Inclusiveness Through Infrastructure

Acknowledgement. Recognition. Affirmation. Different words to essentially describe being seen. It can be easy to forget the importance of being seen if you don’t get overlooked often. But all it takes is one driver not to give a thank you wave after you’ve let them in for it the importance of acknowledgement to sink in. In 3 seconds you transition from feeling beneficial and selfless to annoyed and resentful. As we are all aware, construction season is in full swing (are there any roads not currently under construction?)

After generously leaving 10 metres of room for the doofus in the construction lane, it takes what feels like eternity (probably 5 seconds) until he gets the hint. Finally he pulls into the lane, in the spot you graciously provided for him, and after a few expectant seconds, you realize, no, this person isn’t even going to recognize the favour that I just did. If it weren’t for you, this guy would still be sitting in the other lane because the black pickup tailgating you sure as hell wasn’t going to let him in. So you stew in your own annoyance for a while until eventually you forget about it. But still, a wave would have been nice.

I was thinking about that while I was out for a walk. My neighbourhood is an older one so we have sidewalks. That was one of my ‘must haves’ when we were looking for our house. As I walked along, I realized that I have never been able to articulate why this matters. All I know is that in sidewalk-less neighbourhoods, I feel acutely aware of traffic and it feels like at any point I could be in someone’s way by walking along the road. When cars do come along, I tend to step onto the nearest lawn and wait until I have the road to myself again. It takes away most of my enjoyment of walking. With my neighbourhood, I can listen to music without constantly checking behind me. I also get a chance to be a little closer to all the neighbours’ yards where I can surreptitiously look at their landscaping (yes, I’m that person). Overall it makes it a safer, and more enjoyable activity.

This is why I’ve never understood why new developments often exclude sidewalks. I know it adds additional costs, but I like that it serves the people themselves, rather than just their vehicles. It’s so important that we build a city that supports all of its inhabitants, not only drivers. For a long time Winnipeg has allowed itself to develop in a way that actively excludes a lot of people. A city-wide bike system is long overdue. The cycling paths that have been developed has created a substantial increase in cyclists.  The city should also look at freezing any additional developments because they’re a drain on resources and the additional taxes aren’t enough to cover all the massive new infrastructure that they require. We need to recognize that our infrastructure deficit doesn’t allow us to keep expanding indefinitely. Sidewalks should be included in all neighbourhoods, if only for safety reasons. They should also be kept in decent shape without massive chips in the concrete and rebar sticking out. In the winter, the snow should be cleared from the sidewalks immediately following the roads being cleared. It’s unacceptable for pedestrians to choose between wading through a foot of snow, or taking their chances walking along the much narrower roads while dodging oncoming traffic.

It’s hard to get past the “but we’re a driving city” mentality because it’s true. For a long time now we have based everything around cars and driving, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue in that direction. A city built for only one demographic is doing a disservice to the rest of its citizens. There are a ton of reasons why driving may not be an option for someone. Whether it’s financial, medical or even environmental, there are a ton of reasons why someone may not want or be able to drive. It’s time to include everyone in our infrastructure, not just the drivers.

Supporting Local Business

Two Christmases ago, my mom gave me a book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. At the time I didn’t realize it was a pop culture phenomenon. I thought it was a gag gift or maybe a last ditch effort on my mom’s part to help me finally overcome my messy tendencies.  Being tidy has been a personal struggle of mine for a long time. Not for lack of trying. I’ve tried every strategy that is recommended for people like me. The 1 minute rule. The 15 minute rule. Making lists. Weekly routines. Not even Loonette on the Big Comfy Couch could solve my messy problem. A few months after Christmas, I decided to give kondo-ing a try, partly because I was to move out shortly thereafter. I was hesitant because the first step is to gather all your belongings and dump them into a pile. I was envisioning myself becoming fatigued by the gathering and not actually moving onto the next step: sorting. Memories of previous moves that had ended in me sobbing late at night, overwhelmed by a small sea of unpacked belongings pushed me to start the process. In the end I did get rid of a lot of items that I had no use for anymore. And once they were out of the house, I didn’t miss them.

Since then I’ve still struggled to stay tidy, but cleaning up doesn’t take nearly as long because there is so much less to put away. As a direct result of this, my shopping habits have changed substantially. I’ve always loved shopping and spending money, but lately I am much more interested in quality v.s. quantity. Instead of impulse shopping, I think about what I really want and what I really need in my life. I haven’t been taken in by things just because they’re a good deal. In fact, I’m finding that I would prefer to not spend my money until I find something that is worth spending the money on. And beyond that I’ve also been thinking about the impact that my money has when I spend it which is why I continue to become more invested in supporting independent shops.

I’ve always been in favour of spending money at local businesses and it seems like I’m not alone because there has been a renaissance of locally-made high quality goods.  I don’t remember Winnipeg ever being so full of entrepreneurs. Local brew pubs and coffee shops are scattered throughout the city. Gourmet doughnut shops and local clothing designers with their own boutiques are highlights in the downtown area. An even broader variety of artisans are on Instagram and although they don’t have their own brick and mortar stores, they can be found at wildly popular pop up markets. Even the food truck variety is staggering when compared with what was available a few years ago. Often the products being sold isn’t the cheapest option. However, for a few more dollars, there are tangible rewards like meeting the creator of your goods, detailed information about how and your product is made and pride in the service provided. At the same time, when our money is kept in our own community, we boost our local economy. Even if you buy less and spend more, consider the overall benefits of supporting local. It’s worth it.