Archive for August, 2006

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A Small Diversion

August 18, 2006

I’ve been quite busy lately with other things, so until I’ve got time to put together another full-length entry, I’ll leave this to mull over.



Anything wrong with these “nailbombs” (this particular pole is on Adelaide between McDermot and Bannatyne Avenues), small pieces of plywood or cut-offs from 2x4s that have been brilliantly painted and then nailed to wooden structures around the inner city of Winnipeg, usually on telephone poles that desperately need some brightening up? If you see any painted-over nailbombs around, you’ll know that various graffiti removal teams think there’s something wrong. Unsanctioned public art, sure, but vandalism? I think not – at least thought (and premeditation) went into these, and they do provide a welcome diversion and may even provoke some thoughts by the viewers. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

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A Cycling Chicago of the North someday?

August 7, 2006

While browsing various urban and alternative transportation blogs, I came across this post at Toronto cycling blog TorontoCranks.com. Most of the post is dedicated to a City of Chicago press release from June of this year, entitled “Bike 2015 Plan features 150 strategies to encourage bicycling”. In light of the craziness in Winnipeg surrounding Critical Mass that has permeated the media and local message boards and blogs, polarizing the population on both the issues of Critical Mass and cycling in general, this is especially interesting and, from some Winnipeg perspectives, depressing. Chicago seems to actually be encouraging cycling as a viable and attractive alternative transporation option with the adoption of Bike 2015 Plan, as its Executive Summary and two main goals indicate:

“The Bike 2015 Plan is the City of Chicago’s vision to make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Chicago. The plan recommends projects, programs and policies for the next ten years to encourage use of this practical, non-polluting and affordable mode of transportation.

The Bike 2015 Plan has two overall goals:

  • To increase bicycle use, so that 5 percent of all trips less than five miles are by bicycle.
  • To reduce the number of bicycle injuries by 50 percent from current levels.”

Most impressive are the recommendations for a “500-mile bikeway network” that reaches to within a half-mile of each and every resident, the identification of cyclists’ needs with all new and restorative infrastructure development, thousands of additional bike racks and longer-term storage spaces, using rapid transit stations as bikeway hubs, and many more. [full Plan available here: 4.5 MB pdf file] Very ambitious, but, given the right dedication, funding and commitment of the city’s leadership, there doesn’t have to be much doubt that it’ll happen.

Which is in stark contrast to Winnipeg. There’s little reason why Winnipeg can’t follow suit with a vastly scaled-down, yet thorough version of this plan save for leadership. And we haven’t had it on the topic of cycling for 13 years. The now-outdated, yet still valuable 1993 Final Report entitled “Winnipeg Bicycle Facilities Study” (of which an online link seems to be lacking) has now seen a third mayor essentially ignore it, prompting cyclists and all who strive for viable alternatives to the private automobile to say on the topic something akin to what the initial TorontoCranks.com post is entitled: “Chicago’s mayor proves Toronto’s Mayor Miller SUCKS!”

The benefits of cycling abound for both the individual, his/her pocketbook and health, and for society as a whole. The Critical Mass movement in Winnipeg, with all their faults, alleged or true, likely don’t realistically believe a bicycling system akin to Chicago’s comprehensive Plan will come through (though I’m sure they won’t complain); they, and all other cyclists simply want cycling as a valid commuting and transporation choice to at least be taken as a priority by the leadership of this City. With the amounts of money going towards highways and roads built decidedly for cars, is asking for a fair share too much these days? If we have never become the “Chicago of the North” as far as our economy (and size) has been concerned, then perhaps, with the right leadership, we can one day follow in their path as a cold-weather, midwestern alternative transportation hub.

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Playing Catch-Up

August 4, 2006

On a warm early August afternoon in downtown Winnipeg, Mayor Sam Katz finally officially threw his hat into the ring to face reelection as Mayor of Winnipeg, several weeks after main rival Kaj Hasselriis had done so. All issues regarding his waiting so long to register aside, Mayor Katz’s early election promises to prune trees, cut grass, clear snow and pick up litter are, to put it mildly, uninspiring. I’d be willing to grant Katz the benefit of the doubt for a more-than lacklustre half-term in office thusfar, preferring to save the big promises for an election for a full four-year term, but, not surprisingly on my part, Katz is preferring to stick to the basics then, and is preferring to stick to the basics now. For a politician who wants the city—Winnipeg—under his charge to be a vibrant city that attracts young people”, he’s going to have to do more than ensure basic civic services are met to not only attract new young, ostensibly educated and creative, people, but to keep its own creative, educated young people.

Where’s the long-term vision for an exciting city that is not merely a place to grow up in and move on from; for a city that will grow sustainably, smartly and in a way that is attractive to not only its often loyal residents but to those from elsewhere. As one of those young people who has grown up in this city, I am seriously doubting Winnipeg’s future at this point, and especially my future here. I don’t want a city whose mayor’s first priorities are to provide basic services—I can get that anywhere—but a city where the leadership from the top on down gives some civic inspiration for its residents. For a mayor who has a separate “Youth” page on his website, I’m not sure who of my peers Sam is listening to. But listening to those who have actually seen what cities can be—what Winnipeg can be—might upset the city’s large Lowest Common Denominator population from where Sam seems to draw a lot of his supporters. He may have won in a landslide in 2004 based on his name, but there’s thankfully a growing body of public sentiment that’s beginning to think otherwise. And they’ve now got a mayoral candidate to thinks he can lead them—one of those creative, educated and enthusiastic young people who will make people who truly care for a vital urban centre take take a close look at in Kaj Hasselriis. Look him up and compare the election platforms: who has the more interesting, creative and forward-thinking ideas, leading to a better Winnipeg in the long run?

Sam, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Kaj, not least of which is catching up with the city’s most valuable asset, the younger and forward-thinking people who really will have a say in how this city grows into the future. Unless, of course, we have too many more years of visionless leadership.

(note: This is not a direct endorsement of Kaj Hasselriis per se – official platforms, debates and discussions have yet to be revealed and proceeded with, but first impressions do count, especially in love and politics.)

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A Beginning

August 1, 2006

Which way will Winnipeg grow as we become fully entrenched in the 21st century? Will we return to the urbanity of a hundred years ago that propelled Winnipeg to be dubbed ‘The Chicago of the North’ or will we stand idly by, persisting in our thoughts that the open prairie that surrounds us is simply virgin land to be conquered and developed? Or perhaps we’ll simply continue to find ourselves locked in this seemingly never-ending struggle as can only exist here, in the ‘world’s biggest small town’?

Stay tuned for the answer.* In the meantime, as the issues, people and ideas in this city present themselves, enjoy this interesting, informative and opinionated slice of urbanity where the classic love/hate relationship many Winnipeggers have with their city will necessarily come to the forefront.

(*author’s note: Answer likely won’t be readily forthcoming; expect to have to deal with being caught in this game of tug-of-war for a long, long time. It’ll keep things interesting, if nothing else…)