Posts Tagged ‘winnipeg’

It’s good.


But it feels strange. We spent years fighting to keep Kelvin Community Centre open, and then the community spent a few more years after that trying to keep the land from being sold.

It was long and hard, and it always seemed like it was just a matter of time before the land was sold and the chance for a new Kelvin was dead.

Things look better now. Hopefully this will work out.

The fight to save Kelvin taught me and gave me a chance to try and help out my community, but it wore me out.

But I’m happy.

It’s good.

If the people of Elmwood hadn’t fought in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, we wouldn’t have this today.

Congratulations, Elmwood. You deserve it.

Read Full Post »

Clara has just finished her Olympic career with a great performance in London, finishing fifth. She and Cindy Klassen, another Winnipegger, are tied for the most Olympic medals by any Canadian, at six each. Clara is also the only Canadian to have won medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, and the only Olympian in the world to have won multiple medals in both the summer and winter games.

So that makes Clara one of the most successful Olympic Athletes EVER.

And it’s time Winnipeg finally recognized one of its most famous daughters.

Luckily for us, there is a perfect opportunity to do that right now. With style.

Elmwood resident Nelson Sanderson had an idea back in the spring to rename Disraeli Freeway to Olympian Freeway. It’s a good idea, considering that both Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen have roots in the River East communities that are served by the newly-rebuilt link from downtown.

Now it’s been around twenty years since I liked the use of the word “freeway” to describe Disraeli; when I was a kid I imagined from the south end of it (having never gone over) that it was like one of those huge California highways that led to all sorts of interesting places. (I had the same expectation of Concordia Avenue from the off-ramp on Lagimodière, so you can guess that my teenage years were filled with bitter disappointment.

I’d prefer calling our new link Olympian Way.

And of course, Olympian Way connects to Henderson Hwy, and it’s only a few blocks from there to the new community facility that’s planned for where Kelvin Community Centre once stood. (Oh yeah… I’m a gonna beat that dead horse a little more. Whack! Whack!)

That facility will be administered by Bronx Park Community Centre, but some Elmwood residents aren’t big on the idea of sticking the Bronx Park Bruin up on the wall. And obviously Bronx Park and the City of Winnipeg aren’t about to call it “Kelvin Community Centre”.

As other residents have suggested, Kelvin should be renamed Clara Hughes Centre.

Clara Hughes Centre will include one ice rink, a “skills park”, a basketball court, a playground, athletic fields in the back (one baseball and two soccer), and a modest community building with two change rooms, a lounge area, a canteen, washrooms, and a meeting room.

I can’t think of a reason why this doesn’t make sense. Can you?


Note: The facility design images are adapted from the Open House boards created by Scatliff Miller Murray.

Read Full Post »

I sometimes think of my washroom as a think tank, not just due to the sheer amount of genius ideas that come to me during my various bathroom tasks, but because at certain inopportune moments my powder room gives off the same stench you’d find in news releases from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

My latest idea, however, doesn’t smell anything like what you’d get if you mixed Burger King and Indian food into a blender and added a couple drops of Sambuca. In fact, my latest idea smells just like an Order of Canada.

Introducing: The Canadian Museum and Waterpark for Human Rights and Splashtastic Excitement (CM/WHR/SE)

That’s right… a somber reflection of man’s inhumanity to man combined with much-too-young girls in bikini tops and gently used and removed band-aids swirling around the grayish warm waters of a hot tub.

Now I haven’t had enough time to fully flesh things out, given that I only have so much hot water for my weekly shower and I use half of it to steep my peppermint tea, but I think that what I have come up with so far will make Winnipeg a world class city that could rival Spokane, Washington.

Selected Attractions:

