Sunday 29 July 2012

Moving the CP rail yards

The Winnipeg Free Press has taken the dormant issue of moving the Canadian Pacific rail yards out of central Winnipeg and yanked it into the spot light with their special series Off The Rails. I'll concede that it's worth talking about, but why now exactly? Why not? It's a time of change for Canadian Pacific, and that may mean that issues like this will get a fresh look by the new CP honcho, Hunter Harrison.

For those not familiar with Harrison, he was CEO of CN Rail when the CN Intermodal yards on Taylor Ave in Winnipeg were moved to St.Boniface, making way for what is now IKEA and the Seasons Of Tuxedo shopping centre.* He went on to push CN to ever greater operational efficiencies and share prices. After a recent shareholder revolt, he is now CEO of CP and thus in a position to move the CP yards if he deems it necessary. He is already moving forward with plans to consolidate other rail yard operations. The Etobicoke and Agincourt yards in Ontario are apparently being mothballed, and consolidations are coming to the Montreal area I am told.

I still think it's unlikely the Winnipeg CP yards would be moved from where they are now. It would be a massive cost, and therefore would require massive operational efficiencies to make it worthwhile. Harrison is committed to investing in rail infrastructure, but something of this magnitude would probably not be in the cards when there are so many other areas were capital investment is needed. Unless ... it was bolstered by massive public subsidies.

I think all the talk of it being a remedy for our inner-city problems of crime, poverty and homelessness is greatly overblown. Lloyd Axworthy calls the railyards "a psychological barrier between rich and poor". Which side is rich and which one is poor I haven't figured out yet. Both are low income areas plagued with high crime rates. Removing the "barrier" is supposed to allow the socioeconomic well being of the West-End, such as it is, to spread to the North-End. Just as likely is that their respective criminal elements will combine and multiply into a giant crime bomb with it's epicentre being the former rail yards.

I am being a little bit facetious, for those of you who don't know me. I do think some good can come of it, but we need to keep our expectations reasonable. If you plunk a community between two disadvantaged communities, that new community is likely to also be disadvantaged.


Let's assume the rail yards are moving so we can get to the fun stuff. What would we do with all the space?

I would be hard-pressed to draw up a better plan than what Cold Cold Ground cooked up over here, though the Weston area is excluded from that plan. I think what I'll do instead is some more general thinking about the area...

Housing is probably the first thought for most people. Housing and green space. We do have a shortage of affordable housing in this city, but the draw back of this area is that the housing would be sandwiched between the light industrial areas along Logan and Dufferin. However, there is potential to convert some of those buildings into warehouse apartments to better integrate the new and old residential areas.

You have to realize, though, that the appeal of inner-city housing is limited. Especially when it's not in a trendy area like Wolseley. I don't think you can fill the vast area of the CP yards with housing and expect it to be successful, therefore we have to do some creative thinking to make the best use of the area.

Here we go ...

Zone 1: Red Light District
Some of the areas adjacent to the tracks are plagued with prostitution and all the associated troubles. Every so often there is talk of a red light district as a potential solution, but who on earth wants a red light district in their neighbourhood? That's why this area is ideal -- it has no neighbours. At least not residential ones. It's an ideal opportunity to A) draw prostitution away from existing residential neighbourhoods, and B) draw in tourists. Some archaic laws about operating a bawdy house may need to be changed. If you were to make cannabis bars legal for this designated area that would really draw in the tourists. Move over CMHR, there's a new game in town. Throw in a few casinos and you've got a thriving tax-dollar generating mecca in a small area that would be easy to police.

Zone 2: Golf Course
This area is more than large enough to support a full-length championship golf course. This would integrate very nicely with the red light district across the street. Hotels will start springing up in the area, and even I might go there once in a while. (For the golf, not for the hookers .... just to clarify.)

I know that a few months ago I was advocating getting rid of golf courses, but remember: the problem is not too many courses but too many small, crappy, money-losing courses. A medium to high end public championship course would add variety to the golf market here. Meanwhile, some of the existing courses like the Canoe Club are in much more desirable residential areas and could be converted for that purpose.

Zone 3: Residential

I couldn't make everything fun. But what kind of residential and how do you do it? Do you just sell the land to Qualico and let them loose? Should we turn it into a big Manitoba Housing development? We need affordable housing, but we don't want to create "projects".

I like this enclave of colourful little single-story townhouses that was build near the Old Ex grounds just north of the tracks. It's called Flora Place, and was build in 2007 by a government bureaucracy called the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation.

It was heavily subsidized, to the tune of $125,000 per unit, but still appears very well maintained. you get the impression driving by that the occupants take pride in their houses.

