Friday, 31 October 2008

Midafternoon Reflections

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.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

An Urban Design Icon and Then There's "The W" - Update

I saw an interesting BBC documentary about an unsung hero of modern urban design: Harry Beck, the creator of the famous London Underground map.

Beck wasn't a designer or artist but rather an engineering draftsman who sometimes worked for the Underground. It was during a layoff in the early 30's that he decided to take a shot at improving the increasingly cluttered map used by the company. He revolutionized map making by foregoing actual geography in exchange for ease of use and understanding.

Today, his map is still the basis for not only for London's Underground but for most of the 80 subway systems around the world. Beck's maps have have been shown in modern art exhibitions and was chosen one of Britain's top three design icons of the 20th century, (along with the Spitfire and Concorde), in a 2006 BBC contest.

I've relied on Harry's work in London and Munich's variation as well. I sometimes think about these maps when I see people confusedly walking around in our 'skywalk'. Despite it being a fairly simple system - a mostly straight line with a ball at one end - we've never really done a great job conveying it's simplicity to newcomers.

Initially, the skywalk relied on each building owner to wayfind people in and out of their own section of the system with mixed results as this 1988 Rocki Rolletti skit shows. In the mid 00's a Pittsburgh design firm was hired to create a unified system. The system was rebranded "The W" Walkway System, (a name that 95% of Winnipegger's wouldn't recognize).

Despite it being a single finger stretching from Portage and Main to Portage and Memorial it was given three colour codes:

As the wayfinding firm describes:

Wayfinding within the complex walkway system was conquered by dividing the system into three color-coded “subway lines”, each named for the out-of-doors avenue, which they parallel.

Finding a map for the system is difficult. The Downtown BIZ's site shows "Downtown Indoor Walkway System Map (coming soon)" and explains the system this way:

"When you’re out and about downtown, watch for the “W” signs to show you how to access the system. Signage throughout the walkway will also help guide you. The City of Winnipeg coined the term “The W” as short-form for the weather protected walkway system, simplifying signage and usability".

The city of Winnipeg map page refers you to the non-existent BIZ map. The MTS Centre "Parking Transit and Walkway System Map" does not use the colour coded "The W" system.

Harry's map brought together a complicated system and created a colour coded, straightforward diagram that people could figure out at a glance. Our old system relied on the multiple location sign system that many cities still use. Instead of combining the two into one for our signage, as San Antonio has done below, it seems we've maybe taken the downside from both and combined them into an overcomplicated system for ourselves.

Texas - San Antonio

Texas - San Antonio

Now, it could be a case that I am too familiar with the system and therefore don't see the ease that the now 5 year old wayfinding system offers. I still see a lot of confused faces in The W, though.

Well, here's to Harry and good urban design !

Update: Since posting this I've been a lot more observant about the walkway system when using it. A few weeks on, here are some additional thoughts:

- I still think that using a "W" to mark the system is too simple. The letter is not going to become iconic enough that locals or visitors would pick up on what that means. The word skywalk or walkway should have been incorporated. Even the London underground system, it's logo recognized around the world, uses a word. It also uses the same colours, regardless of what part of the city you're in.

- I think that a rebranding is a failure when the body that commissioned it doesn't bother using it. If you notice in the recent announcement from thh city that the system will be expanded to the Convention Centre it does not refer to "the W" Walkway - it calls it the Skywalk - the name that Winnipeggers christened it long ago.

- From my read of the branding that means another colour will be rolled out for the logo for that stretch of the system.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Cycling Through Some Thoughts - Nov 1 Update

A few cycling items have caught my eye of late ...

Old St. James Rail Bridge

First of all, just in time for ......ummmm, winter (?) ...... the City of Winnipeg has started painting out designated bike lanes on some streets in the downtown. I saw one over the weekend on Hargrave and the FreeP picked up the story today Designated bike lanes added downtown.

It sounds a little fancier than it really is. The bike "lanes" are that portion of the curb lane that parked cars open their driver's side door into - you know, where bikes usually travel anyway ? It's sort of like painting "Stand Here" on sidewalks adjacent to bus stop poles. Still, the visibility and recognition is nice in a city where cycling issues seem woefully behind the times.

