The 5 Things Left On My Summer Bucket List

If you spent any time on the internet the past summer, you may have come across the story of an Urban Outfitter’s employee who found a Pittsburgh teenager’s summer bucket list. I have distinct memories of writing similar lists when I was in high school with goals like “wear a dress on a random day!” or “swim across the lake and back.” I’m sure if anyone had found one of my lists, I would have been mortified. Regardless of how this mystery teen feels about it, when her list went viral, a lot of people were inspired. Summer bucket lists seem to have universal appeal, although not everyone literally writes theirs down. How many times have you heard someone say “This summer I’m going to…”

At the cusp of summer, around May, summer has finally arrived and it stretches out into the future. Countless sunny days and warm nights provide us with endless possibilities. This is the year that you won’t let it pass you by.  In short, summer is oddly motivating.  Not aggressively so, in the self-improvement way of January that pushes you to become an overachieving, physically fit, clean-eating, productivity machine. Summer is a gentle taskmaster where goals like ice cream dates or sitting outside under the stars are perfectly ambitious.  July and August are ultimately about the pursuit of happiness and creating lasting memories.

These goals are so attainable at the start of summer. How hard is it to get yourself to the Zoo for an afternoon to nail a selfie with Blizzard and Storm. Too hard, it turns out. I’m not sure how your summer has been, but ours has zoomed by. I’m pretty sure it went super sonic.  I haven’t been able to keep up. It’s August (and has been for a couple of weeks), but I keep jotting July as the date. While it seems like I haven’t done anything as planned, I did manage to check off a few items on my bucket list:

  • cheered on the Bombers at a game (they lost)
  • Enjoyed the Perseid meteor shower (which set off some anxiety about aliens)
  • walked around the Exchange District for a free art display (shoutout to Craig Winslow, thanks for loving us more than we love ourselves)
  • attended a beautiful wedding for a lovely couple (congrats Priya and Rob!)
  • Made s’mores (the Italian way, with Nutella)
  • did some serious car karaoke (with the accompaniment of Spotify’s Happy Hits playlist)

And yet there are a few Winnipeg-specific items which remain undone. Luckily there is still technically 36 days of summer left.

  • have a drink on the Bar I patio (while silently passing judgment on everyone and everything that passes by)
  • actually show up to a yoga class in Millennium Park (it’s free and literally around the corner. Why haven’t I gone?)
  • eat the pumpkin soft serve ice cream from Sargent Sundae (the summer-pumpkin overlap is a small, but delicious window of time)
  • buy the ridiculously delicious potato doughnuts from the Hutterites at the Downtown Winnipeg Farmers’ Market
  • get a little tipsy while drinking the traditional alcohol at a Folklorama pavilion (hey, it’s cultural)

How about you? What successes did you have? Is anything left on your 2017 summer bucket list?

 

 

 

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.

The Importance of Neighbours

Last year I found out that once you move into a house, a question a lot of people will ask is “How are your neighbours?” Which makes sense because there is the close proximity within which you will both be living your lives. Neighbours are important. If you’re away for a few days, there is comfort with knowing that the good people next door will be keeping an eye out. Even if you have family or a friend checking on your house, it’s the neighbours who will recognize behaviour or events that might be out of the ordinary.

These are the folks who will warn you about events happening on your street, like car break-ins, vandalism, or suspicious ‘furnace inspectors’ knocking on doors. It’s only your neighbours who are equally concerned about local services, like schools, libraries, or community centres. Only the residents on your street or in your area face the same daily gripes that you do.

