Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Radical Practicality

Dear Winnipeg,

I want you to put on a pair of Birkenstocks, eat this brownie and take a wild ride with me where we imagine a city where kids walk to school, seniors don’t care much if they have to give up their drivers license and adults choose to sometimes bike, sometimes take the bus or even drive, depending on their trip. [Gasp!]

What far-out place am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about you, Winnipeg! Or… at least that vision of you that we have so clearly articulated and planned for.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not Elmwood Guy. I’m just a gal who grew up in the country, moved to Winnipeg for university, and decided to make this messy, maddening place her home. One thing I do (I’m a millennial so, you know, multiple jobs) is work in sustainable transportation at Green Action Centre.

It’s from this work that I’ve had the chance to participate, or support co-workers participating, in a lot of the various plans and strategies the City of Winnipeg is, technically, supposed to be following. You know, things like Our Winnipeg, the Pedestrian & Cycling Strategies and the Urban Forestry Strategy among 30 or so others.

Hierarchy of plans, taken from the draft OurWinnipeg 2045 Development Plan currently before Council, page 5.

One of the most annoying things about working as an advocate in Winnipeg for anything that isn’t a pothole or the police department, is that you’re often viewed as spouting radical nonsense when urging the city to do the things it already says it wants to do. “Winnipeg, a place where it’s easier to bus, walk or bike than to take a personal vehicle? I mean, sure, we COULD do that, but what alien is going to mastermind that plan? And, geez, are you trying to collapse our economy??”

The reality is, we know that our vision of Winnipeg can succeed. We have the evidence that it’ll make us healthier, happier, more resilient and ALSO be better for business.

But, like, HOW is this even possible, you ask?

We have all the plans, answers and strategies before us right now. We’ve literally paid millions of dollars and consulted with thousands of Winnipeggers and contracted dozens and dozens of experts to put these things together.

If our Mayor and city administration WANTED Winnipeg to be a “vibrant and healthy city which places its highest priority on quality of life for all its citizens“, all they’d have to do is ensure they funded the priorities in the plans and strategies in the budget.

At budget time, however, too often we hear about “competing priorities”. And sure, if we were truly talking about taking funding from sidewalks to put into transit, that would be a “competing priority” as both things are of vital importance. Money for car infra vs transit? That’s a budget priority competing against a non-priority and too often the things that aren’t prioritized in our plans are getting the MAJORITY of the cash. Leaving Urban Forestry and Social Housing to fight over the scraps? They aren’t competing, they’re both failing from poor fiscal management.

In 2022, Winnipeg goes to the polls for a new Mayor and members of Council. [I say new Mayor as we already know Mayor Bowman will not seek reelection.]

And I know it’s not a particularly sexy slogan, but I will literally vote for anyone whose platform is “I’m going to follow the plans”. Even better, wouldn’t it be great to have a candidate who acknowledges that we’ve gone through a phase of record growth, but we’re in the worst net financial position as a city that we’ve ever been in? And here’s an EVEN BETTER attribute: be willing to question the assumptions that got us to this point. Those assumptions often lead the Councillors towards bad decisions based on flawed evidence. No Councillor ever set out to make this a city that’s broken and broke, but here we are.

To become a more just, happy, healthy and solvent city, we too often assume (see what I did there) that we’ll need some flashy new technology (autonomous, electric vehicles!) or toppling local business (see: anyone trying to convince you a stroad isn’t absolutely the worst).

I disagree with these arguments 100%.

We’ve put over 50 years into doing all of the things that work against our plans and strategies (sprawl, investing in personal vehicles, upping the police budget), and thus we are the city we are today.

I direct your attention once again to this chart!

But what if we put the next 10 or 20 years into doing the opposite? What if we just committed to being … radically practical?

Could it be any worse?

Hugs and kisses (after you get vaccinated),

Wolseley Renter (but soon to be Lord Roberts Lady)

P.S. We have to stop making this political. I’m from one of the bluest regions in the province and the entire town I grew up in has a 30 km/h speed zone. That’s because people live there and everyone knows mixing human beings and 50km/h speed limits is, like, ridiculous. Also, my dad harped relentlessly on me to never drive to work, because it was a total waste of money. Common sense.