  • Kuryong Drop: a North Korean-themed slide. Six people stand at the top of the slide wearing blindfolds and every thirty seconds one of those six is shoved into the launch tube. The rider then freefalls for approximately five meters. Upon splashing down into the pool at the bottom, that lucky and possibly still blindfolded person has a one in ten chance of being abducted and sent on a lifelong trip to North Korea to teach members of the inner circle about such curious Western artifacts as Chili Cheese Fries, Daniel Tosh, and Sad Keanu.
  • The NGO Circle Jerk: a waterslide that contains only one loop, but through the use of cutting edge technology the rider is continually pushed through that same loop for around twenty minutes, making absolutely no progress and eventually realizing that they are going nowhere. At that point a trap door opens and they are dropped into a hot tub and given two shots of Johnnie Walker Black Label to help them through their newfound existential crisis.
  • The CM/WHR/SE Fundraising Wave Pool: because cost overruns tend to multiply like Parisian bunnies downing Viagra on V-E Day, there is a need for an attraction that will increase the tithe received from each visitor. The waves will be pretty intense, varying from Tsunami to Much Bigger Tsunami, and you will notice a difference in the experience based on your individual contribution. Donations are classified in multiple levels much like you’d find on a layer cake, pyramid scheme, or naked Abu Ghraib prisoner dogpile: Gold level members ($500+) are given an inflatable raft and a crew of six, while Silver donors ($100-499) get two pool noodles. All other contributors will have their drowned corpses fished out with a pool skimmer at closing time, and any personal effects found on their person or in their lockers will be auctioned off to pay for additional urinal troughs in the men’s washrooms.
  • The Jewish Quarter: there was some controversy about whether or not the original CMHR was intended more as a holocaust memorial rather than a universal human rights edutainment centre. This controversy sometimes brought up good points, but often descended quite quickly into arguments like “I’m not racist, but have you noticed the Jews control everything?” and “Hitler wasn’t all bad… what about the Volkswagen and TV dinners?” The current plan for the CM/WHR/SE does include an area highlighting antisemitism; it’ll be a tastefully decorated lounge area with a couple of whirlpools and a big screen TV playing an endless loop of Family Guy episodes, along with an explanation that most of what Mort Goldman says is still crossing the line even if some of your friends are Jewish. But maybe I just don’t have a sense of humour…
  • First Nations Area for Parents and Papooses:  because the CM/WHR/SE is well-aware that it would seem hypocritical to talk about human rights without at least paying token lip service to the issues affecting Aboriginal peoples in Canada, a special area will be created in an unheated and poorly lit part of the building. The water used in these slides and pools should be boiled before drinking or touching to your skin in any way, and please keep in mind that while people disappear from the middle of these slides all the time, none of those missing people matter because… how can I put this… they’re not white.

    Makeshift home of someone who is... again... not white.

So that’s what I’ve got so far. If you believe that we can make this vision a reality, please make a donation to The Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Be sure to e-mail the Friends and let them know that you are supporting the amended Splashtastic Dignity Plan with this donation. If you would be more comfortable sending me money, it’s as easy as e-mailing me and asking for my mailing address; please specify in your message whether you are planning to send me cash, a cheque, or an explosive device.

Together we can fill up this money pit with lukewarm and heavily chlorinated pool water and score one for human rights and banana hammocks.

I urge you to send me money today.

Read Full Post »

I’m getting ever closer to accepting that I am not a politician by nature… part of that process is letting go of the self-censoring.  If I want to say something that’s controversial, I should just say it.  Life’s too short (at least it is now that I’m in my thirties) for continuous diplomacy.  Rather than playing it safe and listening to people yawn whenever I open my mouth, I’m going to give people a chance to truly hate me… I mean TRULY… like sick to their stomach, shaking with disgust… that’s the hate I’m talking about.  Or maybe people will like that I’m speaking my mind… it’s possible…

Winnipeg, MB

No real change in the city, even with large changes in council.

