A Leap of Faith

This is what the current view from The Sky Waterfront 5th floor terrace looks like.

This is what the current view from The Sky Waterfront 5th floor terrace looks like.

Update: One factor Residents of the Exchange have been told that the only plan that will work is the 24 storey Tower. Residents want development. Residents felt that through a proper consultation process a variety of designs or proposals could have and should have been explored.

The Globe and Mail: Mayoral mischief: Canada’s growing cities face a problem of oversight
Winnipeg Free Press Article: Tower designer not licensed

Article New York TimesJudge Blocks Part of N.Y.U.’s Plan for Four Towers in Greenwich Village

Many residents of the Exchange are disappointed that their voices fell silent to the Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management. On a very cold Winnipeg morning many concerned citizens reorganized their work commitments to present their concerns on the building of a 24 storey glass skyscraper in Winnipeg’s historic and cultural hub. Besides those present at the Appeal Hearing many not able to attend made written submissions and a petition with 400 signatures was presented. Despite their presentations and opposition the committee took only minutes to deny their appeal.

The unfortunate aspect of this process is more than just the building of a 24 storey glass tower that will despite Jenny Gerbasi’s statement that the project will have a ‘relatively minimal impact’ change the look of what was becoming one of Winnipeg’s most beautiful streets and vibrant communities. The differences between the statements of the committee and those opposed is the residents came with facts, a willingness to work to develop alternate solutions and a request that the Committee follow the current bylaw and articulated vision for the Exchange District. The committee made comments like:

Jeff Browaty: I didn’t think the 24-storey height of the building is inappropriate for Waterfront Drive. 

Artist's rendering of proposed 24 storey tower

Artist’s rendering of proposed 24 storey tower

Both Browaty and Gerbasi seem unable to understand:

Historic areas typically exhibit a range of heritage values, such as social, historical, and architectural. Frequently, they also have aesthetic significance; therefore, the design quality of new insertions in a historic area is important.

Statements like I think or I feel do not provide the evidence or instill the confidence of residents that they know what they are doing and all the factors related to the decision made. We need to take the ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’ out of decisions. It is the reason why successful long-term sustainable development requires a plan. A plan whose guidelines continue to support the ‘feel’ of a neighbourhood’. The city planners and committee members have failed to address any of the issues raised about traffic, sight lines or the darkness a tower that will be more than three times the height of the buildings in the area. It will be six times the height of the building next door. To put this in perspective this would be like building a six storey apartment complex in a neighbourhood of bungalows. This is not a minor variance as city planners, developers or committee members have indicated. This is a major change. Anyone who drives down Waterfront can clearly see how much a change in design can affect the feel of a community.

In a time where many cities around the world have adopted the strategies related to Smart Growth our city continues to ignore the foundations of such a system. It has been stated that we need to build 24 storeys and we require denser development. The principles of Smart Growth would disagree with the concepts of skyscrapers but rather speak of ‘compact growth’. Skyscrapers have historically been considered not environmentally friendly.

Large plants, such as cranes, diggers and dumper trucks are all used continuously in the construction of such buildings, producing a large amount of carbon emissions, whilst the materials used in the construction are also transported to the site, sometimes coming from other parts of the world, meaning that even before the completion of the Skyscraper, the building could already have a large carbon footprint. The heating and cooling, basic services and the use of lights in Skyscrapers are what form the main energy consumption in the everyday running of a Skyscraper, and as it requires an immense amount of energy to pump these services and materials to the higher floors of the buildings because of gravity.

Have our city planners and Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management been provided with the information about the environmental impact of this new building that unlike the majority of other developments in the area have utilized the already existing bricks and mortar to build; therefore minimizing their environmental footprint.

Perhaps for those of us that live in the Exchange District it is the statement by our counsellor Mike Pagtakhan, chair of the committee and who also sits on the Executive Policy Committee said “It’s important that we take a leap of faith on this important project.” It is our local counsellor who has failed to represent or attempt to understand, even dialogue with his constituents over not only this issue but on the important Residential Parking Pass issue when the city took away parking from Exchange Residents siting their inability to change a long-standing bylaw. Ironic.

‘A Leap of Faith’ in fact has been what our council and municipal government has been doing for the last number of years with devastating and long-lasting consequences financially for the taxpayers of Winnipeg. It was with this ‘Leap of Faith’ they agreed to build the Police Headquarters with only 30% of the plans seen. Counsellors then seemed surprised when there appears to be little oversight of a project of that magnitude that is now more than 75 million dollars over budget.

It was with this ‘Leap of Faith’ that the Mayor and council approved Phil Sheegl as Director of the City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property and Development Department. This has led to questions around controversial land dealings and substantial cost over-runs in regards to the building of four Fire Halls.