Like most communities, it is the unfortunate case that it’s usually difficult circumstances that unite us. All it takes is a drive down Henderson Highway these days to see how the impending loss of the urgent care facility at Concordia is uniting the 27km stretch of road. Back to our neighbourhood, River Heights is regularly united by car break-ins, and a deeply held belief in NIMBY-ism. Google ‘River Heights Residents Angry’ and you can see a lengthy and varied search return. The majority of residents obviously value the status quo. If you zoom out a bit, there is a clear difference in the level of community between neighbourhoods with different demographics.  As anyone that has lived in the North End will tell you, the sense of community is palpable. Everyone places a much higher value on community and make a huge effort to be friendly with each other. In contrast, talk to anyone who lives in Tuxedo. Many of them don’t even know what their neighbours look like, let alone their names. It might be the money that makes the difference. After all, how many of us end up chatting with the neighbour over the fence while mowing the lawn or gardening. If that work is done by a contractor, that opportunity is gone. Home and neighbourhood design have changed as well over the years. With big attached garages, you can avoid contact with people altogether by driving in and out. When my parents moved to the city, I could match each SUV to the corresponding house, but I don’t think I could have placed a single driver in a police lineup.

Currently, we have great neighbours. They’re friendly, and although slightly eccentric, none of them appear to sell drugs, belong to gangs, or live a pesticide-free lifestyle (hippies: everyone’s least favorite suburban neighbour). We are familiar enough to know the names of their pets and their general lifestyle. Even better, is that we have neighbour-friends that we alternate hosting dinners with and they’re a really wonderful couple. It didn’t happen by accident though. They put in conscious effort to welcome us to the area when we moved in. They extended an invitation to get together and gave us their phone number. If it weren’t for those gestures, we would likely have lived for years next to a great couple without getting to know them. Transcona has a great festival called the Hi Neighbourfestival which I first thought was kind of a cheesy idea. And maybe it is a little bit, but I think it really underscores the value of getting to know the people around you. Social media fascinates us because it shows the exotic, the exciting, the everything else. Meanwhile we’ve stopped valuing our own reality because it seems less interesting in comparison. Until that difficult circumstance comes along, we don’t need the people who live nearby. Instead of waiting for that day to come, we should make the effort now. Being a neighbour is more than just living next to each other, it’s also finding value in the sense of community that that closeness provides. And in order to do that, we have to cultivate those relationships, like our neighbour friends did, by making the effort.

Thinking about this made me revisit Mr. Rogers and his timeless invitation:

“Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbour?”

 

Prairie Gardener Part I: The Garden Centre and Starting From Seed

Hello again, it’s been a while hasn’t it? I’m sorry. I struggle with self-discipline as you can tell by the erratic nature of this blog. Between the short attention span, lack of discipline and notoriously bad time management skills, I often struggle to follow through on projects.

Oh well, none of us are perfect right? Or I hope not anyway. I am happy to report that although the blogging is behind schedule, I volunteered for several different charitable opportunities. And because nothing happens until it is documented on the internet, I will blog about them in future. And also because they are excellent causes of course.

In my time away, I have been tackling a very different type of project – gardening. I dabbled a little bit with it last year, but since it was our first summer in the house, I was pretty unprepared. This year I ordered seeds online and grew them in Jiffy peat pellets. Mainly the seeds are for perennial flowers that are beneficial to butterflies and bees, but I also planted the seeds from a pepper I bought at the store and those are growing quite nicely. I have been doing a lot of reading and research for this. I did not realize how complicated it gets. The flower species are called half a dozen different names and there often seems to be multiple variations of the same flower. When, where, and how you plant seeds is dependent upon each plant’s preference as well. It’s pretty overwhelming. At this point, my seedlings have been hanging out in my house for over a month with me bringing them inside and outside to both the front and backyard depending on the time of day.

In the latest installment of homeownership adventures, I hadn’t realized there is a period of time in the fall where plants are supposed to be trimmed back and cleaned up so when the snow melted, it became clear there was a large clean up job. This ended up turning out for the best because as I was clearing away the debris from last winter, I uncovered so many lady bugs! It’s amazing how nature hunkers down for the winter. Before this year, I used to kind of scoff at the idea that gardening counted towards your daily exercise targets. Watering and moving some soil around looks pretty underwhelming. Instead it’s basically p90x outdoor addition. I lost count of the number of squats and lunges I did while using a rake or spade. Not to mention how heavy af the paper yard waste bags get. It’s possible (ok, it’s likely) that I’m wildly out of shape, but at this rate I might be able to fit last year’s shorts after all.

