Sunday, 8 November 2009

Birthday Wishes for Winnipeg !

Even if the city doesn't give it a plug on it's own events calendar, I do it here with some links to places that do !

Dear Winnipeg,

Being a born-and-raised Winnipegger I'd like to send birthday thoughts and wishes out to you, Old Girl.

I know we've been a difficult bunch to put up with for the past few decades.

At one time we built you with pride and future generations in mind. A vibrant city with bustling streets. Buildings that stood their ground with any in the country. Even the more mundane things like a water supply was something we invested in, so much so that every time we turn on a tap we still drink from what was built a century ago.

We hit a truly bad patch in recent decades.

We've let
parts of you crumble out of basic neglect. Places like Assiniboine Park and Zoo became a 'headache to fund' rather than a jewel. We tore many square blocks of buildings and homes from your downtown and have been quite content to have them sit as empty lots for decades on end.

Your heart, Portage and Main, is something we decided to hide away from people and still debate whether we have the capacity to allow people to use it as it was meant. We've even allowed a surface parking lot to sit off the corner for some 30 years.

When we have built anew we haven't worried much about how it made you look. We don't have design standards so really anything goes, even on your main streets. We've also let your nether-regions expand without a lot of thought or creativity.

It was, and still is, cool to hate you and complain incessantly about you. Each city has it's own version of the 'tortured urban intellectual'. Ours became the person who could have been so much more if you didn't suck so much. We use you as a crutch for why we are the way we are as if living here was something that we were forced to do. You became a city of excuse-givers and that got passed down generation to generation.

You know all that already. What I want to say is that we might be quietly turning the corner and looking back to the future.

While we're not the Chicago of the North, we've quietly built up an economy that is spread over many sectors. While that's not sexy, you'll note that rather than being an economic basket case as we were in the Depression, we fared better than most North American cities in the worst economic downturn since then. We have strong industries in everything from the old standards such as agriculture right up to cutting-edge biotechnology.

We've renewed a lot of your public meeting places. We have a new arena that gets very favourable reviews. There's a new airport coming and, soon, there will be a new stadium. The library has been expanded. The Forks is something to be proud of. Even Assiniboine Park is getting renewed attention. The Waddell Fountain will spout water once again. The Cindy Klassen Rec Centre and new Bronx Park Community Club are examples of community places that we have improved.

We bitch about it but we are raising money to build the next phase of the water treatment system that will meet our needs for generations to come.

We're building infrastructure to become a North American transportation hub again. We're even getting a national museum, (though we don't have a city museum yet !).

We'll still defend the swaths of empty lots downtown and often have trouble seeing heritage buildings as a plus rather than an impediment. Despite this, you'll be happy to know that the Exchange District is becoming a focal point of the city again for residents and customers. It's not used for warehousing anymore, instead some of the city's most creative minds: from bakers to dressmakers, photographers to dancers work there.

We've come full circle in supporting different modes of transportation. We've grudgingly okayed new bus corridors. Bike paths - remember those ? - we're putting those back in place as well.

We've acted big when it comes to protecting you. We had a near-death experience in 1997 and spent a bomb widening and improving the floodway that we for so long took for granted. We even voted the guy that pushed the original floodway the Top Manitoban !

This isn't to say all is well. There are things we've never managed to crack. We still have national-leading levels of crime like we did at the the turn of the century. There are areas of the city where poverty still rules and life is hard. That's something we have to step in on more because, unlike decades past, we don't have mass influxes of immigrants to swell future workforces. We have to rely on home-grown people - the same people growing up in poverty and violence now.

The complainers still have a huge seat at the table. Check out most forums of public discourse and you find them everywhere. Despite them, the city seems to have turned a corner and managed to move forward in a lot of areas in the last dozen years or so. There are some really positive things happening and more to come.

We may get back to being Winnipeggers of old someday soon ! People proud of you and, in turn, people that you can be proud of !

Happy Birthday, Winnipeg !



Anonymous said...

Nice letter. I hope it touches alot of people born here and stirs them to action.

mrchristian said...