Saturday, January 11, 2014

Manitoba Links Weekly: The City of Streetlights and Trees, The Production Values are Very Nice, Can I Please Just Have the Machine Garden, And Here's Spraypaint on a Snowbank (ManLinkWeek S02E12)

Does anybody want to form a Winnipeg incarnation of Death Grips with me? I'll do the vocals, you do keyboard beats, it'll be great. And this -- obviously -- this will be our debut album cover. I am dead serious about all of this. [ via ]

Hello and welcome to Manitoba Links Weekly! There was no new episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits this week due to illness -- mine specifically, because I was the kind of seasonally ill that I'd hate to have exposed anyone else to -- but next week should be a good show, I figure.

Onward to ManLinkWeek!

[ Winnipeg Cat: JANUARY 9th, 2014 ]
[ Winnipeg Sun: One Angry City ]
[ CBC Manitoba: Is Winnipeg failing as a winter city? ]
You really wouldn't logically expect the election lead-up year to be the year that absolutely everything comes unglued, and yet, here we are.

I spent the year's opening extended minus-thirty-five colder-than-the-North-Pole death march sick in bed, with a flat tire on my car (now since resealed), and considered myself oddly lucky for it; having nowhere to go and no wheels to get there meant that I got to skip direct exposure to the vehicle-grinding hellscape calamity that opened the year, unplowed thoroughfares moulding and hardening into dangerous ridged launchpads of determinism. Better to hide out at home, alternating between warm tea and wet coughing fits, watching tempers flare and accidents pile up remotely through social media (and there was a real missed opportunity for a Storify in there, I think, because one could've shown off an easy seven figures' worth of damage through Twitter photos alone).

The fatalism of lining up one's first or second most expensive possession into the deep ruts that nature and time have laid out, hoping -- often in vain! -- that the unalterable rollercoasters won't fling those prized automobiles clear off the roads or straight into each other, seemed for obvious reasons to wear on people a little. Justin Swandel also seemed to wear on people, as that extensive Winnipeg Cat link collection above tracks, but let's leave him aside and focus on the bigger picture for the moment.

What does Winnipeg, as a city, do well? What can we hold up as a shining example of competence, something that the municipal level of government can boast as a strength? It used to be snow clearing; for how deeply Winnipeggers depend on our disproportionately vast roadway system to get from one place to another (our transit file a ball being dropped in perpetuity), the city's role was to make travel in minus-twenty and beyond as relatively painless as possible. If you could get your car started in the minus-thirty -- no guarantees, never any guarantees -- you could look forward to getting somewhere warm in one piece; Winnipeg could not afford to be a city that shuts down when it gets cold, knowing how often that cold arrives.

So much for that, of course. So what does Winnipeg do well? Garbage is still behind, not caught up once this year; 311 remains, as ever, some sort of elaborate ongoing practical joke. Former users of Sherbrook Pool or the Civic Parkade -- and anyone interested in pieces of architectural heritage like the Public Safety Building -- can confirm that upkeep on our shared public facilities ranges somewhere between insufficient and nonexistent. An overview of our water infrastructure challenges and deficits would drive a person to drink, which is just as well because the tap water looks like flat beer a distressing portion of the time.

Roads you can't drive on; garbage and recycling you can't have picked up; public facilities you can't use; water that you can't drink or bathe in, from mains that might break ten times a week. Just barely adequate transit coverage, at ever increasing prices, for reasons we don't even bother trying to justify any more. Libraries that don't exist on Wednesdays, curbs we'll fix two decades from now if we're lucky -- hell, summer splash pads are just turning on a hose when it gets hot out, and the City rather famously couldn't get that right.

Are we failing as a winter city? We're failing as a city. It's legitimately maddening, particularly as someone who genuinely wants his hometown to succeed; I want a city I can recommend to people, or at least a city I don't have to actively warn people against.

It's usually crime that Winnipeggers warn other people against, but then we walk that back by saying, oh, well, there's crime everywhere. Right? Enough people still drive down to the States or vacation in Mexico that it's easy to shrug crime off, because people are willing to ignore such things. Water you shouldn't risk drinking and roads you shouldn't risk driving? Rather thornier. Not necessarily tourism dealbreakers -- again, Mexico -- but not sales points of a place you'd want to move to, either. That's the thing; we need people, but all the other cities need people too, and in the grand competition for new residents we don't have many matchups we're winning.