Since we made it through May long, I have started to transplant them which also has to be done correctly and appropriately for each seedling. Of course, there is no guarantee that any of these seedlings will survive, so we purchased some plants from Shelmerdine’s as well. I have never been to such a large garden centre in my life and Mike patiently waited while I ran up and down the rows of plants trying to ferret out individual types of plants that I was looking for. Two hours later, list abandoned somewhere between the delphiniums and bee balms, we walked out with 11 plants that I had never heard of.  They are currently sitting in their pots, patiently waiting for their forever home. And on that note it is time to channel my inner Poison Ivy.

Image result for poison ivy batman cartoon

 

 

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

As of this week, we are back into more normal February weather. Was anyone else weirded out by the amount of warm weather we’ve had this winter? It’s strange to see people at the bus stop in February with bare hands reading the paper or scrolling on their phones. Granted, every time that Festival du Voyageur starts up, we always have at least a couple of days that the weather warms up just enough to slightly melt the lovely ice sculptures around the city so they become an abstract version of the original. If you squint your eyes and turn your head just so, you can almost see what the artist’s vision was. I’m not complaining about the unseasonable warmth(because you can’t complain when the weather is nice in winter), but when it’s rained in both January and February, it feels odd. Like maybe we’re in Vancouver, but without the scenery and expensive housing.

In the midst of all this weird weather, I’ve been doing some really cool stuff around the city lately, like seeing the MTC play Black Coffee (a whodunit Agatha Christie mystery) and enjoying poutine at the Festival while wearing a classic 80’s one-piece snowsuit. That last part was owing to a friend who has a ton of 80’s snowsuit stock. Let me tell you, 15 people wearing matching 80’s ski suits do not go unnoticed. I had a blast and Festival always makes you appreciate both our local French community as well as winter. It says something about Winnipeg that Festival takes place in the middle of winter, when we’ve grown tired of shoveling, and the magic of snowflakes wears a little thin.  Nevertheless, every year Festival brings out large crowds of people and often fills the grounds to capacity for late night. To me, the event is almost a perfect roundup of Winnipeg – laid-back, friendly, and full of good eating. Like if someone wanted to see the best of Winnipeg in the winter, Festival would be where I would direct them to go. Where else would you find hordes of people enjoying maple syrup on a stick or such a striking number of folks wearing lumberjack plaid. It may not be cosmopolitan, but it’s us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Up

One of my favorite things in recent years has been watching the changing Winnipeg skyline. For so long it seemed like it was the same as it ever was. But in the last ten years, it’s been steadily evolving. My two favorite ways to see it are approaching downtown from the Disraeli Bridge and driving along Tache across the river. CMHR, The MB Hydro Building, 300 Assiniboine Avenue and The Glasshouse have all gone up in  a short period of time. The Artis REIT Building is getting a makeover. I read a while ago that Richardson International has a new building in the works. When our economy is more of a tortoise than a hare, it’s nice to see tangible progress to remind ourselves that we aren’t stagnant. This slow change is interesting because it seems like that part of our economy is reflected in our culture. Or maybe vice versa.

As a whole, in Winnipeg and Manitoba, the reign of the status quo can be almost suffocating. Aggressively suspicious of change, we refused to entertain the idea of renaming our hockey team. Had Mark Chipman defiantly stuck with the Manitoba Polar Bears, you can be sure that merchandise sales would have suffered and a strongly-worded petition would have circulated. While we happily complain about how things are (terrible! Thanks for asking), when we are presented with an alternative, 9 times out of 10 we still pick the devil we know. In a municipal election, given the choice between a property tax raise and a ethically-challenged mayor, we confidently supported a broad range of conflicts of interest. Three separate times. An incumbent can literally kick a child in the face (albeit unintentionally) and be re-elected. Provincially, we waited until our previous government wore out their welcome, only to reelect a familiar face from about twenty years ago. The devil you know, right?

