Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reader's Choice: the Top 10 of '10

In 2010, The Rise and Sprawl has perhaps been a little slower in content than in the blog's previous five years, with much of my writing energy occupied by other projects, notably university papers, and contributions to two books: a chapter of A Manifest Presence: 100 Years of St. Margaret's, and the foreword to Bryan Scott's Winnipeg Love Hate.

Still, time was found to update this blog, and in 2010, The Rise and Sprawl remained among the growing ranks of top local blogs--something that still baffles me, given the generally narrow focus of this blog. I won't complain.

Looking over the popular posts of the past year, it seems that there are two major camps of this blog's readership: one is of the "shut up and post some pics" variety--two of the top three popular posts of 2010 were collections of old photos of Winnipeg with brief commentary. The second seems to be of the "is he saying anything about our department/organization?" variety--posts that name names of organizations, notably Centre Venture, the Historical Buildings Committee and Heritage Winnipeg, seem to be popular.

In any case, the top ten most popular posts of 2010, based on the highest number of visits, appear below. They are, in order:

10. These are my favorite blogs, September 2
A brief list of new, or newly-discovered blogs of note. One addition to the list of great local blogs since September is the product of one of the city's most diligently observant pedestrians, Walter Krawec, whose One Man Committee takes a careful and in-depth look at city life and issues. Checking his blog, and the blogroll on the right hand column, usually precedes my checking major media sources.

9. Point Douglas is going to look great two years from now..., April 15
The slow assault on the city's built heritage continued with the demolition of the Smart-Bag Building on Pacific Avenue East. No one, it seemed, had any real will to save this building, or encourage Sport Manitoba to look at different options.

8. Demolition blues, January 5
Like the northern fringes of the Exchange District, what texture remains on the wind-swept streets south of Portage Avenue continues to face threats. In January, a rumor circulated that the Windsor Hotel and its beloved bar would make way for a parking lot. This plan has been put on hold.

7. What comes next?, May 25
As demolition fencing went up around one of the oldest warehouse buildings in the Exchange District, Sport Manitoba still did not have a penny for constructing a new sports facility in the place of the Smart-Bag Building. This came after the Historical Buildings Committee compromised by allowing the demolition, provided the site not be used for surface parking--something that the city does not allow downtown anyway.

As of late December, the site of the Smart-Bag Building is gravel lot. Sport Manitoba staff and visitors parking on the west edge of the building's footprint. Sport Manitoba allegedly does not have any funds to go toward constructing the recreation facility.

6. Parking lots, and their defenders, September 26
Perhaps the strangest election issue in 2010 (no small feat in a city where election issues are increasingly just pulled out of thin air randomly) was surface parking lots. Both the mayor and his opponent made promises related to dealing with them. While the candidates and the general public may have discovered in 2010 they have no love for surface parking lots ("they're eyesores"), they increasingly regard them as a strategic resource that simply needs to be better managed. I stood by and laughed at their foolishness, and posted yet again, that semi-famous image--originally drawn by local architect and columnist Brent Bellamy, and used shamelessly by this blog--showing parking to be in no short supply downtown.

Also in this post was a note on the epic saga of the Friends of the Upper Fort Garry, whose for some kind of world class interpretive centre continues to rise. $10-M short on funds for the latest version of the project, the Friends need to come up with the remainder through the generosity of politicians eager to dispense public funds to whichever well-heeled moocher comes begging. Take a number, Friends.

5. 123 Princess Street, October 10
Winnipeg's major development corporation continued to move away from assisting small, risky, privately-funded projects, and toward being hangers-on of big, safe, publicly-funded projects.

4. A tougher sell, April 20
Again with the Smart-Bag Building, which was demolished with no firm plan to replace it. A point I tend to beat on frequently is that [w]hile the Smart-Bag is (or was) a heritage building, this is not a heritage issue. It is an issue of what kind of centre Winnipeg will have: a downsized, decentralized wasteland dominated by parking lots and "new unurban urbanization..." or a modest city that still contains the seeds of its own, slow regeneration, wants to one day see people on the sidewalks again, and doesn't destroy itself quite so willingly.

Building on that precedent, the more recent summary demolition approval of the Shanghai/Coronation Building in Chinatown makes the Smart-Bag story pale in comparison. Expect "developers" to find more new and creative ways to dupe Councillors into demolishing buildings for parking lots in 2011.

3. Warehouse District as it was, July 28
Photos found at the Winnipeg Building Index, showing the Exchange District in the 1970s and early '80s, when it was known as the Winnipeg Historic Warehouse Area; a fading and forgotten warehouse district that a few brave entrepreneurs dreamed would be "the new Gastown or Yorkville." That didn't happen, at least not on their schedule, but by the City valuing building density, mixed uses, calm street spaces and individual initiative in this part of the city, the Exchange District was able to slowly become the most successful and enjoyable neighborhood downtown.

2. Slow burn in a postal code that doesn't matter, October 25
This blog focuses on a particular set of topics, banging out the same old post over and over again, and finding new ways to string a few biting words together about some threatened building or another (see #'s 4, 7, 8, and 9 above). But in the final week of the Civic Election, I commented on the violence and terror in the North End that reached a new level as the entire area was put on lockdown, as a gunman shot three people, killing two . It would be nice if this tragedy served as a wake-up call, but the cops and the City and the Province and public have been hitting the snooze button for years. A few hour spent in the North End over any given weekend should be a sufficient "wake-up call." Instead, a triple shooting is the new normal in a city with a small town mentality and a big city crime problem.

The growing severity and scope of this violence is unacceptable. But it seems that responsibility for doing anything about it is equally unacceptable to anyone elected to uphold peace and civility in this city. Hit the snooze button one more time, Winnipeg: for vast sections of your city, 2011 is going to be a year of increased violence and abandonment.

1. Winnipeg in color, 1962, June 24
While nerdily scanning the pages of the Winnipeg Building Index, I noticed a number of good quality color photos dated 1962. There are shots of Portage and Main, Academy Road, the University of Manitoba, there is also a number of shots of the Main Street strip, and the quickly-disappearing streetscapes of forgotten corners of South Point Douglas: Martha, Henry, Maple. While the views are often quaint, they present a city that nearly 50 years later, largely does not exist in form and function.

Looking north up Main from Logan Avenue, 1962. WBI

That's it for 2010. See you in the new year.