Closer to downtown, east of Salter for instance, a higher-density of development might be appropriate. Apartments or perhaps a brownstone-style development...

Throw in a end-to-end strip of green space (not too much) and an AT corridor. That's about as far as I can go with this.The details about deciding which street goes where can come later, but that's my general vision. You can see other people's ideas at the Winnipeg Free Press Café Tuesday evening at 6:00, where a "design summit" will be held.

*He was Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President when the decision to move the yards was made, taking the CEO position shortly thereafter and prior to the execution of the plan.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Off the Beach and Path

There is a great, original fundraising activity being run by an associate of The Peanut: Off the Beach and Path.

You may have heard about it already, but here's the deal: you show up at one of the scheduled locations, donate some money, and you get to ride in his baby:

The rare amphibious car will take you off the land and into the water for a unique little cruise. You can even have an opportunity to drive the car.

The tour is traveling all over Manitoba. It's in Winnipeg Thursday and Friday, before hitting the road again this coming weekend. Check the schedule here for locations and details.

Turnout so far has been great, with thousands of dollars already raised for Parkinson Society Manitoba. I haven't been in the car but I've heard it's a lot of fun. It's a good cause and an interesting way to support it.

Friday 20 July 2012

Millenium Library Park opening

I took a little stroll today to check out the grand opening of the Millennium Library Park. I didn't stick around to listen to the Mayor and the Premier and Minister Vic Toews speak, because I don't really care what they have to say, but I grabbed a cup of coffee and had a look around.

It really is quite a nice space, at least all clean and new like it is, however it's very surprising that the water features are already overgrown with weeds...

I mean ... how does that happen? Good grief. This pesticide ban has to be reversed!

The turn out for the event was pretty good. If a crowd like this could assemble every day, it would be quite the people-watching place. Unfortunately on the average day I would expect to see a somewhat sparser and less well-dressed crowd than this one.

That's the thing about public spaces ... unless you have a high density of tourists or employed people in the area, these open public spaces can backfire by creating unsafe dead zones. But this is not a new public space .. it is a redesign of an existing and less safe public space, so I'm all for it. The redesign of Central Park worked very well, and hopefully this one will too.

The talk of the opening was the half-million dollar "emptyful" artwork. Love it or hate it or think it's a waste of money, the art work/sculpture/fountain thingy has one thing going for it: mist. On a hot day like today, the "fog" that the thing produces is really quite refreshing. Although the vast majority of it drifts well over your head and dissipates into the air, cooling nothing but a few insects and perhaps the ever-present Higgs boson particle, if you walk directly in front of it you do get a refreshing spritz.

Aside from the cost of the fountain, the park put a pretty big dent in our wallets. Just how big is uncertain, as officials have been reluctant to talk, however we can get an idea ... The park was origianly budgeted at $2.1 million, with another 1.7 added later for a new budget of $3.8 million. (Source) This figure is repeated on Christian Cassidy's July 2010 blog post here, but the link directly above goes to an updated web page that shows $7.4 million! Maybe that 100% budget overrun is why the officials didn't want to talk about it. The finally tally .... we'll probably find out sometime.

What would be great is if there were direct access to this park from the Human Bean café inside the library, so you could buy your coffee and walk out onto it like a giant patio. Minor quibble though. It still may be a pleasant place to park your butt or look around on a coffee break.

Sunday 15 July 2012

New Conservatory for Assiniboine Park

Winnipeg's largest park is getting quite the make-over. The Lyric theater was upgraded, the duck pond was expanded, a children's play area was expanded, the Qualico Family Centre was built, the polar bear enclosure is being expanded and reconfigured as part of a whole zoo revamp, and a sign is being moved for the mini train.

Next up: a new Conservatory. A Request For Proposals was just released to solicit a conceptual design for the new venue. The existing conservatory is over 100 years old and is falling apart, therefore a new conservatory will be built and the existing one will be torn down. You may lament the loss of another century-old building, but the Assiniboine Park Conservancy argues that any historical value was lost due to repeated alterations and repairs over the years.


The new Conservatory must be a unique "signature piece of architecture" according to the RFP. The design will cost $5+ million, with the final cost of the project probably in the $45 million range, and expected completion in 2017. Sometime next year expect to see some fancy conceptual drawings of a pristine new conservatory featuring well dressed white people mingling around in front of it, to be used to assist with fund raising.

So far the improvements to Assiniboine Park, both completed and proposed, seem to have been very well received. If this new Conservatory follows that trend I don't anticipate that fund raising will be a huge problem. By that I mean it won't be a huge problem as far as the Conservatory is concerned. It could be a concern for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, if you figure that there's a fixed pool of potential donations out there, and every million going to the park is another million that's not going to the struggling CMHR. I sense a growing lack of enthusiasm for donating to the museum, while Assiniboine Park seems to be gaining momentum.

