First we need to fix the roads, replace the sewers, fill the potholes. Our property taxes are too high already. We can't afford it. It would cost too much. There are bigger priorities for Winnipeg.
Sentiments like these have generally followed recent public discussion over the potential relocation and redevelopment of the Canadian Pacific Railway yards northwest of the downtown. Instigated by a request to government (by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg) for a feasibility study, the public debate has met with significant skepticism over the value of what seems to be an unachievable goal, considering the apparent costs and current economic pressures on local government.
It appears to be linear thinking to conclude we cannot afford such a grand dream. If we don't have the money, how can we spend it?
In the spring of 1997, as a prairie ocean slowly formed around our city, we anxiously followed along as the provincial flood forecaster reported the rising water levels each day, describing it as 21, 22 or 23 feet above James. The term became a local catchphrase, but few people knew that "James" referred to the James Avenue Pumping Station, an unassuming little building along the Red River in the Exchange District.
As the waters receded, the spotlight dimmed and the building's last moments of fame faded away. A century earlier, however, the pumping station was one of the most important buildings in our growing young city. James Avenue Pumping Station.
There is an 89 per cent chance you are inside a building at this very moment. On average, Canadians spend 21 hours and 20 minutes of every day indoors. In a country of 34 million people, we have almost 14 million buildings that consume 70 per cent of our electricity, 14 per cent of our water and 50 per cent of our extracted natural resources. They account for 25 per cent of our landfill waste and emit 35 per cent of our greenhouse gases.
These statistics illustrate the profound effect buildings have on each one of us. Our physical health, emotional well-being and ecological footprint are all closely linked to the types of buildings we choose to build and inhabit.
Manitoba Hydro Place recently earned LEED Platinum certification for green building.
So... what now?
Over the past few months, Winnipeggers have been captivated by the most recent chapter in one of our city's great legends of modern folklore, the search for the ever-elusive "world-class Winnipeg water park."
Adjacent to The Forks, the location of the most recent water-park proposal created a wave of public opposition that caused Canalta Hotels to pack up its snorkel and swim fins and head back to Drumheller. With the pressure relieved, we now have the opportunity to step back and ask ourselves as a community, what is the best way forward for one of the most important pieces of real estate that we, the citizens of Winnipeg, collectively own?
The Oct. 26, 1881, edition of the Manitoba Free Press reported, "A cow with a bell on, now in the pound, will shortly be sold by auction if the owner doesn't look after her." Secondary to this news, it was noted that, "The buildings within the walls of Fort Garry are to be removed this season, so that Main Street will be continued in a straight line to the Assiniboine Bridge."
Considered insignificant in the moment, the century-long lament of Upper Fort Garry's demolition would begin a mere seven years later in an article from the Montreal Star that proclaimed, "It would have been worth yearly thousands of dollars to future Winnipeg as a bit of pioneer history of the most fascinating sort, but the thick-headed controllers of the city's destiny could see nothing but the immediate realisation of its value in dollars and cents. It is about the most astounding piece of utterly ignorant and vulgar administration that Canada affords."