  1. Civic Election. I am pleased that Thomas Steen won Elmwood, because the NDP needs to learn that it doesn’t own a single piece of this city.
  2. Civic Election Redux. Wasn’t surprised to see Sam win again, since doing nothing while looking busy is one of the official passtimes of Winnipeg, His Worship being team captain.
  3. Bike Lobby. If I hear another mention of a project done “for the cyclists”, I will either vomit or simply descend into madness by perpetually paraphrasing Helen Lovejoy: “won’t somebody please think of the cyclists!”
  4. Roundabout/Traffic Circles/Turnamatrixes. Why did no one make any noise about the traffic circles?  Not “we need a story for the news” noise, but serious “WTF is wrong with the traffic department?!” noise.  “It’s just like Seattle”, I heard, but of course, Seattle does it based on citizen’s petitions and tends to actually install circles with dimensions that qualify as traffic circles.  Who asked for these circles?  Helen Lovejoy?
  5. North End shootings. What shootings?  It’s okay… we all forget about what happened to people who don’t live in the suburbs.
  6. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg used to be made fun of for comical reasons, like our creative drivers and big game mosquitoes.  But the U of M is trying its best to establish a new comedy routine.  It appears that some degrees are now being granted based on the same selection criteria as pinning the tail on the donkey.  I heard of someone who turned down a job at U of M to work in New Jersey!  There may be a punchline in there somewhere, but right now I feel like crying.
  7. University of Winnipeg. (Proud alumni of sorts.)  Not content to be the liberal arts college that time forgot, the U of W has decided to swallow up entire blocks in its urge to make gentrification and over-expansion a lifestyle choice.  I like shiny new buildings, especially when they block out superb examples of brutalist architecture (that’s sarcasm, friends), but wouldn’t it make sense to put some energy into improving the quality of the education?  Is U of W getting students because of academic excellence, or because for half the city the trip to U of M seems a little long?
  8. Rapid/Mass/Bus!Bus!Bus! Transit. I take the bus, but whenever I do, I feel like I’m kidding myself.  It’s not really saving me money, and I’m not sure I can justify the extra forty minutes it adds to my commute.  I saw someone I know taking the bus who is from all accounts wealthy and respected.  But do you know what my first thought was, deep in my Winnipeg psyche?  That guy must’ve gotten his license suspended; I didn’t realize he was such a drunk!  And that, my friends, is why Bus Rapid Transit is not the right choice for Winnipeg.  We’re just not bus people.  That’s probably why city council likes to increase the price of bus fare every two weeks.
  9. Canwest Global’s Big Screen. Yes, I know this is old news, and that Canwest has gone the way of my political ambitions, but seriously: who actually thought people would watch a screen that doesn’t face traffic?  It must be a big hit with the thirty people who work across the street, or the two guys who fish for cigarette butts in the garbage cans nearby.  Of course, that could be their target demographic.  I didn’t check how many commercials were for cigarette butt recycling operations.
  10. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A museum about human rights in a city with what’s close to record-breaking levels of poverty, alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illness.  That’s like a Museum of Hockey Greatness at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Don’t worry, though… they’ve got most of their funding… by coercing government and crown corps (so more government) to hand over money.  I’m not usually a “don’t go to space, solve Earth’s problems first” kind of guy, but I feel like a hypocrite just living in a far-from-perfect city with a human rights museum.  I’m not saying that Winnipeg is a festering cesspool, but something about glass houses keeps popping into my head while I’m in the shower… which, by the way, interrupts my time thinking about hot pants.

Manitoba the Have-Not Province

This province and I have a love-hate relationship.  It’s hard to see so much potential and so much disappointment.

  1. Budget Deficits. If we change the law, they’re no longer deficits.  Next up: poverty now called “monkish asceticism”, adultery known as “creative fidelity”.
  2. Manitoba Hydro. Whistleblower says company is deluding itself; in fact, company is deluding itself, but by even bigger proportions.  Does Bob Brennan have an all-marble office at the top of the Hydro Building?  I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to find out.  None of it matters, though, since our government can just bail out Hydro if things go wrong.  And because we don’t actually admit to the existence of deficits…
  3. Drinking and Driving. People are dying at alarming rates, sometimes on their way to work, because some dumb f*** thought that sleeping on his friend’s couch was a fate worse than vehicular homicide.  Why is this not a bigger issue?  We’re madly in love with plug-in hybrids that may or may not work in our climate, but no one gives a crap about technologies that could prevent drunks from starting their cars.  But wait, you say… the drunk could just get someone else to start their car… but I have a theory… when idiots let idiots drive drunk, it’s usually an indication that those initial idiots are also drunk.  Would you stay up until five or six in the morning with a drunk a*** if you were sober?  I know you may have counterarguments, which I’d then have to counter… but this is supposed to be point form, so move it along, okay?
  4. The Bodies Exhibit. Unclaimed bodies, Falun Gong prisoners… either way, those people did not give their consent, so they are victims of an indecent act.  I read a comment about the exhibit: “Their bad luck is our good luck because this is something to be seen.”  I like that comment.  It’s like the Swiss banker who said “hey, look at all these thousands of gold teeth those nice Nazis just dropped off.  It’s too bad their previous owners had to get rid of them, but hey, we’re making money!” Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, I do think this analogy is not as much of an overstatement as you may think at first.  Because you don’t know where those bodies came from, and you do know that the Chinese government has been accused of harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong practioners.  But wait, David Matas‘ paws were all over that report, too; isn’t he the guy who wants those exhibit bodies buried simply because Manitoba law states that the bodies can’t leave the province?  What’s with that guy?
  5. Manitoba Slogans. I remember what happened the day that we became the land of Spirited Energy.  The influx of new investment, business, and immigrants was up 500% from the day before.  People felt like the slogan really captured what they were looking for, so they changed their life plans to be a part of the action.  That’s how all the great centres of innovation and industry were formed:
  • Rome, Italy – 1st Century BCE: “Roma, a dirty pit of disease and unemployment… but we do kill a lot of gladiators!”
  • Oxford, England – 14th Century CE: “Students: come for the deadly riots, stay for the plague.”
  • Silicon Valley, USA – 20th Century CE: “Only squares live in Boston.”