But enough about fundraising .. if the old conservatory is going to be torn down after the new one is built, where is the new one going? We don't know precisely, but we do know it will be somewhere in the south east part of the park. They want to keep the attractions spread out, and this one is going to anchor the SE quadrant.

I'm going to speculate on the exact location ...

The formal gardens take up a large chunk of the SE area of the park. I am sure those will not be touched, so there aren't too many other options. The area circled in green is a little-used picnic area that is easily accessed from the main entrance, and is close to an existing way-underutilized parking lot. I would bet money this is where the new Conservatory is going.

Assiniboine Park was neglected for many many years, so it's great to see this revitalization of one of Winnipeg's best features, and this is one more piece. I'm looking forward to the conceptual drawings. Our expectations are high ... don't let us down!

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Murder and mayhem in my neighbourhood!

I had to laugh while reading Ruthless, violent merlins launch gory enterprise from neighbours' roof in the FYI section of the Saturday paper. It was so over the top I wasn't sure if the author was trying to be humourous or if they were really that appalled at the behaviour of these "blasted raptors", and how the "carnage" continued "day by disastrous day."

Reading the column was good fun, but I had completely forgotten about it until this evening. We have merlins in our neighbourhood, and as I was making dinner (mmmmm, ramen noodles ...) I saw one of them darting into the apple tree behind my house, chasing a black bird. I couldn't see the action, but there was rustling of leaves and weird bird-like noises -- I presume the sound a bird makes as it's screaming for help -- and then the merlin flew off empty handed.

I now have an injured blackbird in the apple tree in my back yard. I would take a picture of it for you, but it looks pretty much like any other blackbird.

Am I disgusted? No. I find it surprising that somebody would be upset or disgusted by a wild predator attacking a fellow animal. Particularly since the violent merlins in question are close relatives to the adored peregrine falcons that make the Radisson Hotel home every summer. Thousands of people watch the web cam as the doting parents tend to the chicks and feed them food. The food, of course, is not take-out from Marcellos or the Green Leaf Café, but birds and small animals that have been torn to shreds by the "powerful, scythe-like talons and razor-sharp beak" of the falcons. It's always a big moment when the young birds are able to tear apart their own prey. "I was thrilled to see the parents bring food to the babies - twice! They are getting more independent every day; shredding the prey on their own in some instances", notes one commenter on the CBC web site.

Merlin. source:

Story time: I had an opportunity to visit the famed San Diego Zoo a while back. My favourite part was not the zebras or rhinos or strange Asian mammals that I didn't know existed, but an incident that occurred in the bird enclosure. At one point there was a low-hanging branch reaching out across the walking path, and right in the middle of this branch was a spectacular bird from someplace like Madagascar. This amazing and exotic bird, with vibrant red, blue and yellow feathers, had in it's beak a hairless baby rodent, and it was repeatedly beating the rodent against the branch. Over and over again. Thunk, thunk, thunk. I'm sure the thing was dead, but it just kept pummeling the crap out of the animal anyhow. This amazing, exotic, colourful bird. I think my wife almost threw up, but I thought it was hilarious.

Maybe I'm not normal, but my fascination was not so much a matter of blood lust or murderous tendencies, but my interest in nature. I grew up in a small town surrounded by forest and have a great interest and appreciation for all wild things. You don't often get to experience a lot of the nitty-gritty happenings of wild animals, so when you do see nature at work it is quite interesting. That, plus the bizarre juxtaposition of this glorious bird doing something so brutal, provided endless amusement for me. Much like what watching Queen Elizabeth in a hot dog eating contest might do.

Seeing nature at work is even less common when you live in the city. I'm not talking about joggers getting chased by ravenous racoons. That's not normal. I'm not sure what's going on there. I'm talking about the normal predatory animal behaviour that has been making the world tick for eons. I think rather than complaining about the slaughter in her back yard, the lady who wrote the Backyard Bullies article should appreciate her front row seat to this amazing spectacle.

I contacted the author of the Backyard Bullies article, who sent me this:

Sunday 8 July 2012

Manitoba Liberal leadership idea.

This fall, the Manitoba Liberal Party will start the process of choosing a new leader to replace the outgoing Dr. Jon Gerrard. One man, the little-known Robert Young, has so far announced an intention to run. I don't know much about Mr. Young, but given his lack of political experience and journey-man career, I don't get a good vibe from this.

