Peg Gratitude: Day 7 – My Neighbours

December 10th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

Oh sheesh… playing catch-up on my gratitude posts after a busy weekend! For Day 7, this past Saturday, I can’t think of anything more fitting than my neighbours.

About nine years ago, my at-the-time next-door neighbour invited me to a “ladies’ Christmas party”, a tradition that had been going on informally among Glenelm women for some years. I’m by no means a extrovert or a party person, but we were still relatively new to the area, I was on mat leave with a six-month old baby and I was keen to meet some new people, so I accepted the invitation. It turned out to be a fateful decision as it was there that I met one of those “connectors” that Malcolm Gladwell talks about – a person who knows everyone and facilitates connections freely and generously for everyone. To my surprise, she had been reading my blog, so we quickly found common ground and she left quite an impression on me!

Turns out, this lovely woman lived across the back lane from  me, and she asked if I knew the new mother who lived a few doors down from me, who had a baby almost the same age. I didn’t; in fact, I didn’t even have a clue who lived there. Within a few weeks, she’d orchestrated a small get-together at her house so that she could match-make us. This was the beginning of two beautiful, cherished friendships with people who both live within a stone’s throw from me.

Well, fast-forward almost a decade and the three of us are still getting together: sometimes in small groups, sometimes one-on-one, and sometimes at larger neighbourhood events. This past Saturday (Day 7), we were all together again for what has become an annual holiday tradition: a lively evening of (indoor) carolling along with many more neighbourhood folks.

And though over the past few years I’ve been involved in helping to organize tons of neighbourhood events, this one is especially dear to me because it’s all about my deepest neighbourhood relationships, and the shared connections many of us have formed. As I looked around the music-filled room, and caught the eyes of and shared a smile with many dear friends, I felt almost overflowing with gratitude and peace. It is such a lucky thing to have neighbours who take care of each other when times are hard, and to celebrate with when times are good. Neighbours you could ask for help anytime, and who know they could ask the same of you. I try never to take it for granted.

There have been lots of changes to the street over the years. Sometimes these changes are good and exciting, other times they’re hard and overwhelming.  We’ve lost wonderful neighbours when they passed away, or moved out of province, or just out of the neighbourhood. We’ve also dealt with difficult situations related to criminal activity; though I don’t wish that on anyone, nothing brings you closer to your neighbours that knowing that you’re watching out for each other and you’re in that tough situation together.

I hope you have neighbours like mine…and that you’ll do something special with them over the holidays!

Peg Gratitude: Day 6 – MTYP

December 6th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

When I moved to Winnipeg and people were baffled, there was one indisputable fact I knew I could trot out to quell some of negative comments: Winnipeg has an incredible arts scene.

11 years in, I can’t say I have really partaken much of the arts lately. I seem to have been sucked into a world of begging for budget scraps and pushing for system change. It can be a serious downer, and when combined with the climate crisis, it’s really put a damper on my spirits.

But: tonight I took my kids to see A Year with Frog and Toad at MTYP. It was the first time any of us had been to MTYP and we couldn’t have picked a better show to see. Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books were a staple of my childhood and now I love reading them with my own kids. That doesn’t quite sum up how important these four little books are to me. I absolutely cherish them.

So, many months ago, I saw that MTYP was going to be doing a show based on Frog and Toad, and so I put a note in my calendar reminding me to investigate tickets once the season had started. After having some trouble with the MTYP website, I called the box office and was assisted by the loveliest, most helpful person, who found great seats for us, on opening night no less!

We’d looked forward to tonight all week (and honestly, I’d been looking forward to it for months!). The kids and took the bus to The Forks after supper, got hot chocolate and poked around Kite & Kaboodle, then went to the theatre where we found ourselves in “Frog Centre”. From the moment the show began, I was grinning ear to ear. It was a marvelous production with terrific songs (I now know the show debuted on Broadway – and it shows). It incorporated many of the stories from the four books including many of our personal favourites (like mine, Alone–which totally made me cry–and Cookies but sadly not Ice Cream) and tons of delightful special effects. Afterwards everyone was invited for milk and cookies in the lobby – I don’t know if this is a usual thing, but it was so fun and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I wish I could go see the show again – it was that good. I can’t wait for my next trip to MTYP, whatever the show!