My point?  Slogans are silly.  They are either going to make us sound like the guy who is always last to be picked for intramural soccer, or they’re going to blatantly conflict with reality.  Do you know what brings success to a region?  Pre-existing success.  How do  you nurture and develop that initial success?  There are a lot of ways, like education, incentives, culture… but generally NOT SLOGANS.

Country formerly known as the Dominion of Canada

I love this country, not just because I live here, but because I honestly can’t think of another country that’s as close as we are to getting things right.

  1. Bashing the Monarchy. We have a Queen for a reason.  Her Royal Highness is detached and separate from normal society through wealth and privilege, FOR A REASON.  We do not elect presidents in our country; we believe that people elected through money- and media-skewed popularity contests tend to be narcissistic and ambitious to a dictatorial fault.  So we have a person who is outside of the “rat race” to be there to ensure that if things go very wrong in our political structure, that person (or a local representative of similar mindset) can step in and dissolve the whole bunch.  It may not be an ideal solution, but anyone who followed US politics from 2000-2009 may agree that being a republic has an even uglier side than the occasional Heir to the Throne’s mention that he’d like to be reincarnated as a tampon.
  2. The NDP-Liberal Merger. There is no idea that would be quicker to kill the Liberal party than merger with the NDP.  As Canadians base much of their identity on not being American, so do many Liberals base their political life as being different than the NDP.  I like left-leaning Liberals, just as I like right-leaning Liberals… but the notion that cherished liberal beliefs should be set aside for the views of a party that exists for union members first and everyone else maybe sometime later is enough to make me start wondering if there’s enough progressive left in those Conservatives to make me a Harperista.
  3. Chicanery in the House of Commons. I would love to vote for a party that disciplined its members for showing a lack of decorum in the House and beyond.  I’d like there to be a party that actually realized that this is an issue that is destroying any remaining respect that Canadians have for their politicians.  At times I’ve said and done things that may not be in keeping with what I believe; it’s part of being human.  But I don’t make a career out of it.
  4. Hatred of Quebec. What is this, 1995?  I still hear that joke about building a wall around La Belle Province and filling it with water.  Granted, it’s fun to make GOOD jokes about the Quebeckers when you’re among friends (like when you’re in Acadia; those people know some really good ones), but let’s be honest.  What would Canada be without Quebec?  Answer: North Dakota.  A surprisingly beautiful place and good people, but no one goes there for the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  5. Hatred of Aboriginals. We are all treaty people… there is no way around that.  If you don’t like it, see if your distant relatives in Britain, Germany and/or the Ukraine will take you back.  Oh, they don’t want you, either?  Seriously, though… what would Canada be without Quebec and our aboriginal peoples?  Well… we’d no longer qualify as North Dakota.

Other Items

Miscellany.  Its inclusion here is only to allow for the use of the word “miscellany”.

  1. Being Unfriended on Facebook. Why does it hurt so much?  So VERY MUCH?  Well, not that much, but when I saw that someone had dropped me it was worse than losing ten Twitter followers (hell, I’d unfollow me if I could).  It’s like that person is saying that our friendship fifteen years ago didn’t mean a thing…  I guess it didn’t, but to just go and unfriend me…
  2. Red Lobster. Who actually knows a group of people who are all willing to eat seafood?  This is more a mystery than a complaint.
  3. Payday Loans. I hate that people profit from the poor financial decisions and situations of others, but I have trouble envisioning other ways for a person who needs two hundred bucks OR ELSE to get the cash.  Why can’t there be more easy answers?
  4. Self-absorbed Bloggers. Self-important windbags born with silver spoons in their mouths, who type their rants about traffic circles and Facebook without actually wondering if they are contributing to society in a meaningful way.  Couldn’t they be spending this time trying to cure cancer?  Or reading to old people?  Or cleaning up the fifteen garbage bags that they piled up next to their garage two weeks ago?  Truly disgusting.

Note to startled onlookers:  Not only was I not drunk when I wrote the above, but I even saved the draft and reviewed it later.  I really have no explanation or defense for having pressed the Publish button.

Read Full Post »

In the past five years since I returned to Winnipeg, I’ve been disappointed, dissatisfied, and oftentimes in complete disbelief of how governance is done in Winnipeg.  I’ve seen community centres and historic buildings knocked down simply to create empty lots for cars and/or garbage.  I’ve seen construction projects planned that seem to revel in increasing costs while alienating neighbouring residents and businesses.  I’ve even seen a mayor who changes his mind on rapid transit more often than I change my pants.  Whether or not I change my pants often enough, you can guess that there’s too much flip-flopping on the transit issue.