It is was also with a ‘Leap of Faith’ Winnipeg has been asked to believe the right decision was made in building beautiful Investor’s Field in its current location. It is with that ‘Leap of Faith’ we have another project mired in cost over-runs, traffic congestion and which to be sustainable will require continued provincial and municipal support to enhance infrastructure required to ease problems associated with attending events at our brand new (not-domed) stadium.

It is with a ‘Leap of Faith’ we have been asked to support continued Urban Sprawl as new developments that with each new house built, tax revenue generated does not match revenue required to provide infrastructure and services to these new communities.

This ‘Pumphouse’ issue has always been about more than the building of a 24 storey glass structure in a historic neighbourhood. It has always been about more than preserving the ‘Pumphouse’. It has always been about a continued problem with how City Hall is doing business. It is about transparency, accountability and trust. It is about a City Council that does not seem to have a vision for long-term sustainable development of our city.

This is about creating a culture in our city by having a plan and vision for development that is founded on “the three Cs,” namely:

1) certainty in the planning system about what constitutes appropriate development;

2) consistency in government decision-making; and

3) communication and consultation between government decision makers and the development sector, community on creating successful outcomes.

Successful outcomes do not constitute just having something built. The four Fire Halls although needed did not have a successful outcome as outlined in the audit. Each of the projects we were asked as Winnipeggers to take ‘A Leap of Faith’ have not had successful outcomes as a result of one factor or another. The commonalities in all of them has been a lack of transparency, no or limited accountability and a loss of trust by the public as indicated in our Mayor’s current popularity and now legacy of ‘conflicting interests’.

It is my hope that out of another decision wrought with more of City Hall’s version of us taking ‘A Leap of Faith’, we as Winnipeggers will find our voice. The media and public demand accountability.

What differentiates poor people from rich people, is lack of voice. The inability to be represented. The inability to convey to the people in authority what it is they think. The inability to have a searchlight put on the conditions of inequality.

James D. Wolfensohn

About jameswhoddinott

My novel 'When Eagles Dare to Fly' represents my belief that good will always triumph over evil and by developing who we are on the inside we will find our way. My newest novel 'The Fates' was released earlier this year that examines a society that discovers immortality. I have a blog called an 'Author, blogger and his musings' which talks about my writing, political issues as well as other areas of interest like education, art and photography,
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6 Responses to A Leap of Faith

  1. Sid says:

    I think the solution would be to allow the equipment to be removed and gift the property so the building could be renovated. A market with a deli/bakery would make this site very attractive for all. Stubbornly wanting to hold onto the old pumps has killed the potential offered by this location. A leap of faith is to offer the site with the condition that all equipment would be removed and relocated. See what comes of that.

    I agree, you have to stick to long term plans. This tower isn’t very creative since it doesn’t meet the criteria set in the plan. We do this often in this City. We call people visionary when they change the rules to suit their agenda. This isn’t visionary, this is changing rules behind closed doors.

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  2. I appreciate your feedback. In the end it has been difficult to get everyone to see this is a bigger issue than just the Pumphouse. With working together we could have created something that fit with the neighbourhood. An open transparent process could have had this development happening in the best interests of everyone involved. The neighbourhood wants development. Some people think because you oppose something you are stopping progress. In the end this development stopped the progress of a unique historical community that was creating an atmosphere and visual charm that Winnipeg could be proud of.

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  3. Sid says:

    I agree- The pumphouse can be a great spot for all. Its perfectly located. But, in this town , vision isn’t a priority.

    Oh well.

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  4. It’s always hard to fight the big money and their interests. But I agree with you Smart Growth is what makes a city sustainable in the long run. Long term plans are needed!

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  5. A Resident says:

    Sid, I had the very same thought of moving the machinery first, but my thinking was to save the floor’s integrity. After all, the proponents want to pound down 18 piles, each over 3 feet wide. Will they be able to space them properly given the obstacle of where the machinery sits?
    There’s probably an extensive under-structure of large piping that these guys will encounter and it’s going to be nothing but trouble.

    I agree. This project is totally inappropriate and CentreVenture should have their knuckles rapped over this poor ‘solution’ to the pumphouse property. They have egg all over their faces going back to when they repurchased the pumphouse for a huge loss.
    I could ramble on for another thousand words but I’ll sum up with this.
    Sam Klutz, er Katz, is the mastermind behind this, or lead pusher. He’s been quiet as a church mouse over this project. No opinion asked or given.
    He wants the glory of saying how he saved the Exchange District and History at the same time, leading him into, in his mind, another term as Mayor come October.
    Not much of a theory, I know, but ‘someone’ is pulling the strings here, and Phil has left the building and Deepak is laying low as he should.
    That leaves Phil’s ‘good friend’ Sam to carry the flag of Dumb Decisions for personal vanity, a roll he knows all too well.

    Keep fighting James, the war’s not over yet. These developers sound and act like they’re not finished making more mistakes.

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    • It does come down to having a vision and a plan. Decisions must be made in an open and transparent way. To move forward with a plan will get us to way we are going. Without a plan we will continue to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

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