So back to the question. What do we succeed at? Well... the streetlights mostly stay on. That's something, isn't it? That was the point where people got really alarmist about Detroit, that oh no, they don't even have streetlights. So that's a point in our favour, that generally at night we can still see where we're going. (It's a shame "City of Lights" is already taken.)

Trees! We've been solid on our trees, that deserves credit, the trees are a good selling point. The city's sticking with them, and I've seen some people complain about it -- well heaven's sakes, everything else is so strapped, why're we spending money on trees -- but oh my god if we ever lose those trees we are done. Winnipeg saved and preserved its leafy cover on a continent where most cities willingly rid themselves of it at the first sign of trouble, so we need to protect that character as closely as we can. Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.

And, uh... hmm. Well, that's a full city right there, right? For everything else we've bungled, we have our trees and our streetlights still. A proud legacy! Winnipeg is The Arrogant Worms' "Rocks and Trees", but without the rocks.

We've got lights and trees, and trees and lights,
and lights and trees, and trees and lights,
and lights and trees, and trees and lights,
and lights and trees, and trees and lights and--
a chopperrrrr~

Anyway, here's some more brown water. Moving on!

[ Winnipeg Free Press: Politicians used to try to make a splash; now they're more focused on splash pads ]
Today's blog post is shaping up to be municipally- rather than provincially-focused, not for lack of provincial happenings, but rather because there are so many of the damn things going on right now that they're really going to overwhelm the next post. So here's a Mary Agnes Welch overview that touches on all levels of government, and we'll just say for now that the provincial sphere has since become a little... messier.

Speaking of messy:

[ CBC Manitoba Blog: Trevor Dineen: When a good deed goes bad ]
[ Winnipeg Sun: The Incredible Journey — a Sun columnist's extended road trip ]
Last week, we'd all followed an outside correspondent having a nightmare of a time trying to make a Winnipeg story work. So this week, here's a story about a local correspondent having a nightmare of a time trying to make a Winnipeg story work, and also here's a story about a local correspondent having a nightmare of a time trying to make an outside story work.

It's just been that kind of 2014 for everybody so far, man. A messy year. An unusually messy, unusually frigid, unusually frustrating year. Just the time for some light escapism!

[ windcitytv YouTube: WindCity Episode 1 - Winnipeg's comedy series ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: WindCity - a new Winnipeg comedy series ]
[ Innovative web-based comedy series launches in Winnipeg ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: Blowing up ]
y'know what, on second thought, uh

Okay, listen: they're trying. I want to be supportive about this, because I think the concept is a neat one, and I like that they're trying something unusual and different. It has very strong production values! It has very good musical selections. The writing is... not to my... taste -- these seemed to me like some seriously, untenably unlikeable characters -- but you will probably take to it more than I did, so give the first episode a watch and see what you make of it.

Manitoba Public Insurance and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries are the highest-level backers of the project, though their exact dollar support is unknown (and will most likely remain as such, inevitable FIPPA requests aside); RRC, Royal Bank and the Convention Centre are the tier below that, and then there's a little cluster of public and private firms who most likely kicked in for location filming and other considerations.

Being sponsor-driven, it stands to reason that the supporters all had their input, which makes for a fun little game of its own; you'd figure that Royal Bank, for example, told them something like "Have the characters interact with one of our fun, friendly and fashionable RBC advisors! Nothing makes her happier than giving financial advice!" Which is a reasonable request, right, that's doable. So how d'you figure that Shark Club scene evolved with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries?

"We think you should have a character pouring his money into a VLT and staring in morose frustration. You can do that, right?"
"...Yes. Sure, we can do that."
"And he should be really sad inside."
"Like, overwhelmingly sad. Could you have him lash out at people he knows, too? Just have him be a real shitlord to somebody who drops by to say hi."

Sparkling scenery and unlikeable people strikes me as the diametric opposite of the Winnipeg I'm familiar with, but then, I recognize that I'm not really the audience. And the lead character'll most likely soften in future episodes, the story being pitched as a later-life Bildungsroman and all, so I am entirely willing to give the remainder of the six-part series a fair chance. If nothing else, it'll be important to make sure that all of the canon details are as fully established as possible before the fanfiction drops.