So because of my love of sticking my nose into this or that issue, I’ve had some people ask me why I don’t run for city council.  I seem to know about the issues, and I apparently have the ability to stand up in front of council and voice my opinion.  I also think that it’s something that I could devote myself to, hopefully for the right reasons.

But life happens, and it happened quite a bit to me.  Unfortunately, I have been dealing with a serious illness in my family, one that has been progressing for many years and has now reached the point where it sometimes takes me away from my normal life for days and weeks at a time.  That is sad, but there is happy, too… exhausted happy… my wife just gave birth to my second child, a son, and over the second half of September we’ve been getting used to the life of having both a newborn and possibly the world’s most active toddler.  So obviously we’ve been pretty busy.

But those aren’t the only reasons why I had to step back from politics.  The truth is, politics is a full-time job.  Every time I’ve gotten deeply involved in something political, I’ve had to choose between work and politics, and one or the other always suffers.  For now, I’ve chosen work.

But wait, there’s more…

There are too many candidates in Elmwood-East Kildonan for me to want to enter the race.  There’s the NDP-nominated candidate, the candidate who lost the NDP nod and was allegedly then expelled from the party for still deciding to run, the Conservative/PC party’s hockey-themed candidate, and two others, Nelson Sanderson and Gordon Warren.  If I were going to run in such a race, I would have needed to start around May at the latest, and the task would have required my full attention through the summer and up to Election Day.  Even then, I’d be running against a candidate that all NDP members are supposed to vote for, and a candidate that all Conservatives are supposed to vote for.  Sounds too much like another election I ran in.  🙂

The truth is that I don’t know which Elmwood-East Kildonan candidate is the right choice, nor do I know if some or all of them would have done as good or a better job than me.  Running for office should be done for the right reasons.  I ran in the provincial by-election for Elmwood because I felt that it was important to give voters a choice between the NDP (not a fan) or the PCs (also not a fan); I didn’t do it because I thought I could win (although I did start to hope that I could), and I certainly didn’t do it for a paycheque or for the approval of the people I went to high school with.  If I had run in Elmwood – East Kildonan this year, it wouldn’t have been for any reason other than the fact that some people think I should, and that I think it would be interesting.  If I’m going to switch back to politics for six months, I’m going to do it because I know it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe in 2014 I’ll find the right reason to run… but since I’m going to put so much effort in, maybe I should just run for mayor.

Read Full Post »

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”
– 19th century British statesman and Winnipeg freeway namesake Benjamin Disraeli.

A few bloggers (Graham the rabblerouser and the ever-mysterious Black Rod) have mentioned that some citizens, including myself, had brought plans forward regarding the Disraeli Bridges Project.  My plan, based on conversations with literally hundreds of Winnipeggers, was to twin the Louise Bridge with a temporary span before any Disraeli closure was to take place.

However, the plan was not perfect: it required leasing of private property (a shed and equipment yard) and would have increased traffic on Higgins Avenue, which did not please some Point Douglas residents.  But I did feel that it was the best option considering the limitations that had we had been told existed.

Of course, most of Winnipeg found out in January of 2010, after four years of talk, that the bridge did not need to be closed at all.  Is that good news?  Yes and no.

It’s good news because the closure of Disraeli was unthinkable without increasing the capacity of other bridges.

It’s bad news because it shows that the city was completely wrong about the limitations of the project, and misinformed the 100,000 affected Winnipeggers for FOUR YEARS.   Not only did this cause undue worry, it also caused several businesses on Henderson to move to another part of the city.  In addition, there is still no plan for the Louise Bridge.

The options the city presented were either a) $250-300 million six-lane bridge still using the old piers and adding some new ones, or b) $125 million bridge refurbishment with 16 months of closure.  Now, the city is saying that a brand new four-lane bridge can be built for $195 million without any closure.

How can a third option come out of nowhere when the city made it abundantly clear that there were only two options?  There are two possibilities for this:

1. The city did not research the project thoroughly before deciding on what they found to be the easiest solution (particularly because they didn’t rely on the bridge to get to work each day).

2. The current project estimates are far too low, meaning that the $195 million price tag will be inflated significantly once construction has begun.

As a public-private partnership, the second option may not be a bad thing, depending on the specifics of the contract.  The city is borrowing $75 million up front, while the private consortium, Plenary Roads Winnipeg, will finance the remaining $120 million.  It is not clear from the information I have seen if cost overruns will be the responsibility of the private group or of the city, or if both will share the extra expense.