I’m grateful for this lovely evening and the discovery of the joyful gem that is MTYP in the heart of our often discouraging, struggling city.

Peg Gratitude: Day 5 – The Crusty Bun

December 5th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

Today’s “Winnipeg thing I’m grateful for” is an easy one. I *love* The Crusty Bun bakery café on St Mary’s.

Over the years it’s been a go-to place for breakfast meet-ups with the wonderful women in my extended family. Their bread is amazing (the pumpkin seed bread is my all-time fave) and I enjoy every meal, whether it’s a small German breakfast (2 crusty buns, ham & cheese, house-made jam) or a scrumptious pastry and coffee.

It’s a bustling place, so there’s always a risk you may not get a table, but it’s homey and warm and there are display cases and baskets full of mouth-watering baking to keep you dreaming while you wait.

Happiness is a bag of soul sticks or salt pretzels from the Crusty Bun, shared with a family member or dear friend. Can’t wait to go again soon!

Peg Gratitude: Day 4 – My Winnipeg Roots

December 4th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

Today’s my dad’s birthday. He died in 1998, a few days after I turned 17.

I have a distinct memory of sitting in the computer lab at the community college in Lethbridge around 2000, looking at Craiglist ads for apartments in Winnipeg. There were photos of apartments or suites for rent in the West End, I guess in close proximity to the U of W campus, where I yearned to go but did not (yet) have the guts to do on my own. It looked like a dreamland: canopied streets, cool old houses, a little bohemian and shabby… right up my alley.

I had been to Winnipeg many times at that point but it wasn’t anything about those visits that was appealing to me. It was a romantic idea of the place my parents had lived as a young couple, where my brothers were born. Winnipeg was an almost mythical place steeped in family memory and lore. (Carol Shields didn’t help either.)

My Winnipeg training began young.

As I’m sure was the case for many Canadian kids, Fred Penner was a constant in my childhood. I knew he was from Manitoba, because my uncle had once mentioned that he walked to school with Fred (trying to impress his young nieces, I guess? Seems funny now… and like exactly the kind of thing I would pull out to try to impress my own kids. Yikes!)

Once when Fred came through southern Alberta, we went and saw his show. Upon meeting him afterwards, I excitedly informed Fred that he used to walk to school with my uncle… only Fred had no recollection of my uncle at all…embarrassing!

I recently asked my mum why we had so many Fred Penner albums but only one Raffi album (many other kids my age seemed to be all Raffi, all the time). Her response was part offended, part baffled: Well, we just didn’t need Raffi. We had Fred! It was like he belonged to Winnipeg, and therefore to us, even though our family now lived two provinces away. And now, I have Fred too; he’s a living legend, Winnipeg omnipresent in a way that’s always charming and never grating. (A new favourite Fred memory is hearing him do Pete Seeger’s “Garbage” at the David Suzuki Blue Dot tour.

I grew up hearing frequent references to the various streets and places where my parents and various family members lived and worked. Lenore (the frozen pipes), Kings Drive (Grandpa designed the house so you could see the river from every side), and how could I forget Univillage student housing (with milk delivery from a dairy on St Mary’s). And Great Waste of Life, of course.

Items around the house also held their own connections to Winnipeg, like the bikes that were procured at my Granddad’s sporting goods store. I recently discovered that a partial ghost sign for River East Sportsland exists, it turns out, just a short piece (as my Grandma would say) up the road from where I live now.

I’d look at my dad’s old yearbooks and say the name of his high school over and over, Vincent Massey, Vincent Massey. I’d pore over the town history books for Minnedosa and Neepawa and look for all the references to my family. When I moved here there were so many familiar place names that it already seemed like home.