What the Liberal Party needs is a man who is ready to jump into the position already familiar with the political game, but with fresh ideas. I think I have just the person:

James Beddome

It's not so crazy. Trust me.

Okay... it's crazy, but read on anyhow:

With James you have a guy who has experience with the operational aspects of leading a political party. You have a guy who is well-spoken and reasonably charismatic. He is clean-cut and wholesome in appearance, yet has hair that dangles down in front of his face that tells younger voters that this is a different kind of politics -- a kind that they can potentially relate to. More importantly, he has fresh ideas. His Green Party platform in the last election was not radical or unreasonable, rather it was principled and grounded in logic for the most part.

What James doesn't have is a way of bringing these ideas to the floor of the legislature. It could take decades for the Green Party to build a base in Manitoba large enough to grabs seats from the NDP. The Liberal Party on the other hand has a significant, though dwindling, chunk of the vote. Every election there are certain people who always vote Liberal because they have always been Liberal, or because it's viewed as the moderate choice.

From the Liberal Party point of view, a resurgence is desperately needed. The inertia that they've been coasting on since the Sharon Carstairs days has been eroding under the coma-inducing leadership of Gerrard, and has not been helped by the implosion of the parent party in Ottawa. A 50 year old business consultant who once wrote a Christian novel is probably not the spark plug that they need to fire up the engine again.

This is where James comes in. He has some youth appeal that could help revitalize the party, but has already earned the respect of other politicians. I know that Hugh McFadyen respected James as a peer and as a political opponent, for example.

But what about the Green Party? Am I asking that he abandon his Green roots? No.

But surely the Green Party has a clause in their constitution that prevents their leader from running for another party. Therefore this will require a bit of a gamble on Beddome's part. He will have to resign the leadership of the Greens to run for the Liberals. If he wins the leadership of the Liberal Party he can begin negotiations with the Green Party to amalgamate the two. The Green Party will be willing because they know James and they know what he stands for. As the freshly elected leader of the Liberal Party he would have the leverage to pull the party into the negotiations.

And then the master plan is complete! A young, stronger Liberal party with the combined strength of the Libs and the Greens, and a new platform of distinct and practical ideas that will stand out from the stale and predictable drivel presented by the NDP and the PCs.

It could work.


A new face, Ajay Chopra, plans to jump in the race ... just as soon as he returns to Manitoba from Toronto where he was working as a lobbyist. Ajay's outlook is better that Robert Young's in my opinion, because he is younger and somewhat familiar with the political machine, but this is not a big enough development to derail the above plan.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Around this town: 92.9 FM, food, and other stuff

You know what's around this town? FOOD! Winnipeg has always been a food hotspot, but now we're starting to see more mobile food vendors setting up on streets, giving downtown office workers more options. Melissa Martin wrote about it in the Free Press this past long weekend. It looks like this might be a trend!

There's El Torrito, the taco truck. (twitter, facebook)

Baon Bistro "Fil-Asian" fusion. You can imagine my confusion as I misread the name as Bacon Bistro. (Twitter, Facebook)

Beaujena's French Table French/Mediterranean sandwiches, etc.. (Twitter, Facebook). The pork cutlet sandwich sounds amazing. I am definitely going to give that a try soon. But according to their facebook page they're launching an even better sandwich this week: Toasted bun, slice of brie cheese, 6-7 oz. filet mignon, trufle butter, two slices of crisp bacon topped with sauteed wild mushrooms and onions. "After you eat it, you will have to kill yourself because nothing will ever be so good again".


Pimp My Rice Filipino food. (Twitter)

Little Bones Wingery Gourmet breaded chicken wings, including POUTINE WINGS. (Facebook)

And finally, So-Cal Smoothies hit the streets of Winnipeg two weeks ago (Twitter, Facebook)

I'll see you on the streets!

A commenter pointed out Falafel Queen as another mobile vendor. FQ needs to expand their on-line presence. I could not find a web page or Twitter account, and their Facebook page is sparce.

Stuff-It Foods, by contrast, has a slick web page with a funked-out version of Wonder Wall playing while you browse the web site. (Twitter)

Sis & Me has typical summer food: burgers, smokies, etc.

J. T. Springrolls doesn't have much of a web presence either, although I found this picture ------------>

Lovey's BBQ also has a food truck .. or Kitchen On Wheels (KOW). (Twitter, Facebook)


Speaking of mobile food, here is a picture of a slurpee in a shoe that I took a little while ago. An abandoned shoe and a slurpee ... what could be more Winnipeg than that?


Another Winnipeg blog that you might not be aware of is The Daily Observer. It's author is Gabriel Hurley, the mastermind behind the Winnipeg Zoom forum, which has really taken off in it's half a year or so of existence. Gabriel's posts are not frequent, but you should keep an eye on it.