At this point, all that is clear is that the city did not think the closure was a big issue until the provincial government finally woke up and decided that it was an issue during a by-election campaign.

So in the end, is the new Disraeli plan a triumph?  No.  It’s a solution that should have been inevitable, but one which the city spent four years decrying as impossible.  The city and province both showed a serious lack of leadership on this issue.  At a time when we are all watching with curious dismay as the US House and Senate whittle away any chance of health care reform due to shortsightedness, partisanship, and selfishness, we see our own governments spending four years avoiding an issue that should have been resolved in four months.

I’m not sad that the city didn’t choose my fancy Disraeli plan, or that the city didn’t bother to consider it on any level; that’s the way government works around here, so it’s like being sad that pigs don’t fly.  But what I am sad about is that the leadership in this city and province has not even considered the damage that this four-year stunt has caused to the Elmwood residents and businesses at the foot of the bridge.

Read Full Post »

I go to the Henderson Library quite a bit, and I have the late charges to prove it.  I never thought of it as a busy library, but then again, I only go to Henderson and Millennium these days, so I don’t have the best knowledge on the subject.

The City of Winnipeg will most likely extend its lease in the Shindico-owned stripmall at Henderson and McLeod, which involves the expansion of the library from 12,000 to 18,000 square feet at a lower rate per square foot.  In addition, Shindico will provide $450,000 in tenant improvements, and the city will commit to just under $9 million in rent during a 20-year lease.

Councillor Russ Wyatt would like to see the former East Kildonan City Hall, currently listed for sale by the city, replaced by a new library building with the 18,000 square feet of library space and with 10,000 square feet of parking.  The parking would probably include 30-35 spaces (by my layperson’s estimate).  Wyatt claims that the work could be done for $4 million.

Is Wyatt’s estimate accurate?  I believe that it is optimistic, but not completely unrealistic.  By comparing the new library to the new Bronx Park Community Centre a couple of blocks away, it’s possible to reach some conclusions:

1.    Bronx Park Community Centre is 25,000 square feet and its construction (including the demolition of the former clubhouse) cost between $5 and $6 million.  The final costs are difficult to calculate, as there are still some small capital costs remaining before the project can be considered 100% complete.
2.    Bronx Park was originally budgeted at $4 million (from what I recall), with construction inflation (as opposed to design changes) being responsible for the increase.

Assuming that a new Bronx Park were constructed starting in 2010, the cost for 25,000 square feet is likely to be close to $6 million; 18,000 square feet is 72% of that size, however, the new library’s parking lot would also be significantly smaller than Bronx Park’s (30-35 vs almost 100 spots).  Of course, parking lots are cheaper than buildings, so I’ll assume a 70% size.  That brings us to a ballpark cost of $4.2 million for a new library at 755 Henderson Hwy

However, there are other costs; there is the loss in property tax revenue on an estimated $700,000 commercial or multi-tenant residential property (this value could vary based on what replaces the city hall building).  There is also the cost of maintenance for the building, and any mortgage costs depending on the method of financing.  There is also the cost of moving inventory one kilometer to the new site, but this is obviously small compared to the other expenses.

In my opinion, Councillor Wyatt’s plan has merit and should be considered as a reasonable counter to the expansion at Rossmere Plaza.

There is, however, one big issue that makes the construction of a new Henderson Library less appealing: the city already has a lease with Shindico for the existing library until 2018.  This extension was approved by Council in July 2008, when it was already obvious that 755 Henderson would be declared surplus, and when the idea of expanding the library was already being considered unofficially by Shindico and the city.  Of course, this informal consideration may not have been known to Councillors Wyatt or Browaty at the time.  Assuming that construction of a new library could be completed by 2012 or 2013, the lease agreement with Shindico would need to be revised and some form of penalty would need to be justly levied on the city.  In addition, the city’s capital budget forecast through 2016 would have to change as well, and there is little desire among most councillors to see the capital totals increase.

So just like many other issues in this city, including the River East issues of the Disraeli rehabilitation and the closure of Kelvin Community Centre, by the time the issue becomes public knowledge, it’s already too late to expect the decision to be changed.  So when Councillor Wyatt asks “Why is the mayor so eager to sign an unprecedented 20-year lease with Shindico without exploring other options?”, the answer is that the decision is usually made before anyone has the time or the forewarning to suggest other options.

