Thursday, October 07, 2010

A good day for bad ideas

What with my being part of the new media generation, I used Twitter to follow the Downtown BIZ mayoral debates on downtown issues last night, while studying for school. The tweeting brought the debate to the comfort of my kitchen table courtesy of Free Press reporter Bartley Kives, and PR professional Deborah Zanke.

Yesterday's debate demonstrated the very low level of thinking regarding downtown issues in Winnipeg. Not just the mayoral candidates and their inane responses, but the questions themselves, which aren't really a set of questions as much as they are one statement: Give us more of the status quo, please.

Land uses (question 3) and retail (question 8) should be micro-managed by public bodies; greater reliance should be placed on yesterday's mega-projects (question 7); still greater reliance should be on the public management of parking lots (question 9); suburban commercial centres are still to blame for downtown's woes (question 10); and of course, organizations like the BIZ should be given more money to be even greater self-serving cash cows (questions 1-10).

Stupid questions deserve stupid answers, and for the most part, the event organizers got exactly what they deserved.

It wasn't all bad: Katz gave lip service to private interest's role in cities (who knew?). Judy Wasylycia-Leis reiterated a pledge she made last month to remove the barricades at Portage and Main, and said transit buses should run later than 1:30 a.m.


But things got laughable when Sam Katz was asked about heritage, and responded that the Ryan Block fiasco is an example of a successful solution. And while it is a pleasant surprise to see the shell of the 115-year old warehouse rise again at the corner of King St. and Bannatyne, the backstory is one of shame not just for the City under Katz' watch, but every mayor going back to Bill Norrie (ask your parents). Close to 20 years of demolition by neglect, and at the end of it all, the City doles out lavish heritage tax credits to the owner so that he can build a parkade that apparently is poorly designed and charges above market rates.

Wasylycia-Leis, for her part, offered up another earlier promise to create a pedestrian mall in the Exchange District. But bad strategies peaked a few hours before the debate, when she announced that she would give the Winnipeg Parking Authority more power to act as a property developer, using parkade revenue to build city-owned mixed-use developments, theoretically on the site of surface parking lots.

This is essentially a promise to feed the monster that has grown during the Sam Katz years--of more "arms-length" agencies than Vishnu can keep track of, and giving them more and more power.


Increasingly over the past few years, City development agencies like Centre Venture have done less accommodating of the market and more tampering with it, while making themselves a redundant organization by focusing on public/non-profit development. Finding it easier than lending to small, risky private initiatives, Centre Venture instead busies itself taking credit for big-ticket projects that would have gone through with our without them. Centre Venture has even have made attempts to muscle out property owners who are actually renewing neighborhoods. What would make anyone believe the allegedly thuggish and unaccountable Winnipeg Parking Authority, under a new mayor long on "strategies" and micro-management, would be any better--nevermind that they would make a dent in Winnipeg's barren streetscapes.

And the book I took notes from while glancing at the Twitter feed last night: The Fatal Conceit by F.A. Hayek (a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand how cities, societies, and markets work). It was a little bit like studying the works of Rachmaninoff while listening to Nickelback.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'more arms length agencies than Vishnu can keep track of' what a great description.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly Rob you have little knowledge of market forces. But thats okay, your just a planner.

There is market failure downtown, as in most dowtowns.

Its all about supply and demand.

The supply for space to build is as far as your eyes can see, the new frontier. Demand is limited. Demand is driven by price and product.

So if you allow sprawl to happen and not force the supply to be built in the older areas of the City - e.g. - downtown, demand will move there and leave behind vacant buildings.

So there are only 3 options.

1. Limit supply
2. Increase demand (increase population)
3. Force the market back downtown by making costs more competative.

It seem you detest the 3rd option (which most cities have adopted), so which option do you like?

Or do you have any other options, other then building a subway?

1:17 PM  

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