Lastly, this is a major loss to Winnipeg radio:

As a result of recent changes to CRTC regulations regarding campus and community radio stations, and financial challenges, the Board of Cre-Comm Radio Inc. has decided to discontinue over the air broadcasting effective Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 4:00pm, and will be returning the current broadcast licence to the CRTC.
I listen to 92.9 a great deal, simply because they play new and alternative music instead of the usual rock / classic rock / pop that you hear over and over again on most other stations. This is disappointing.

Hat tip to Marty Gold about that announcement.


That's it for now. Next up: a new idea for leader of the Liberal Party!

Enjoy the rest of the week.

Monday 2 July 2012

How to create a mass murderer

People base their expectations of future events on their observations of prior events. It is a principle that Thomas Bayes, a Presbyterian Minister with a fondness for mathematics, expressed in an elegant formula over 250 years ago, and may help explain why at least three girls are dead today.

James Turner did us a favour by posting Shawn Lamb's rap sheet on his blog. Click here. It provides a great amount of insight into how somebody could end up as a career criminal, with the assistance of the criminal justice system.

In 1976, Lamb as a teenager got his first taste of jail with a 6 month sentence for theft over $200. In 1979 he was convicted twice of break, enter and theft with sentences of 9 months and then 6 months in jail. I do not know how much of that he actually served.

It does not get better. Over the years he committed many other thefts and frauds with ever-decreasing sentences ...
1984 theft under $200: 1 month in jail.
1987 theft over $1000: 5 months less a day, concurrent with other sentences.
1990 uttering a forged document: 30 days
1990 theft under $200: 15 days
1990 theft over $1000: 3 months
1991 theft under $1000: 20 days
1991 theft under $1000: 20 days
1991 theft under $1000: 10 days
1997 theft under $5000: 3 days

He was convicted of approximately 40 crimes related to theft or fraud, and regardless of how bad his track record got, the punishment in terms of jail time never exceeded the 9 months he received as a young adult in 1979.

In 1980, Shawn Lamb graduated to violent offences with armed robbery and assaulting a peace officer (x2). He received 2 years for the armed robbery and 6 months for each assault. For all of the violent offences that followed, he never had to spend over 2 years in jail.

In 1992, he graduated once again to a more serious offence: sexual assualt. For this he was sentenced to 4 years in prison, but despite 45 previous convictions he was paroled after only 16 months behind bars, having served only 1/3 of his sentence.

I think a visual representation might help. In the following graph I show the jail-term implications, as best as I could determine based on the data on James' blog, of violent crimes for which Lamb was convicted. My somewhat arbitrary grouping includes assaults, weapons offences, uttering threats and break & enter with violence.

Though the severity of the offences and the jail terms incurred vary, it is a stunning pattern. Not only did the offences not get harsher as his rap sheet got longer, but if anything the opposite occurs.

If you wanted to breed a career criminal, Lamb's sentencing history would make a perfect template. It is a demonstration that criminal history means nothing. Repeat offences are not discouraged with higher penalties. Using the innate Bayesian inference that we all use, Shawn knew what punishment to expect when committing another robbery or assault or other crime: the same sentence he got last time, give or take ... the same punishment that didn't work every other time.

It is a pattern that firmly embedded Shawn in a criminal lifestyle, so deeply that he could do nothing but plunge further in. It should be a surprise to nobody that he would graduate once again to murder, as he is alleged to have done.

Many people argue that jail time does not work, and that we should focus on alternative measures. Those people could point to this pitiful record and claim it as evidence. See! He's been in jail dozens of times and keeps re-offending. Jail doesn't work! That would be the absolute wrong conclusion to take away from this. The conclusion should be: jail time doesn't work as a disincentive when you don't use it properly.

What is desperately required is sentencing that takes into account behavioural science, or even just basic common sense. Supposing Lamb's jail terms increased significantly with each subsequent conviction for a similar crime. Lamb's expectations would have adapted accordingly. He would know that if he gets caught again he would have to suffer a yet-harsher penalty. Perhaps he would have refrained from committing the additional offence, and the one after that and the one after that. Perhaps he would have not graduated to violent crimes. At the very least he would have spent more time behind bars where he would not have had the opportunity to commit crimes. And ... perhaps the three girls would still be alive.

The graph groups convictions in 2 year increments. Prison terms that were shorter than a month I rounded up to a month so that they're more visible on the graph. When a single sentence was give for multiple crimes, I divided the sentence up among the crimes. The time served before parole was used for the sexual assault. For all other crimes the actual sentence was used.

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