A second item is that a couple of colleges in the States, (U of New England and Ripon College in Wisconsin) have begun issuing free, personalized, good quality bikes to all freshmen. It's in a bid to save congestion and the need to invest in more traffic and parking related infrastructure on campus. According to the article on CoolTown Studios, Free personalized bikes for university freshmen, the per-centage of freshmen bringing cars to school has dropped from 75% to 25% from last year. Interesting project for universities of businesses here to look at. (Also see the UNE article

Free bikes, Zipcars greet incoming freshmen at UNE for more info on the program).

Police Dept Bicycle Corps c 1912

Now to my summer of cycling..... As you may know from a previous entry I have normally lived in areas of downtown where walking was the easiest form of transportation. My new digs put me outside of that 'walk comfort zone' so I decided that it was time to try out a bike.

My sister lent me an old one of hers and after a $60 tune-up and affixing my nifty retro licence plate I was on the go !

Winnipeg Bike Plate

I am happy to say, three months later, that my bike and me are still intact. I really enjoyed being a cyclist, especially on Saturday afternoons where I'd hop on with my camera and be gone for hours at a time. I'm going to keep it up for a while longer but likely won't be one of those nutty folks riding in the snow ;-)

Update: On Saturday I decided to go check out the bike lanes on bike. It appears that the traffic lanes have each been narrowed to create additional space for the bike lane so you're not right right up against the parked car doors. Not bad, though I noticed that many of the bike symbols had already worn off after just 2 weeks or so of relatively dry, warm weather.

Bike Lane - Hargrave Street

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Aww, man, I just got used to blogging ....

I've never been much of a cutting edge person when it comes to technology. I'm not a complete Luddite but there are old fashioned things that I enjoy. I still keep a pencil and paper daytimer / to do list. Despite the fact that my workplace is awash with Blackberries I don't use one - my mobile phone is nice for emergencies and make the few quick calls I need while running about but I don't use it for gabbing. l still find it easier to simply throw a tape in the VCR to record something.

I don't miss not having the latest and greatest and, as an advantage, by the time I do move up to get a stand-alone DVD player and a flat screen television I should be able to pick each up for about a tenth of what they cost when they first hit the market !!

My one 'great' achievement is the blogoshphere. Granted, I started off with my own site and reverted to blogspot when I couldn't get my own page to do what I wanted. Nonetheless, the fact that I have two active blogs on the go makes me sound sort of 'hip to tha' jive" of the 21st century, even though my house, car and most of the toys around me aren't.

Imagine my dismay after reading a couple of recent items proclaiming that blogging may be passé. Wired says "Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004" & Ian Sample of The Guardian also weighs in with "Has blogging had its day?"

Sigh... well, I am up on Facebook and have a pro Flickr account so that gives me a bit of a leg up but Twitter ?! I've heard it mentioned a few times, especially during the campaign, but I willfully chose to ignore it - what i don't need is yet another on-line site to update. I guess at some point soon I am going to have to check into it, or better yet, ask someone who already understands it and can tell me what it's about about.

In the meantime, my blog is staying put !! Likely until the rest of the blogoshphere crumbles around it from old age and all that's left are me and a couple of old ladies posting their favourite recipes and crochet patterns !

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

On the Same Page

I saw this by Morley Walker on the freepressonstrike website - On the Same Page urges Manitobans to read classic local novel.

It's part of a program called 'On the Same Page' that exists in library systems in other jurisdictions by the same name or, as in San Fran’s case, One City One Book.

The Manitoba group has chosen as their first book “In Search of April Raintree” by Beatrice Culleton (now Mosionier) and their goal is to get one per cent of Manitobans (12,000 people) to read it between now and April 2009

I read In Search of April Raintree back in Junior High and it had a huge impact on me. Set in Winnipeg it follows two Métis sisters - one who looks more Aboriginal and one who looks more Caucasian - through their upbringing and changing relationship with each other and the world around them. It is an emotional roller coaster of a book.