The underlying thought is if we stick to the same course, we can reasonably anticipate what will come next. This mentality makes it so easy to take what we have for granted. Generally speaking, we assume there is some stability to how things are in the current era unless a major event happens. Individually, if your life has any sort of routine to it, the days start to blur together. Occasionally there is a break in the monotony, whether it’s planned (like a trip) or something unexpected, like getting a promotion at work. Or on a sadder note, like losing someone you care about. These events remind you that you have no idea what is going to happen on any given day. In the middle of a routine, we stop remembering that things tomorrow won’t always be like yesterday. For each minute, day, month, year, there is a before and an after. These changes are so small, we don’t acknowledge them. Instead we spend our time thinking about the future or reacting to events, that we are perpetually surprised by time passing. And as time slips by like a renegade ninja, change happens always.

Accepting change as a part of life is often the best way to cope with it. It’s difficult to move on, if we can’t move forward. Usually, I’m a big advocate for change and progress because I want to get better. I want us to improve. Maybe though, our reluctance to move forward could be a positive thing. Growing up in Canada, at this time in human history, has reasonably assured me of my safety and my right for existence. I acknowledge that this isn’t the case for everyone in Canada, and Indigenous peoples especially, are faced with issues that need to be addressed. In a general sense though, the daily security that we take for granted is not the status quo. And this current reality, that we accept as the norm, is a gift that many people paid dearly for. Lately though, it seems that globally, a change is happening, but it’s a return to earlier attitudes. We are sliding back into our human tendencies to be prejudiced and fearful of anyone who isn’t like ourselves. The mosque shooting in Quebec was perpetrated by a university-educated white Canadian man who should feel at ease and secure in Canada. Instead he killed 6 men who were peacefully practicing their religion. He’s ruined countless lives, including his own, and all out of misplaced fear.

Locally, antisemitism has been making itself known. A family in Wolseley had a rock full of anti-semitic messages placed on their doorstep. Someone sketched a swastika in St. Vital Park. Reading about these incidents in the news, has me realizing how much hatred our fellow Canadians have been harbouring. Now it seems, they feel emboldened to express their hatefulness. As a community, we have a responsibility to actively condemn these acts. After the mosque shooting,  Last Saturday, I went to the Forks and took part in the Walk for Human Rights. It was the first time I have taken part in a public march. I wanted to experience an affirmation that Canada is a multicultural country and we aren’t going to be tricked into being afraid all the time. There are so many more things that as human beings, we have in common than not. The average person wants a right to safety and prosperity for themselves and their families. In the spirit of this, I would like to feature another local charity that does a lot of good work in our community: The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Inc.

If you worry about refugees settling into Canada and adjusting to Canadian practices, this is an excellent organization to support. The charity takes a comprehensive approach to assisting refugees with their move to Canada, including setting them up with a temporary residence, reaching out to them in their own language, helping them make a refugee claim, explaining how to manage finances, and to help them learn skills that will enable them to thrive in Canada. These services are essential to helping people who might otherwise feel alienated or alone. If  this is an issue that concerns you, I encourage you to donate to The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. Please help us maintain our tradition of being a welcoming multicultural society.

One last thing, if you feel uncertain about Islam and associate the religion with negative news stories, please take a moment to explore some local resources where you can learn a little more about our local Muslim community:

Winnipeg Central Mosque

Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute

Responsibility

One of the reasons people like to live in small towns is because they like the idea of a community. You get that feeling of connection.  If you’re living in a small town, the waiter that serves you at the Chicken Chef is your buddy’s older brother and the cook is your neighbour. You never forget that they are a person. In a small town, there’s a higher chance that you’ll feel personally invested in community initiatives. If the pool can’t open for the summer, then your children’s swimming lessons are cancelled. When the local event hall burns down, there’s nowhere to have a social.

