Friday, January 15, 2010

'Peg at Two-Two and the Voted Game, or: Love Me, Love My Illinois Avenue

Every workday so far this month, at my workplace, I have had the strangely satisfying privilege of writing out the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day on a whiteboard strategically positioned near the south entrance. This past Wednesday being the thirteenth of the month, its Word was "triskaidekaphobia" -- the fear of the number thirteen, a totally legitimate word that I am not making up in the slightest.

(If you were wondering -- the fear of Friday the 13ths is "paraskevidekatriaphobia". That wouldn't have made as much sense on a Wednesday, though.)

But if we as a city -- Winnipeg as a hypothetical single-entity conglomerate of the hearts and minds of its citizens -- if Winnipeg was worried about the number thirteen, it had its priorities out of order. The real number we need to watch out for is twenty-two; judging by the news this past couple of days, our civic self-esteem could be in for a rough ride with that one.

I'm sure by now that you've heard about the Conference Board of Canada via its latest completely arbitrary and not particularly helpful release, "City Magnets II: Benchmarking the Attractiveness of 50 Canadian Cities". They want $225 (!) for the document, basically guaranteeing that nobody we know will ever read the whole thing, so the full ordered list of cities is going to remain a mystery -- but our One Great City apparently lagged around the middle of the pack, twenty-second out of fifty cities included in the project.

The report puts forward that Winnipeg is "below average in attracting new people", can't hold onto its university graduates, has an unacceptable level of decay in its residential areas, and ultimately is thoroughly mediocre at just about everything. Wow, talk about your earth-shattering revelations! I hope somebody out there really enjoys paying two hundred and fifty bones for conclusions that anyone in the city could have explained for free.

If the analysis is at a similar level of effort for all the other cities involved, then I'm amazed that the subtitle of the report isn't "Everything You Already Know". If the Conference Board of Canada were a graduate school, their signature degree would be the Master's of the Obvious.

Now, as I alluded to earlier, I couldn't find a single newspaper across the country that has posted the full ordered list; the extent of the coverage by media outlets from coast to coast has been to find out the rank of their own city, go 'pfft', and then move on to actual news. But Winnipeg has a history of taking these things a little harder than most, so twenty-second might cause a bit of a concern around here -- especially if anything goes awry with the other big national news that emerged the same day, the announcement of a contest to determine the top cities that will appear on the board of the upcoming Monopoly Canada game. "Monopoly Canada" is apparently not to be confused with "Canadian Monopoly", their other officially licensed Canadianized version of the game. We needed a new one, I don't know, shut up.

To draw this back to my original point -- the object of the contest vote is to determine a list of the top cities, take that list, and use it to rename all of the coloured property spaces on the board. Guess how many coloured property spaces are on the standard Monopoly board? That's right: twenty-two, our magic number for the duration of this post. However -- and there's always a however -- Hasbro, the conglomerate running the show, is throwing a bit of a wrinkle into an otherwise straightforward process.

From the press release:

"The 20 cities that receive the most votes will be part of MONOPOLY history as the first cities selected to be on the Canadian game board through a consumer vote. However, two spaces on the board will be reserved for cities that are nominated through a wild card vote, which means any city in Canada can be nominated for these property spaces. Once the top 20 city vote is complete, the top 10 nominated wild card cities will also be put to a vote and the wild card winners will occupy the low-rent property spaces traditionally held by Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue."


It's not a good day to be the twenty-second-best city when the object of the game is to pick the top twenty. But is it better to sneak in after the fact as a purple space, or to just be left off the board entirely? Winnipeg boosters would just cough up their pride and die if we ended up as one of the "low-rent property spaces" on the board -- although I realize as I type this that our supporters usually champion our affordability and low cost of living, which is pretty much the exact definition of "low-rent".

Still! It's not the reality, it's the perception that's important -- and as a traditionally insecure city, Winnipeg needs all the flattering perception it can get. That's why, fortunately for our fragile collective psyche, the vote-based format of the exercise plays right into our emotionally needy hands; as of this writing Winnipeg is eleventh on the leaderboard, between Windsor and Shawinigan, probationally placing it somewhere in the middle-rent red section of the board.

And, hey -- at least we're whomping both Regina and Saskatoon! We have to take our victories where we can get them. Saskatoon and Regina are currently twenty-second and thirty-third, respectively; Brandon is currently ahead of Regina in the voting, and most folks I know can't even bring up Brandon without snickering meanspiritedly. Have you ever looked at their city flag? It looks like a stalk of broccoli impaled a pony. But, I digress.

I think, in a proper layout, that it would be absolutely magnificent if Winnipeg manages to hang on and stay in the red block for the final tally. This may sound a little belaboured at first, but hear me out: I think that Winnipeg as Illinois Avenue is not only a reasonable assessment of our place in the overall national hierarchy, but a perfectly apropos way to capture the essence of the city.

Illinois Avenue is the coloured property most frequently landed on, which means you'll end up returning to it over and over again whether you had actually intended to ever come back or not. It doesn't cost a whole lot to be there, with even the hotel rates being cheap compared to more famous places, but you definitely won't get rich either; the only way you'll ever get an opportunity for serious economic advancement is if something cataclysmically bad happens to the people who already control the pursestrings in the area. You have a bit of a wait ahead of you before you can cross the railroad, almost everybody is perpetually upset because they were trying to get free parking but ended up paying, and a lot of the people you'll encounter in the area have literally just walked out of jail for the hundredth time. But if you have a house there, it's home to you -- so really, after all of that, it's still about as solid a choice as anywhere else you could end up.

The only way that Illinois Avenue could be more quintessentially Winnipeg is if the car token mysteriously goes missing every couple games, you end up playing with one of the murder weapons from Clue, and one guy keeps trying to bring a die-cast helicopter onto the board no matter how many times everyone else explains to him that it doesn't belong there.

So I'm desperately hoping that Winnipeg lands Illinois Avenue -- but I hope people are looking forward to their Monopoly square, wherever it may be! We may be lacking in desirability, liveability, productivity, innovation, economic potential, political leadership, educational quality, and public safety, but we like to think we make up for it with gumption. And we may be middle-of-the-pack in one subjective analysis, but we're in the good middle-of-the-pack for another!

We're twenty-second in the grand scheme of things, but we're eleventh... in our hearts.

Catch you on the flip side, gentle readers! I haven't decided yet what the next post will be, but I'll try and come up with something reasonably good.


Anonymous said...

For the record, we're currently sitting at #18 and dangerously close to falling off the board altogether in the light blue properties. It seems all the initial hype has worn off as people stop voting on a daily basis (unlike top-tier vote-getters).

James Howard said...

Aaaaaaaaaand there we go clean off the board. Welp, so much for that.

Don't worry, folks -- maybe they'll make a Manitoba Monopoly!

James Howard said...

(Oh, and nice of you to show up a day late, Free Press. Who's the "wire service" now, suckers? Yeah, that's right! Bow down to the king!)