The Daily Observer

A blog of urban issues, travel to obscure places, amateur photography, and blatant self-promotion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

OurWinnipeg "Call to Action" - a travelogue

Full disclosure: As you can see from my previous post, I was formerly employed by SpeakUpWinnipeg in order to collect qualitative data for the new city plan. I am no longer employed by them and had no role in shaping the plan itself.

Ian Hall sits in front of a table and greets visitors as they enter the hotel conference room. The walls of the room are plastered with pinstripe wallpaper; the carpeting bears a floral print. At the centre of the room is a cornucopia of fruit and cookies. This prosaic atmosphere belies the event’s ambitious purpose. For in this room is the embryonic form of an initiative that will shape the future of Winnipeg for the next 25 years.

“It’s not the Plan,” says Hall, a Policy and Program Planner for the City of Winnipeg, “It’s a milepost on the way to creating a plan.”

Mr. Hall sports a plaid shirt and red hair. He talks excitedly about SpeakUpWinnipeg, the City’s initiative to involve citizens in shaping the city’s long-term plan. This open house, he says, sums up what he has heard from the community over the past few months.

Hall insists that it is possible to build the future of Winnipeg on unanimous consent. “There does seem to be a consensus on the broad ideas here,” he says “and people are really keen to get down to the details.”

The most important issue by raw numbers is Safety. “A lot of that centres around different philosophies of how to create safe communities,” explains Hall. In other words, the old prevention-versus-cure debate.

In elementary school science fair style, cardboard displays of different topics are arranged around the perimeter of the room. Each poster bears a title from a section heading of the OurWinnipeg Call to Action, the document released for public consultation. There are six main posters with each with a title: Sustainability, Safety and Security, City Competitiveness, City Building, Communities, or City of the Arts.

Visitors are encouraged to post sticky notes with their comments on the poster. Sometimes the comments are posted on the wrong poster. One comment on the City of the Arts poster reads “Actually hire people to implement your Climate Change Action Plan. You have nobody.” Other comments are simply confused. “Put [these] actions in plain language so we can understand,” one sticky note begs.

Michelle Peters, Executive Director of the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers, ambles around the room, glancing at the posters, trying to digest the information. This is the second time she has attended a planning consultation. “Tonight seems to be a 3D form of the website,” she observes. Indeed, all of the information in the posters is identical to that on the City’s website. Yet the open house does seem to have more of a human touch. “It’s nice to be able to access people [from the planning department] to ask them questions.”

Walter Schurko certainly intends to take advantage of the open house’s human element. He spends about ten minutes talking about recycling bins with a representative from the City’s Water and Waste department. Schurko, recently retired, believes that it is his responsibility as a citizen and a taxpayer to know where Winnipeg is headed. But he has some misgivings about the draft plan.

“It’s very impressive,” Schurko says, “I take a look at this and say ‘Is this just a dream?’” He doubts that the plan will ever transition from dream to reality because the City continues to increase spending but does not increase taxes. “I’m retired,” he declares, “I’d like to see higher taxes. I’d like to see the city look a helluva lot better than it is now.”

A display in the corner of the room brags about the high citizen participation levels in SpeakUpWinnipeg. Thirty-thousand people have participated in the planning process so far through various media including the website and open houses. These numbers are not apparent in the barely-occupied hotel conference room. Representatives from the City outnumber attendees. The planners spend much of their time talking amongst themselves.

Ian Hall admits that the open houses have only attracted 40 to 50 people every night. “But,” he adds, “the quality of engagement is very high. These people spend a lot of time here and give good feedback.”

The Call to Action can be read its entirety at

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