Living in a city is different. We see so many people every day that they become background noise. The person slowly counting out their change while you wait impatiently is an idiot. Except if you were in a small town, you would know that he isn’t an idiot. After a bad car accident, he now struggles to count out the right amount of change. When the woman speaking broken English is asking the bus driver for instructions while you’re standing in -25 weather, you angrily think “Figure it out, it’s not that hard.” But if your small town had welcomed a refugee family, you would know that she has PTSD and you would help her find her way home. If you were in a small town and saw a woman lying on the sidewalk in -30 weather, you wouldn’t drive by without stopping to help. Since we aren’t in a small town, a woman died on our streets. Her name was Tina.She was found in front of Portage Place. Carl Seier, of The Stranger Connection Winnipeg wrote a post about Tina here  and I’ve been carrying his words with me ever since.

How, as a community, could we let this happen?

Last year was a year long celebration of Winnipeg identity. What parts of living in this city make us who we are. This year, I’m not satisfied with that. We need to contribute. Every single resident in this city has something to contribute. Whether it’s money, time, awareness, blood, or small gestures of empathy. You can make this city better. You have a responsibility and a duty to make this place better. I don’t care how. Last year I started donating on a monthly basis to two charities that I strongly believe in. The people who run those charities put in so much time and effort that I feel ashamed because what I give is not enough. What these charities need is a dependable income. The number of people in our growing city can support community initiatives. We choose not to.

Recently a local man donated his car to a Syrian refugee family. And he received backlash for it. This isn’t public funds. This wasn’t taking other peoples’ money and being underhanded about it. He donated his own car. And people around the city skewered him for it. It baffled me when I heard about it. And then I thought that perhaps these people were lashing out because this gesture gave them no excuses. You have no excuses. Neither do I. What you are doing is not enough. 2017 should be the year we do more. We should all be doing more. The need for help can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s easier to drive to work, drive home, watch t.v and not think about. Or we see the people visibly active in the community and appreciate their efforts without offering any form of support. Those people are not operating in a vacuum. They operate in the real world like you and me. The gas doesn’t pay for itself. The bills don’t pay themselves. Unexpected expenses inevitably happen.

The Main Street Project operated a homeless outreach van up until 6 years ago. The service allows workers to travel around the city in order to provide clothing, food and and transportation for homeless people to shelters.The van stopped going out because the funding dried up and we failed to support the initiative. There’s the very real possibility that Tina could still be alive had the van been funded throughout. For the time being the van is on the road, but there is a limited amount of funding from the Downtown BIZ . And what will happen then?

I’m not trying to demoralize or guilt-trip you. What I hope to do is to inspire you. We have the power to affect change. Every time you choose action over apathy, you make our community better. Unfortunately it can be paralyzing to know where to begin. This year, each month I will feature a local organization that is taking steps to make our city better.  I hope that this year you will take a step with me to doing better. We must do better. This month please take a minute and visit The Main Street Project  to see the good work that they do.  Let’s do this together.

The Best Laid Plans..

Hello again! 2017 has officially arrived. We are entering into a wild reality where Donald Trump is president and Kim Kardashian no longer tweets. Not too many people would have believed that a year ago.  And that is why peering into the fuzzy future of a new year is kind of scary. Is it going to be good? Is it going to be bad? For the love of all that is holy, please let it be good. For me, the start of  the new year is a mixture of dread and relief. January is one of the most grueling months. It’s long, cold, and the end of winter is not yet in sight. We have to say goodbye to the holiday season and the sadly all the festive lights. Christmas lights brighten up the streets and make dark winter nights a little brighter. I wish they stayed up all season long. The nice thing about a new trip around the sun is being able to say sayonara to the previous year and the parts of me that I would like to leave behind. The potential is within our grasp.

