There's an interesting post by Galston on his Rise and Sprawl blog today.
I only know him through his writings and from that perspective I have to say that I do respect him and his opinion and like to think that I share his interest in urban spaces, heritage related matters and other aspects of our built environment that make up Winnipeg's somewhat tortured soul.
Reading his conclusion: I decided that I do not really like Winnipeg. The only parts of Winnipeg that I do like are whatever remnants remain of sixty, eighty, a hundred years ago, or whatever comes close to resembling, however modestly, a real and normally functioning city. gave me pause to reflect on my city and my thoughts about it.
When I began this site I had more the typical menu that you'd find on a lot of blogs, forums and some media sources: a stream of complaints about the city and certain individuals in it. I started depressing myself joining the legion of folks in the race to put down as many aspects of the city as possible. Over time, I think / hope that it has evolved into more of a balance of celebrating the interesting and unique aspects of Winnipeg without sounding like an "Up, Up With People" number.
I do share Galston's frustration with the city, though, and our seeming inability to get things moving in the right direction. I put the blame not on "the city" as much as I do Winnipeggers.
I've often said that Winnipeg is a great city if it weren't for the Winnipeggers. There is large and vocal segment, egged on by the numerous segments of the media that earn their living off of the angry and crotchety in society and perpetuating the put-down mentality. Complaints about everything from the cold to traffic to crime - complaints that will never, ever be answered because every urban area in the world is going to have weather, traffic and crime to deal with. People who haven't been downtown in years but will go on in great detail about how bad downtown is. People who never take the bus that have the most complaints about Winnipeg Transit.
That leaves, though, a sizable group of people that DO want more from the city and people who run it. That DO want more walkable and cyclable streets. That DO want to see more interesting spots from pubs to all night diners. That DO want to preserve what's left of our heritage resources that makes our urban landscape comparable to some other great cities in North America. That DO want better, more interesting housing choices.
I think that this group is bigger than most people realize but is so completely fractured for a number of reasons that many don't realize it's there in any great strength:
1. Our self image issues, or however you want to put it, gets in the way. It's Winnipeg, it's supposed to suck and it's really uncool to say anything to the contrary. If the Weakerthan's song was called 'I Like Winnipeg' nobody would have ever heard it beyond those who owned the CD. If it was called "I Love Winnipeg" they would likely have lost any hip factor that they had in the local music scene and be all waiting tables today.
2. We have been disappointed in the past. Take, for instance, Portage Avenue. You would get two steps forward on filling the storefronts and then go two steps back because an existing retailer would go bankrupt and another would decide to close it's retail wing. The ball unfortunately doesn't roll too quickly or smoothly in a city as flat as this !
3. It's not organized. There is no organization, publication, personality, (politician, media or otherwise), that captures or speaks to this group.
4. People who stick their neck out get shot down. Take Glen Murray for instance. Though I didn't agree with all of his projects and ideas, he loved cities and urban places and wanted to do something about them. Problem is, if you step to the plate and take a swing you sometimes hit the ball but you also sometimes miss. Winnipeg, I think, prefers people who'll play it safe and go for the 'walk'. Those being too vocal or dreamy about things will be in for a hard ride.
So what's the conclusion to my little rant ? I'm not really sure.....
I guess it's that I feel that same frustration as Galston and just wished that Winnipeggers pulled in the same direction when it came to the city.
- That there was some way that entrepreneurs, landowners, politicians, some aspects of the media as well as the 'average joe Winnipegger', (let's call him Taras the rye bread baker !), could somehow make a 5 year pledge to stop complaining and say something nice about the place - it just night catch on !
- That more people could see the great areas of the city that we do have and realize that we can build on them and not accept second or third best options simply for the reason that "we suck". Many cities do neat things with less than what we have - they just learned to get on with it.
- That the problems we have as a city, from infrastructure to panhandlers to crime, are the same issues that 1,000 other NA cities have and that we'd just stop using them as excuses.
- That people would stop complaining about the bloody cold.