And people, too: Reg Skene’s name was mentioned often enough that I took note of it; when he died in 2016, my first instinct was to call home, even though my dad had been gone for twenty years. My parents met, I think, through the theatre program at the U of W – my mum doing costumes and my dad doing music. To this day, I have an impossible-to-shake impression of the U of W as infinitely cooler than the U of M.

The Fort Richmond Zellers, RIP. One of my all-time favourite family stories is my mum’s description of the good(?) old days in the Zellers cafeteria smoking cigarettes with another young mum, while the kids ate fries. 30 years later, my husband and I bought a set of patio furniture at that same Zellers shortly before the chain went under.

As a teen, I loved the story about my dad and his bandmates jamming (along with other almost certainly illegal activities) with Pink Floyd after a chance post-concert encounter in a downtown Winnipeg diner. (I’m now sheepishly thinking about how heavily I traded that story as social currency, and for how long!)

The thing that brought me to Winnipeg was my roots.

Although I’ve built my Winnipeg life here in Elmwood, the stories and references to places throughout the city that I grew up with have no doubt given me a deeper appreciation (if not understanding!) of my new hometown as a complex, enduringly interesting and special place.

Happy birthday, Dad. I’m grateful for giving me half of my Winnipeg roots. Thanks for helping me find my home.

Peg Gratitude: Day 3 – Winnipeg Nonprofits

December 3rd, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

When I woke up this morning and remembered it was Giving Tuesday, I knew Winnipeg’s many amazing nonprofits would be the theme of today’s gratitude post.

Throughout the city, volunteers give generously of their time, energy, resources – their all, really – in support of nonprofits, foundations, and charities that support almost every cause imaginable. Because of all this effort, my life and all Winnipeggers’ lives are a lot better than they might be otherwise.

This year, my family is giving to several great organizations. Some we’ve had personal experience with, others are simply groups that we think are doing something really important for the city.

On our local giving list this year: The WRENCH, Women’s Health Clinic, Lake Winnipeg Foundation, Children’s Hospital Foundation of MB, Chalmers Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, Ma Mawi, Green Action Centre. I look forward to someday being able to give time to some or all of these groups as well!

If you have the means to do so, I encourage you to make a donation to a group you’re grateful for this holiday season. For today, Giving Tuesday, if you make a donation of $25 or more via Canada Helps, they’ll tack on an extra $5! There are over 2000 Winnipeg-related nonprofits, organizations, institutions, etc., listed on CanadaHelps.org.

Peg Gratitude: Day 2 – Trees (& Tree People)

December 2nd, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

I can’t, I won’t imagine my neighbourhoor and city without trees! Winnipeg is fortunate to have the largest remaining urban elm forest in North America, thanks to our amazing urban forestry department, Trees Winnipeg and previous councils who recognized the importance of funding the fight to protect our elms.

I am grateful for every tree in our city and every remaining moment we have with the ones we will inevitably lose.

And I’m also incredibly grateful for the relationships I’ve built with Mellanie Lawrenz and Lisa Forbes (my fellow Glenelm tree ladies) over the last year, and all the other smart, energetic, passionate people I’m getting to know through the Trees Please coalition.

p.s. Have you signed at SaveOurCanopy.com yet? If not, I’d be grateful if you would!

Peg Gratitude: Day 1 – Rainbow Barricades at Portage & Main

December 1st, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

It’s been a long month. I’m not feeling great about Winnipeg these days, and I know I’m not alone in this. Although Twitter has been an invaluable place for connecting with other like-minded folks, it’s also the place I turn to for venting. Between me and the other adult in my household, there has been an awful lot of venting and grumbling lately. Over the last while, I’ve tried to embrace a mindset of “don’t just complain, do something” — and as such I’ve wound up involved in all sorts of groups and projects and whatnot that involve a lot of pushing back against the status quo. It’s tiring but it’s important and I hope I’m helping to make a difference.