I personally don’t think that renewing the lease at Rossmere Plaza is a big problem; I would prefer to see a city-owned building, but citizens didn’t elect a mayor and a council majority who want to see more city assets.  In 2010, voters in Winnipeg will have the option of choosing their councillors and their mayor, and then they can decide if the mayor and council majority’s concept of running the city like a business is working.

On another note, I think this decision confirms what we know to be true in this city (and in other levels of government): by the time the public finds out, it’s too late to offer alternatives.

The only way that this will change is if groups of citizens track these decisions before it’s too late to bring other ideas to the table.  In theory, citizens could have come forward in 2007 to discuss Henderson Library and the idea of expansion or relocation.  But we need to solve two problems:

1.    How can we make sure we have access to the information we need in the timeframe that the information would be of use?
2.    How can we motivate and support citizens to proactively monitor these issues?

Those two problems are something I’ve thought about for a while, and so far, I don’t have any answers.  Maybe if we can come up with a way to make it work, we can ensure that the decisions made by Winnipeg’s City Council involve the level of deliberation and reflection that taxpayers deserve.

Read Full Post »

Kent Brockman: Hordes of panicky people seem to be evacuating the town for some unknown reason. Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it’s time for our viewers to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside?
Professor: Mmm, yes I would, Kent.
(from The Simpsons)

According to the CDC, as of June 11th, 2009, the United States has lost 45 people to H1N1 (swine flu).  This is out of 17,855 confirmed or probable cases.  This is a higher number than the WHO numbers, and an even higher figure is being reported on Wikipedia.

We also heard from the province’s chief provincial public health office, Dr. Joel Kettner, that our chances of catching H1N1 in Manitoba is at least 50%.

We are hearing conflicting reports about the severity of H1N1, with some people calling it overblown and others saying that we should be worried.  So what is the truth?

The answer, from what I can determine, is that no one actually knows just yet.

This form of H1N1 has been in Manitoba for months, and it’s true that many people have already been exposed and have had only minor symptoms.  But there are a few Manitobans who are fighting for their lives, and four Canadians have died.  This means that this flu is causing serious illness in a small percentage of cases, which makes it appear very similar to regular seasonal influenza.

Influenza viruses return each year because they are always evolving; this prevents antibodies from consistently recognizing the flu when it comes back the next year for a return visit.  This doesn’t mean that our antibodies always fail to stop the flu; one hypothesis of why the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 killed more adults aged 20-40 than senior citizens is that seniors had been exposed to an earlier Russian flu outbreak in 1889.

Because influenza viruses mutate, and because this H1N1 strain is considered highly unstable, it means that we may see a second wave of flu in the fall.  The 1918 epidemic started off similar to a seasonal flu, but in August of 1918 it became deadlier and started to kill healthy adults instead of infants, elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.  There are definite concerns that the current pandemic is running a similar course to the epidemic of 1918, which killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people worldwide.  So what are the chances that this will happen again?

There are several possibilities for this H1N1 strain:

  1. It could continue more or less as it has until it disappears.  There does not seem to be a full understanding of why influenza epidemics disappear after time, but it may be due to the fact that the best transmitters of the disease develop resistance, and stop spreading the disease to anyone who has yet to be infected.  This would be why almost half of Manitobans may end up not being infected.
  2. It could become even less harmful as time goes by.  A virus doesn’t want to kill its host if it doesn’t have to, so it’s possible that the virus will adapt to a point where it won’t be as deadly.  This is one theory on why the epidemic of 1918 stopped so suddenly.
  3. It could become more deadly by mutating.  Influenza viruses can exchange genetic material with each other, so it’s possible that H1N1 could mix with another flu strain; it’s not impossible that the H1N1 could mix with H5N1 (avian flu), which has a much higher mortality rate.  Even if this does happen, which is considered very unlikely, the genetic mix may not result in a more dangerous virus.  This type of mutation might have caused the second wave of the 1918 epidemic, but no one is sure due to a lack of samples of other influenza viruses from the time (only the Spanish flu virus was purposely preserved from that time, as opposed to any regular seasonal varieties).

I’m not a bookie, so I won’t come up with any odds on the outcome.  I don’t believe that a more deadly mutation is likely, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility.

The danger in this situation is that citizens, governments, and health care professionals may become complacent, thinking of this as a regular flu, and not preparing for the possibility of the virus becoming more deadly.  There are antiviral drugs and a possible vaccine that should be ready by fall, and governments need to be aware of what combination of drugs, vaccinations, and quarantines will be best to deal with the second wave.  For instance, Tamiflu will probably not work for all H1N1 cases, so it’s important to have other options like Relenza available for resistant cases or for use in an antiviral cocktail similar to those used against HIV.  Also, because of the 1976 swine flu vaccination having been worse than the actual epidemic or because of general distrust of government, many people will resist the vaccination; governments need to research the risks and rewards of vaccination to decide if it should be part of the solution.