Why did it have such an impact on me ? I am not sure whether it if it opened my eyes to things I had not thought about before. My early years were spent in the North End and the Maples where I had friends of all colours so prejudice was not something that I knew a lot about as there was never really an “us and them” it was just “us”. Or, perhaps, I knew about it more than I realized and it either gave those thoughts words OR challenged the thoughts that I was forming at the time.

Whatever it did, the book has always stayed with me. I have a copy on my bookshelf and if I come across a copy at a used book store I will always pick it up and pass it along to someone or donate it to a place with a reading room.

It was interesting to read in Walker’s report that they still sell 6,000 copies of the book a year. Obviously I am not the only one that it has stayed with.

If you haven’t read In Search of April Raintree, or haven't read it since grade 7 !, I suggest that you pick up a copy and get On the Same page ! There's a 25th anniversary version out now (pictured and linked above).

Monday, 20 October 2008

Leadership Dumplings

I’ve fallen behind in my day to day postings in favour of taking photos in this magnificent autumn weather ! Here, though, are a few random Lib leadership dumplings, for what it’s worth ....

1. I can't help but feel a little bad for Dion. Smart man, sincere guy, did great work on the constitutional stuff. Through a combination of self inflicted wounds, Tory inflicted wounds and the unforgiving nature of tv politics he just wasn’t seen as a leader and had his ass handed to him in front of 35 million people. Like Martin, he probably should have quit while he was ahead.

2. Dion didn’t stumble out of the gate so much as he fell asleep inside the gate and got dragged along underneath it for a while. His crucial error was disappearing for the summer. By the time the 'dogs days' were over, Dion had to spend most of his time defining himself as NOT what the Tories had been saying about him for the previous six weeks. Bad Start.

Not sure how the Libs can pull it off but they gotta drum up enough cash so that the new new leader can get out and sell themselves rather than waiting until the weeks before an election campaign. Hell, even do an Elizabeth May style train tour as, chances are, it won’t be someone with a seat in the House and will not have the daily constraints of MP life. (Speaking of May, Chantal Hebert had an interesting column today in the TorStar entitled "Why not recruit May for the Liberals").

2. In 1993 Kim Campbell laid an MTS Centre-sized egg on the campaign trail with her quip: "an election is no time to discuss serious issues." While I don’t necessarily agree with that, it certainly isn’t time to spring forth something as radical as the Green Shift. Unless you have an Obamaesque budget you’ll never get the media time needed to explain in detail the whys and hows of such a fundamental shift in the economic and taxation systems.

Combined with the complete inability of anyone, Dion included, to boil the plan down into a couple of interesting ten second sound bytes, the Green Shift was treated like an embarrassingly loud uncle at Thanksgiving dinner - as time wore on people stopped engaging it hoping it would just go away. By the end of the campaign it was found sleeping on the sofa with it's pants button undone.

3. This leadership round I can see the Toban, Manley, McKenna types being heavily wooed to come out to play. The Libs experimented with an intellectual with big ideas and lost. They’ll be looking for something more familiar this time. Not necessarily the complete opposite end of the scale - the "guy you can have a beer with" type - but I think Iggy and Dryden and a couple of the other runners from last time will be on the sidelines.

There. I’ve said my piece, now back to the pretty pictures - oh look, cute prairie dogs grooming each other !

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Weekend Update: I Love Manitoba (9) - Brookside Cemetery

This weekend they rededicated part of Brookside Cemetery - the Teardrop Section in the military Field of Honour.

Brookside Cemetary

Brookside, located just north of Red River College's Notre Dame Campus, is the largest and oldest military Field of Honour in Canada with 12,000 veterans buried there.

Brookside Cemetary

Brookside Cemetary

Brookside is home to some of famous Winnipeg servicemen

Brookside Cemetary

Brookside Cemetary

And the less famous
Brookside Cemetary

The Field of Honour is just one section in this vast municipal cemetery. The cemetery is also well signed to point out significant people or historic events related with them.