In between reading top 100 lists and stuffing my face with Lindt chocolates, I’ve been thinking about what direction I’d like to steer my ship in. In general, my goal is make more of a conscious effort in my daily life. I’ve always been a Type B personality, so I’ve never tried as hard as I could. I have an easy time floating along. I’ve made some specific goals to counteract this, like being active every day in some capacity (today we went skiing!) and doing some form of writing each day.  In 2016, I started doing this blog, mainly as a writing exercise and to keep me on a topic. Ultimately it also helped me think about my daily life more. What do we as a community have in common? What are our shared goal and struggles? It makes daily life a lot more engaging. My specific 2017 Big Goal is to have a piece of my writing published in some capacity, hopefully in a local magazine or publication.

The problem with the best laid plans is that they often go awry. The City was sitting in a nice position heading into the end of 2016 with money in the bank leftover from the snow clearing budget. Unfortunately, we had those two big blizzards that ended up wiping the surplus out. And so the budget for 2017 is going to have to be re-calibrated because they had taken the surplus into account. Unfortunately sometimes that’s how it goes. When I fall off the wagon, it can be a positive thing to be a Type B because I don’t beat myself up about it. It’s inevitable that some days are going to be too busy, challenging or all-around disastrous and I’ll lay defeated, on the couch, binge-watching Gilmore Girls for 5 hours. My goal is to not let those days derail me completely. If I can manage a walk down the street or write a single sentence, then I’m still moving forward. So cheers to 2017, onwards and upwards!

 

The Why

The last few Christmases I’ve been approaching the holiday with a theme in mind which streamlines my search process. This year my theme has been books. Nearly everyone on my list will be receiving a book of some kind. During one of my many trips to the bookstore, I was flipping through a cooking/lifestyle hybrid (one of the many variations of Goop) where the author was encouraging the reader to treat suppertime as a ritual. It sounded so great when I was reading it, like cooking would be this warm and relaxing activity to look forward to at the end of every day. Unfortunately during the weekdays, by the time I get home, knock all the snow off my boots, and let my glasses defog, I’m relieved to be home and exceptionally unmotivated. When I am preparing food, it doesn’t feel soothing and affirming. Instead my back hurts and my eyes burn from chopping an onion while I use as little dishes possible to minimize cleanup.  I always thought of it more as the weekday routine which is a very different perspective. After thinking about it some more, I think it comes down to mindfulness. While preparing a meal, if you consider the ingredients, the method, and ultimately the reason you’re making yourself food, it gives the task a greater purpose. When we actually take the time to think that we are nourishing ourselves, it takes on a greater purpose. And it is important. At this time of year, we aren’t getting much sun, it’s cold, and the holiday season can be emotionally difficult for some people. It’s at these times it becomes so important to actively take part in self-care and that includes diet. It really is surprising how a change of perspective can impact your approach to daily things.

Once I started thinking about rituals, I started thinking about how important they are during the holidays. Before Christmas, I watch the same three movies. I decorate a real tree, which this year, the cat knocked over. Another big one is that usually our family has a meatless Christmas Eve. On a community level, Winnipeg has a ton of holiday rituals. The Santa Claus Parade is what typically kicks the season off in Winnipeg. I’ve never actually attended, but I have gotten stuck in the resulting traffic more than once which is all part of the experience. The Nutcracker at the RWB is wonderful and  what makes it so special (to me) is how its set in a house on Wellington Crescent. The Canad Inns Winter Wonderland has a beautiful display. The nice thing about that one is that you can enjoy it from the car if it’s frigid out, which happens. This year I want to go for a drive through the Linden Woods neighbourhood because a co-worker told me that certain streets will create a theme and go all out in decorating their houses. And of course, everyone’s favorite: the first snowfall. Although not holiday-themed, the first snowfall is a classic Winnipeg ritual where everyone grumbles about everybody else forgetting how to drive in the snow. No matter what, it’s always a disaster. On the bright side, for office workers, it also ends up being a pretty relaxed workday because half the office doesn’t show up, and the other half shows up late and leaves early. Possibly not so much for health care workers (as people slip and hurt themselves) and the snow clearing crew. No matter what though, we all know what we’re in for.

