What the City of Winnipeg needs is a bold new vision that complements the growing optimism Winnipeggers feel about our future. Yes, we need to renew disintegrating infrastructure, fix pot-holed city streets, crumbling curbs, salt-killed boulevards and patched up pavement – that’s a given, or the bare minimum of what the city requires to take hold of a bold new future.
But what we really need are ideas and leadership that will unleash the fissionable energy that lurks just below the shabby surface of our city.
As we head into the mayoralty debates, I will be looking for this energy to be transmitted to the population: Mr./Ms. Candidate, what will our city look like in ten years from your vantage point? Assuming all obstacles could be removed, what would you like to see?
Here are 12 things I hope will have been accomplished within 10 years:
1. A “can-do” city. It’s all about attitude. Young people now want to stay here, to build a life here and contribute to the future here.
2. We told the world. A marketing plan was developed under the new mayor to tell the world about what a great place Winnipeg is to live in and raise a family. The mayor let businesses around the world know we are open for business. He shamelessly boasted about our second-to-none cultural scene; our talented and energetic labour force; and our spirit of collaboration which allows us to accomplish more with less.
3. A business and ratepayer advocate/ombudsman in place; managers are accountable. The new mayor created an office that identified where the roadblocks to enterprise were and helped business deal with civic red tape. The office also helps ratepayers solve nitpicking problems.The office reports directly to the mayor and senior jobs hang in the balance when problems were not dealt with.
4. Green city. Neither New York’s Central Park, Tokyo’s Imperial Palace or London’s Royal Park hold a candle to Winnipeg’s green river side beltway and The Forks. The city finally figured out that green spaces attract people, increase property values and have a civilizing impact on behaviour. The city changed The Forks corporate structure to make them less dependent on raising operating funds and allowed them to develop the east side of the river for housing and parking, leaving The Forks green with a wonderful arboretum across from the museum.
5. Keep it tidy, keep it growing. Tree planting and tree maintenance were stepped up. Boulevards were re-greened (the red dirt is gone). Snow removal contractors are responsible for curb and tree damage. Streets are smooth and pothole-free (we use new, frost-resistant materials to build with) and the main arteries are heated and snow-free most of the winter.
6. Former railway corridors are now livable spaces. The railroads that ran through the centre of town have been replaced with housing surrounded by green space and trees.
7. Business-friendly city. Outdated building codes and business-restricting regulations are gone. Bylaws have been reviewed to co-ordinate and rationalize redundancies. Businesses have been involved in city beautification ideas and plans, and changes were accomplished smoothly and without rancour.
8. Well-planned city. Regulations and guidelines were developed co-operatively to create this beautiful city that people want to invest in. Instead of worrying about nitpicking details as to what kind of doorknobs new houses should have, planners have been concentrating on standards governing signage, commercial frontage, lighting, and so on. The Charleswood Bridge Parkway from Portage to Grant was the model.
9. Accessible city. Pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, the disabled, kids and busy motorists all have their place in a livable city. All Winnipeg sidewalks have curb cutouts and are as ice-free as possible to accommodate seniors and wheelchair users (we have heated sidewalks); cyclists have safe lanes and byways (one side of the street is devoted to them in downtown where traffic is heaviest, new streets have been built with pedestrians and cyclists in mind), traffic lights have been synchronized to ease traffic flow.
10. Safe city. The police, fire and paramedic budgets are now down from over 50 per cent of our civic expenditures to under 40 per cent, but everybody feels safer. These departments were housecleaned, rationalized and trimmed with the goal being to make them work more efficiently and effectively. Morale is up.
11. Humane city. Too many people used to live on the streets. The Bell Hotel project showed us what can be done with minimal funding. Now nobody lives on the street. We save money and people are happier.
12. Downtown is the place to be. The barriers are gone at Portage and Main and the overhead walkways at The Bay and the MTS Centre have been replaced by underground tunnels to help people negotiate winter. Portage Place has been re-oriented so that the courtyard now faces south to catch the sun. Shop owners have opened streetside doors. The Parking Authority was shut down and new streetside parking has returned a lot of traffic to Portage Avenue. There is a new fashion shopping district on South Main.
Near the Forks, fabulous new hotels have sprung up to accommodate people coming to the human rights museum and conventions.