows he can take any view of the city and expose it's texture and beauty. But not even Mr. Scott's skillful eye and technical arsenal can do justice to this box that he called "one of the most unimaginably bland, flat, two-dimensional pieces of architecture I've ever seen. That is because there is no texture or beauty to find in this building.


This is anti architecture. No reason, no order, just sheer banality; a cartoon of a cartoon of a cardboard set piece from an elementary school play.

Presuming as much incompetence and cheapness went into the construction as it did the design, I take consolation in that Winnipeg will only have 20-30 years to suffer this folly before it is condemned, placarded, and demolished.

By the way, the private businesses that were bought out to make way for this building, as far as I know, have safely re-located somewhere out in Polo Park neighborhood.

Winnipeg gets exactly what it deserves.