Brookside Cemetary

It’s a beautiful setting, rich with history. With Remembrance Day approaching, well worth a visit.
Brookside Cemetary

Brookside Cemetary

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: The Winnipeg SRO Hotel

I am posting this as part of Blog Action 08. This year’s theme is poverty.
Seen as scary and offensive to many, the Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel is disappearing from Winnipeg's downtown landscape. Once numbering over 100, there are now just a dozen left in the Main Street Area.

Places like the Savoy, Brunswick and Leland were closed and torn down in the 1990s with the false hope that by ridding the area of the bricks and mortar, the 'undesirables' and related social problems would disappear with them.

In a 2005 study entitled "Beyond the Front Desk: A Residential Hotel as a Home", Winnipeg's  Institute of Urban Studies found that there were still 1,000 people living in 772 hotel rooms in and around Main Street, (page 27).

There are a host of reasons why people choose SROs as a housing option. 

Many of us would consider them desperate people on the bottom wrung of the housing ladder, perhaps trouble makers or suffering from mental health or addictions issues that preclude them from the regular housing market. Interestingly, though, the IUS' detailed interviews with residents found that many actually chose SRO living, citing the flexibility, freedom and sense of community that a high-rise or social housing doesn't bring. 

A 1991 Illinois study entitled “The use of single room occupancy (SRO) housing as a residential alternative for persons with a chronic mental illness” concluded that SROs allow residents personal freedom and privacy, and they offer a sense of community that is capable of meeting a variety of needs. Proper management of SROs is essential to their success. Overall, SROs are found to be a viable source of housing and should be considered as one of several alternatives available…”

The Winnipeg Hotel

Since there is a demand for this type of housing, is there a way Winnipeg can benefit from their rooms, yet reduce the social ills that make them the bogeyman of the downtown ?

The IUS study looks at a Los Angeles model that encourages non-profits to take over SROs and convert them to offer modern suites upstairs and replace the bar area with social service offices, meal services and the likes.

In 1985 New York put a moratorium on the demolition or conversion of SROs, realizing that if run properly they can be a good housing option. They offered an SRO Supportive Housing Loan Program that has led to a quarter of their hotels being operated by non-profit groups rather than private owners. 

Vancouver has also experimented with similar programs.

McLaren Hotel Postcard

An important question is where do people go when the SROs are torn down ? 

Many have rejected, or have conditions that prevent them from living in, government social housing. At one time, some may have lived in institutions such as hospitals or mental care facilities, but governments have been pushing care into the community for decades. The city is cracking down on the number and condition of private rooming houses.

Sadly, being on the lowest rung of the housing ladder, many will simply slip right off and become homeless.

Siloam Mission: Inner City Challenge 4

After many of their SRO hotels were converted into supportive housing, New York found thatNearly 60% of supportive housing tenants in New York City are referred directly from shelters; as a result, the nightly municipal shelter population fell from a peak of 11,000 in 1989 to a low of 5,700 in 1994.” To put that in terms of cold, hard cash: "... the average daily operating cost of a supportive housing unit is $46, compared to a day in a shelter ($68), jail ($129), a psychiatric hospital ($467), or community hospital ($755)."

Point Douglas

SRO hotels are a necessary component of the housing market, whether most Winnipeggers like it or not. We need to come to terms with this and put efforts into improving the conditions and circumstances of SRO living rather than continuing with the wrecking ball mentality of tearing them down hoping that the associated problems go away.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Weekend Update: I Love Manitoba (7) - St. Clements / St. Andrews / River Road

This weekend I went to one of the most beautiful regions in Manitoba for an autumn drive: the St. Andrew's St. Clements and Selkirk area. For years it was uninspiringly named the "Triple S" tourism region, it now has the more 'tourism consultant approved' sounding "Red River North" moniker.

St. Clements - north of Selkirk
Above: View from atop the Bridge to Nowhere - luckily nobody was crossing it while I was stopped there ;-)
St. Peters Old Stone Church

I've spent fair bit of time in the area over the years. While in the midst of a -30 snap or being eaten alive by mosquitoes on a summer night I'd often wonder what those poor settlers felt. They gave up the life they knew in exchange for scratching out a place in a harsh new land. I'd like to think that even the most industrious or hard done by settler would have taken a moment after harvest and before the mad rush of winter preparations to look out and realize what a beautiful place they had come to.