No matter what your rituals are, it’s important to not just go through the motions. At this time of year especially, it’s important to stop and remember the why.

 

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve always been an indecisive person. Yesterday when I was leaving the house, I was trying to decide what shoes to wear, and I suggested a pair to Mike who made a non-committal comment. I was second-guessing myself when I realized what I was doing. Sometimes it makes sense to get a second opinion, like if you’re coordinating colours or a doctor says they need to amputate a limb. In this case however, I was deciding what shoes to wear to drive to my girlfriend’s house. Most people don’t decide, they just put on whatever shoes are handy and go. It can be frustrating on a daily basis when for example I get overwhelmed by menu options. It can be crippling when I freeze with uncertainty. I hate choosing when it impacts other people. If forced into making a decision, I need reassurances. If I walk into the restaurant first and have to choose the table, once we sit down, I’ll ask “Are you sure this is okay?” “Is there a draft?” “Do you wish we had chosen to sit by the window?” It’s irritating for me and for other people and can end up ruining my own enjoyment because I’m fretting the entire time.
Sometimes it seems like Winnipeg’s has a similar problem. We are the opposite of Star Trek, tentatively remaining where everyone has already been. We look to other cities, admiring their ideas and initiatives and agree that we should plan for the future. So we think about it. And think about it. And study it. And think about it some more. City council was debating light rail transit in the 1970s. Fifty years later, we continue to talk about how great it would be except that we (still) can’t afford it. Instead of accepting Bus Rapid Transit, City Hall orders study after study of rapid transit systems. Glen Murray commits to bus rapid transit, secures funding and then leaves office. This in turn allows Sam Katz to be elected and he scraps the plan. More studies are ordered. 8 years later, the first BRT corridor opens. Over 50 years worth of hemming and hawing and we have one BRT corridor to show for it. Of course in a political system, it’s not as easy as one person coming in and Making an executive decision. There are negotiations, compromises and trade-offs. These are big decisions with price tags and public opinion polls attached to them. The problem is that this is not unchartered territory. Rapid transit isn’t new. We have studies out the wazoo on this. Despite our best efforts, we’re slowly developing a BRT system.

The next controversial issue that we can look forward to agonizing over is reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians. When pedestrians were banned from the intersection in the 70s, a study concluded that Portage & Main was no longer viable to both pedestrians and cars. I wasn’t able to find detailed information, but I assume the study results were based on how the intersection was structured at the time, without taking into consideration alternative changes such scramble intersection. Ultimately, the city closed the intersection as part of a deal with a developer. An indoor pedestrian walkway was dreamt of as a way for Winnipeggers to be able to comfortably walk around downtown without worrying about losing a finger or a toe to frostbite. Apparently the original proposal was a pedestrian walkway above Portage and Main which is fun to imagine. The original proposal was rejected and the project became an underground walkway resembling a wheel. In exchange for the developer to build the underground structure, the city promised to keep the intersection closed for 50 years to ensure pedestrian traffic in the shops. This was a very expensive undertaking which is why the city committed to closing the intersection for so long. 37 years later, now that we take our underground walkway for granted; removing the barricades is our new dream. Things have changed. I’m not sure that in the 1970’s, the city thought our downtown would suffer so badly. They didn’t know we would be struggling to solve an urban sprawl problem. Maybe they thought transportation would have evolved into something completely new. Back to the Future 2 would be released ten years later and showcased hover boards in 2015. Anything was possible in the new millennium.

Of course, we’re all Winnipeggers at heart so while downtown changed, we haven’t. In 2015, City Hall commissioned a study to examine the issue. The results of the study should be presented to City Council sometime in 2017 so brace yourselves, this conversation is just getting started.