No joke — we need new ideas

Is the bold the enemy of the good? 

Given the strong (and strongly ironic) reaction to former mayor Susan Thompson’s suggestion on Friday that Winnipeg get a laser pyramid to put us on the map, perhaps it’s time for the wacky and weird to break into the debate — after all, candidates can’t start campaigning for October’s election until April. 

Like many cities, Winnipeg has a history of vacillating between mayors who have big plans for the city and mayors who are seen as practical, steady choices. 

Thompson was swept into power with the one-word slogan “Change” in 1992 — promising a similar cost-slashing, business-focused approach to civic politics not unlike the one Katz called for in 2004. 

(It would almost be funny, if she hadn’t also concentrated power in the mayor’s office and established a single CAO, fomenting the structure that would, arguably, allow the fire-hall land swap to happen.)

Thompson didn’t effect much real Change. And although he was the boldest candidate at the time, neither did Glen Murray’s attempts at the first large-scale amendments to the way the city works. 

No wonder Winnipeggers glommed on to the first fresh ideas they’d heard in a decade, even if it was communal NYE hot tubs. 

This isn’t the first time the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s ongoing BOLD campaign has been the most exciting thing about an election. It’s shaping up to be the third straight such election, in fact, counting the provincial bore of 2011.

The lengthy current slate of possible mayoral candidates — Gord Steeves, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, John Orlikow, Paula Havixbeck, Jeff Browaty, Russ Wyatt and Brian Bowman — is so far more blah than bold. 

Winnipeg is a weird city. Our bold/boring mayoral dichotomy is matched only with the right/left split in federal/provincial voting — which too, historically, has switched up every few decades. 

So, sure, there’s work to be done at City Hall. 

But the candidate that makes the biggest splash in the months leading up to Oct. 27 won’t be the one with the so-called business acumen. 

It will be the one who recognizes that this city is ready to get excited about ideas and developments and real change. 

We’re finally ready to talk about growing up, and that will require the serious as well as the silly.  

But it will take an ideas leader, not a political player, to get us there. 

Boosterism, busywork blinded us on pumping station

PUMPING_16834948Somehow, I got too busy to follow up on it.
An e-mail from James Avenue Pumping Station architect Sotirios Kotoulas came to the Sun Dec. 20, 2013, and I was excited that I’d finally get the chance to ask him the questions he hadn’t been available to answer back in August.
Five days earlier, the Sun had published an article citing the concerns of an Exchange District resident who wondered why public consultation hadn’t really included the public, and why the developer’s name was still secret.
“I have nothing against the architect or the design of a skyscraper, but really this building has to follow certain guidelines,” said blogger James Hoddinott, who started a petition to limit the height of whatever will be built at that site.
And — I should add — I caught a lot of flack from some urbanist friends for being a naysayer for assigning and promoting the article.
In the e-mail, written as a letter to the editor, Kotoulas asked the Sun to step up and do some digging.
“I find it amateur that no one in the Sun newspaper bothered to do a background check on Mr. Hoddinott’s comments about there being no public consultation,” Kotoulas wrote.
He touted the Aug. 6 open house — that even though I’d heard rumours of in advance, I couldn’t score details of — as a “highly energized forum” that “over 200 residents” attended.
“Uninformed protestors coupled with lazy journalists should be questioned by an editor if they want to seriously engage in a dialogue about the future of our city,” Kotoulas concluded.
Well, shame on all of us — him included.
On Jan. 9, it was revealed that Kotoulas is not a licensed architect.
That means the plans city council was pushing through are likely to now be thrown out.
They can’t go ahead, now, can they?
I’d like to think that if journalists had gotten their hands on the plans back in August, someone might have been able to put two and two together.
But the city had been in consultations that whole time.
The plans passed through different committees and bureaucrats and politicians.
And it wasn’t until this week that someone thought to check it out?
This, this is why boosterism is bad for our city. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, and it won’t be the last.
But hopefully we can start being critical of ideas as the starting point of a debate instead of being too busy to follow up.