Still, earlier this evening I found myself thinking that I should try to give just as much mental space to the good things in life that I’m grateful for. I’ve kept what I call “three things journals” off and on over the years, where I write down three good things that happened during my day. I found this practice really helped to recognize and be grateful for all the big and little good things I’m lucky to have.

In this spirit, over the month of December I’m going to share a little about the many places, people, and things I’m grateful for in my adopted hometown of Winnipeg.

Day 1: Rainbow Barricades at Portage & Main

Something wonderful happened at our most famous intersection, Portage & Main. The barricades that prevent people from crossing the street at Portage & Main are hostile and crumbling and ridiculous and must go, but I LOVE that they were painted in rainbow stripes for this year’s Pride, and that the colours are still up six months later. I honestly thought they would probably paint over them after a few weeks, but they haven’t yet.

And so, every time I pass these joyful, colourful cement walls, this absurd juxtaposition of free/not free, I feel happy that while we wait impatiently for the day they’re jackhammered out, we have something beautiful and symbolic and hopeful to look at. And I’m going to appreciate them even more in the dead of February, when they’ll really pop against all the snow and grime.

Thanks, rainbow barricades!

A Pretty Nice Job for a Tree

September 19th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

September 20, 2019

My tree will die today.

I knew the day was coming but saying the words feels funny, overly dramatic in some sense.

I fell in love with an elm in my neighbourhood two summers ago. It was a tree I passed by on a regular basis, sometimes many times a day. I’d been walking past it for almost ten years; why did I notice it all of a sudden? And after a lifetime of taking trees mostly for granted? Because a row of trees beside it succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease and suddenly you could see the whole tree, from the ground to the tip-top of its canopy, and it was spectacular.

My tree is bigger than most of its neighbours, but is it more beautiful than any other mature elm in the neighbourhood? That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Glenelm is full of massive elms, each faithfully serving its surroundings in its own incredible, taken-for-granted way, but appreciated mostly en masse. There are so many of them that none really stand out as individuals. But this was my favourite.

The longer she stays, the more likely the disease will spread to her neighbours. My tree is going to die today, but it’s for the best.

***

In fall, the colour show is fleeting; between wind and rain it seems the crispy leaves don’t last long on their branches. We don’t have as much raking to do now; there are fewer trees and so fewer leaves on the ground. While raking was once an enormous task, prolonged so as not to deny the kids the pleasure of jumping in the massive piles, it’s more manageable these days. I have a new attitude: we have leaves to rake because we have trees.

In fact, we have many things because we have trees: cankerworms, aphids, the seed pods that you are still finding in your house months later, and elm seedlings that make up 90% of the weeds in your garden. You don’t have to grin, but you do have to bear them. They come with the territory.

In the dead of winter, the bare branches against a clear sky are elegantly gnarled crosshatches. I take endless photos of their intricate designs, and when I envision a gallery wall of seasonal tree prints for my living room, the winter shot is the most striking and interesting.

My tree is on the left. Isn’t she graceful?

Of course, spring brings promise. Before we know who will live, who will die, before wormageddon, the trees mostly all get leaves. One day there’s nothing, and the next there are hints of green. Even though you know the buds are there, one day it will catch you off-guard: coming up your street, you’ll realize the trees are in full leaf, and summer is on its way.

And summer…summer is something else in elmland. When I think of summer in Glenelm, I am picturing a still, warm evening strolling underneath the leafy protection of the giants, the cathedral bells pealing from across the river. All is comfortable, calm, secure. Cozy is not the right word, but something like that. Snug, wrapped up. That’s what it feels like in the elm embrace.

August 2018. I think I can spot some wilting yellow leaves.

Thinking about a hot summer day does not evoke the same feelings of peacefulness. During the hottest days this past summer, when forced out of the shade and into the beating sun where the canopy is punctured, I can actually feel the anxiety rise in me. Imagine living in a place with no shade, knowing the planet is warming uncontrollably. It feels like being bleached. Stepping into the bright light, the kids and I wince, squinting, in unison.