(Someone out there among you better beat me to the fanfiction, man. Don't think I won't do it.)

So that's something to look forward to! And speaking of things to look forward t--(whisper whisper)--what? Oh. Well:

[ CBC Manitoba: 24-storey tower OK'd for old Winnipeg pumphouse ]
[ James W Hoddinott: A Leap of Faith ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: Tower designer not licensed ]
[ Urbicolous: Boosterism, busywork blinded us on pumping station ]
[ Winnipeg Sun: Pumping station backer never claimed to be an architect ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: Tower's opponents can relax ]
It's been a messy year, man. Nothing's ever simple.

The contentious decision to allow a 24-storey tower on the James Avenue Pumping Station site -- preserving and incorporating the historic facade, at the cost of the scale altering whatever Waterfront Drive considers its neighbourhood character -- got that little extra bit messier after the fact when folks began sniffing around the lead project presenter's architectural credentials and found... well, not what they were looking for, let's put it that way.

The controversy plays well into oppositional arguments -- that the City's decision to support the variance is flawed because the City has a record of perilous ineptitude with preliminary blueprints and with architect blueprint stamps (2013 was a messy year too) -- but when people then wondered how the variance was approved without licensed engineer approval, it emerged that stamped drawings aren't actually necessary at this phase anyway. Nobody had looked for it because it wasn't something that had to be looked for. Which sounds fair enough, really, when you look at it that way.

Anyway. It seems less convincing now that the project will come to pass, which I felt was sort of too bad; it represents an attempt to preserve at least part of the historic building, and I am an easy sell on anything that would dramatically improve the availability of rental properties in an area and a city that desperately needs them, but what I really supported was that pitch about a machine garden. Go back to that CBC article, read that again -- doesn't that sound great? I want a machine garden, now. This has awakened a desire in me that I was previously unaware of.

If this whole tower thing falls through -- I am being optimistic and going with "if", perennial character flaw on my part -- can we please just do whatever needs to be done to get that machine garden going? The restaurant space part is brilliant, just have huge crowds of steampunk enthusiasts eating sandwiches shaped like gears or whatever and then frolicking amidst the machinery. Move some of the machinery outside, too! Since some of it'd need to come out for space purposes no matter what goes in there -- I presume that's a service CentreVenture'd be willing to offer in the name of making the sale -- move the worst-condition pieces out into a more traditional park setting, so you have a full machine garden inside and a hybrid plant-machine garden outside.

I want this so badly, now. I feel emptier for its continued absence, a daily reminder that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. And, because you knew I wouldn't be able to resist, I've just checked: "Machine Garden", to my surprise and delight, is not yet a band name. SO IF ANYONE WANTS TO FORM A DEATH GRIPS-STYLE BAND JUST LET ME KNOW

[ Twitter: UpWinni (@UpWinni) ]
Here are Winnipeg things written as Upworthy headlines. I did that wrong, didn't I? I just up and gave the whole thing away, I'm supposed to withhold just enough information to tease you into clicking it. Okay, hang on. Once You See This One Twitter Account, You'll... Change the... hmm. Until I Saw This Feed, I Didn't Know That There... There Could, uh... dang. Here're Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together?

Man, I don't know, I'm bad at internet. Here are Winnipeg things written as Upworthy headlines. Or Upworthy headlines written as Winnipeg things. Something like that, you'll get the idea.

And, finally:

[ Winnipeg Is Nerdy: BaseLAN returns for its 26th incarnation ]
[ All Your Base Online: BaseLAN 26 January 10, 2014 - January 12, 2014 ]
[ Chip Damage: BaseLAN 26 - January 10th-12th 2014 ]
[ Facebook Events: BaseLAN 26 ]
It's that time of year again! Your boy was there last night and clawed his way to third place in the King of Fighters tournament, and today's another big day of games I'm less interested in because none of them are Virtua Fighter! It'll doubtlessly continue to be a fun weekend, and I'm glad to be over the seasonal flu to go out and enjoy it.

Thank you for reading ManLinkWeek! I'm actually a little surprised by how much I had to leave out of this week's post -- I told myself seven topics a week, I'm a-stickin' to it -- but next week is going to have a whole lot of provincial stories, all of them various degrees of worrisome. So look forward to that!

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