St. Peter's Old Stone Church:
St. Peters Old Stone Church

St. Peters Old Stone Church

Along River Road:
Along River Road

Captain Kennedy House

Old Grainery

St. Andrew's Church:
St. Andrew's Church

St. Andrew's Church

St. Andrew's Church

River Road

Saturday, 11 October 2008

They should listen to 'the guy with the accent'

Hola - according to Advertising Age Obama has aired, get this, 25,000 ads in the past four days !

He will spend more on media ads in the 25 days before e-day than McCain spent for the entire campaign, (which, I believe, has been 250,000 days long).

That's $85m ... not jointly, but each.

Sigh.....God Bless America..... *sarcasm*

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The "Bicycle Test"

I saw this today on Reuters ... Heh, I wonder how parts of Winnipeg would rank:

"How safe is your city? An Argentine publicist has developed a bicycle test to gauge crime in different neighborhoods.

Using hidden cameras and cheap bicycles as bait, Mariano Pasik, 37, films how long it takes a thief to steal an unchained bike in different areas of Buenos Aires. His hypothesis is that the longer the bicycle is left the safer the area is.

Pasik speeds up the videos, sets them to music and puts them on a website http://www.lapruebadelabicicleta.com/. He hopes other videographers will join his nonprofit "Bicycle Test" project and create a worldwide insecurity index.... rest of story."

From his website it looks like a fun project he has going on !

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Disrespected History Alert ! Attention Ukrainian Poets !

By now you probably know that I love the history Winnipeg has to offer. You might also know that I get pissed off at the way it's treated sometimes.

One of those piss-offs is demolishing a building and leaving little shards of it around the place. Baubles in dead end lots and overgrown parks and the like.

Here's an interesting one....

Somerset School on Sherbrook was demolished in 2005 to make way for a retail development.

I stumbled across the sign from the school building. Nice that they kept it on site...

... not nice that it is right where snow will be plowed on top of it from both the parking lot AND the sidewalk. In the summer it also has great dual usage as a bench.

Another bit of local history not feeling the love is Taras Shevchenko Park on Burrows and McGregor. Any Ukrainian poets out there ? An evening of poetry reading intermixed with some gardening and stone moving would not go amiss.

Taras Shevchenko Park

You could probably even apply to the Taras Shevchenko Foundation, based in Winnipeg and created in 1961 to "
celebrate the work of Taras Shevchenko" - (application forms are on-line !) - to help with the work. It awards $228k annually and I think just a tiny fraction of that would be needed to help this place out.

Anyone up for some grounds keeping over the Thanksgiving Weekend !?

Taras Shevchenko Park

Taras Shevchenko Park

Monday, 6 October 2008

Weekend Update: I Love Manitoba (6) - North End Churches

Again, stayed in the city for a nice long bike ride and ended up getting pics of a couple of North End churches that I have always been interested in. One new, one old.

The first is Holy Ghost on Selkirk Avenue. The original church was built 1898 - 1900 and renovated to a number of times over the years including a being doubled in size in 1905-06.

Holy Ghost Church and School 1903
circa 1903

In 1986 Holy Ghost was torn down and a new church built in its place. The church's website has a series of great photo galleries of the old church, demolition and the construction of the new one.

c 1985

It must have been hard to convince people to tear down an almost century old structure. What they have now, though, is wonderful. Lots of angles, lots of glass. I had a great time photographing it.

Holy Ghost Parish

Holy Ghost Parish

Holy Ghost Parish

Holy Ghost Parish

The next church I went to was Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship, the former St. Giles Presbyterian, on Burrows and St. Charles.

St. Giles / Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship

Former St. Giles / Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship

I was lucky enough to bump into someone who worked there and they let me in to see some of the interior. An amazing building.

Former St. Giles / Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship

Former St. Giles / Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship

Former St. Giles / Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship

I couldn't find photos from way back but if you follow this link to the pdf from the Historic Buildings Committee report you can see some more of the interior and a copy of the floorplan !

Some beautiful buildings out there !