In situations like this, where many lives could be at stake and where the situation changes rapidly, there are going to be some mistakes made.  The media might not always report things accurately, governments may not be as forthcoming as they should be on the current situation, and health care providers may misdiagnose.  But the biggest concern is that decision makers in our governments and health care systems won’t be worried or prepared enough.  That is the one mistake that could cost millions of lives.

Read Full Post »

I am not sure what to think about the deal reached between Bedford Investments and the City of Winnipeg to build a parkade behind the North and East façades of the King Building at King and Bannatyne.

Ryan Block - c.1895

Ryan Block - c.1895

Ryan Block - 2004

Ryan Block - 2004

(both images from Heritage Winnipeg)

The new structure will apparently span across the surface lot to the south of the King Building.  I have not seen any architectural renderings of this structure (I’d love to see some if anyone knows where to look), so I’m uneasy about the end product.

I believe wholeheartedly that we will need redevelopment along with preservation in order to have the Exchange District reach its full potential, and I think that some parking will always be needed in these areas.  My concern is that we will see an ugly example of façadism, where we just have two brick fronts attached to a concrete parking monstrosity.

Here are some nice examples of parkades designed to fit into their historic neighbourhoods:

New Street Parking Garage - Staunton, Virginia

New Street Parking Garage - Staunton, Virginia, This is new construction meant to match the style of the surrounding historic properties.

(more info)

Justice Center Parking Garage - Chester County, Pennsylvania

Justice Center Parking Garage - Chester County, Pennsylvania. Another new construction.

(more info)

Parking Garage - Fredericksburg, Virginia

Parking Garage - Fredericksburg, Virginia

(from http://flickr.com/photos/army_arch/2482996361/)

Hoboken Automatic Parking Garage

Hoboken Automatic Parking Garage

(more info)

I believe it would be possible for the King Building to be rebuilt with an innovative design (whether with masonry or glass) that makes the historic components the focus of the structure.  I hope that masonry from the rest of the building could be reused as a component in the new construction, so that we don’t just have two mismatched pieces of building sitting beside one another.  If we are unable to hide parking underground (or reduce demand for parking) in our downtown, then at least we can have parking garages that respect their surroundings.

Read Full Post »

The latest idea from Hydro is to gut three historic buildings to expand a substation in the Exchange District:

From Mr. Christian

From Mr. Christian

Related posts:

West End Dumplings

Rise and Sprawl

Policy Frog

The affected properties are the Wilson building (288 McDermot), the Glengarry building (290 McDermot) and the Daylight building (296 McDermot).  Again we have 20th century thinking from our public utility.

First we have a Manitoba Hydro that bungles all attempts at wind farms, and whose geothermal efforts are marginal at best.  Then we have a Manitoba Hydro that will build transmission lines along the West side of Lake Winnipeg (thanks to Premier Doer), losing energy in the extra length and not even considering an underwater transmission line.  Then we have a Manitoba Hydro that subsidizes employee parking at its new downtown office tower while handing out its “we love the environment” calendars to everyone.  And now we have a Manitoba Hydro that wants to tear down heritage buildings (maybe leaving a façade) to expand a substation.  From what I can tell, these actions have made Manitoba Hydro one of the worst corporate citizens in our province.

Does anyone remember the Manitoba Hydro “Beware the Underground” billboard that they had up at their Point Douglas site?  It was designed like a movie poster to warn of all of the terrifying dangers that lurk beneath the earth’s surface.  Apparently this fear extends to all area of Hydro’s planning.

Put a transmission line under water?  That’s scary!

An underground substation?  Absolutely terrifying!

TEPCO 500kV underground substation - Tokyo, Japan

TEPCO 500kV underground substation - Tokyo, Japan

[from http://www.cigre-jnc.org/sc_a3b3_2005/]

Underground substation located under park

Underground substation located under park

[from http://flickr.com/photos/59265382@N00/932628960]

Obviously it’s not fair to blame this all on the executives at Hydro; they’re not in charge of fostering an integrated approach to redevelopment and to social and environmental restoration in our province.  That’s someone else’s job.  Our Premier has been criticized before for showing little to no leadership.  Manitoba Hydro is one of the most visible examples of his failings as our Premier.

It’s time for some new ideas in our province; obviously our provincial government is borrowing too many from the 1960s.

Read Full Post »