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.

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Don’t walk

Don’t walk.

That’s the stray observation I made this week, after just over a year of reading every single Winnipeg police release.

So many of the crimes that make those releases happened while the victim was walking — about 15%, according to a quick search on the police website.

Of course, there are plenty of convenience store holdups. Acquaintances and family members are each more than twice as likely to murder you as a stranger is, and the numbers for sex assaults are even higher.

But by sheer numbers, bad things happen to people who walk.

Other safety tips I’ve gleaned: Don’t carry beer, especially near beer vendors. Do carry cigarettes — so if you get asked for one, you can oblige. Stay in at night.

Cycling is safer, but not nearly as safe as driving (the likelihood of car crashes aside).

Nothing can change the fact that pedestrians are an easy target. Better urban planning could certainly help — as elucidated by Trevor Wideman (audio link) and Greg Gallinger — but is never going to change the inherent danger. No, really.

I’d wager that many crimes against pedestrians go unreported, too.

Winnipeg isn’t an unwalkable city. Relatively high numbers commute to work on foot, and all the people who aren’t on downtown sidewalks on the weekend seem to be strolling down Wolseley.

But heading to those dead downtown sidewalks — or any dead sidewalks — is straight-up hazardous to your health. It’s maddening: The thing a strong city most needs is almost unreasonable to ask people to do.

Sure, density addresses it — but nothing is going to get more people on small residential streets at night.

Better street lights and fewer shadowy hiding spaces would address it, regular transit through an area helps and so does clustered development — like a SHED, for example — that builds temporary density.

I guess it could be worse: We could be talking about how dangerous it is to be a cab driver.