***

I helped get our neighbourhood association up and running a few years ago. We did a community meeting to determine the priorities we should work on, and the trees were a big one. Please, people said, we need to do something about the trees.

We didn’t know what to do. Do we organize a banding program? Some streets were already doing that, but Trees Winnipeg was saying there was a Tanglefoot shortage and cankerworm populations were expected to be low, so that was a dead end. Dozens of trees were coming down every year, and we didn’t know what to do. We shared tips as we came across them, but there was no real plan. Don’t move firewood. The jury’s still out on banding. Water your tree when it’s really hot, that was about all we could say. We felt completely hopeless.

Last fall, a new-to-the-neighbourhood resident got in touch with us. What are we doing about the trees, she wanted to know? Within a week, this dynamo had organized an information night with the city’s head forester, Martha Barwinsky. From that evening, one thing is etched in my memory. In the PowerPoint presentation, a slide was devoted to the first case of EAB in the city, with a photo of the sickly ash and a recap of the 311 call from the adjacent resident. It’s still awful to think about. Like a 911 transcript or a coroner’s report. Patient Zero.

That was the impetus we needed to get going. A small committee of us formed, and we brainstormed, researched, raged and dreamed. The city, we learned, was only paying to replant one of every two losses. And that’s when we figured out what we could do. We couldn’t do much to preserve the trees still standing. But we could reforest the boulevards, and that’s what we are doing.

***

This summer we were out of town when one of my fellow committee members emailed to say the city was doing the DED diagnosis in our neighbourhood. It’s bad, she said, we’re going to lose a lot again. By then we’d gotten our funding in place, and our initial planting sites approved (more than 50!) and we knew we’d still have money to spend; the plan was to use any leftover money to start replanting some of this year’s DED losses.

We were minutes from home, at the end of this road trip, and I told the kids something sad had happened while were away: the sick trees had been marked in our neighbourhood. I was thinking about how it was bittersweet: losing all these giant beauties, these climate change superheroes, these cooling wonders. But at the same time, if they were sick, we wanted them out ASAP. It was awful, but slightly less awful that it might have been if we didn’t have a plan to replant them. That’s what I was thinking when a voice from the backseat said, “Oh no, Mummy, but what if your favourite tree has an orange dot too?”

My heart sank. The possibility hadn’t even crossed my mind. But maybe it should have. I’d been obsessively scrutinizing my tree’s canopy, willing it to stay healthy, strong, lush, my eyes narrowing in on any trace of yellow or brown amidst the green. I’d seen a few tiny spots that looked suspect, but I wasn’t convinced that’s what I was seeing. Wishful thinking told me it was nothing.

It was not nothing.

It’s amazing how quickly a tree can succumb.

Middle of August 2019

For posterity: Tree data

tree_id: 71920
botanical: Ulmus americana
common: American Elm
dbh: 120
x: 635078.067856924
y: 5530997.62347706
ward: Elmwood – East Kildonan
nbhd: GLENELM
park: Not In Park
loc_class: Boulevard
prop_type: Public
street: Cobourg Av
st_from: Henderson Hw
st_to: Beatrice St
ded_tag_no: 19-0979

***

The sounds of chainsaws and smell of sawdust had been steady for a while. The crews were getting closer to my tree, I could tell. Every time I passed it, I would take a photo, fearing it might be the last time I’d see it.

Last night the “tree ladies” met and we compared notes on the removals happening on our streets. I told them others nearby had been removed that day, but mine was still standing. Maybe, I suggested, they are saving the best for last. We admitted we’ve been giving the tree lots of hugs and affectionate pats in its last days.

I headed out with my daughter to my sister-in-law’s for coffee this morning. Up ahead I could see a group of workers standing under my tree, deliberating. I picked up the pace so I could talk to them. There were a lot of parked cars beneath it, and they were debating whether to go ahead with it. Maybe today, maybe not, they said.

I took a few photos: my tree on its last day of life.

As I approached the corner a few hours later, I held my breath. Would my tree be in pieces? I could hear chainsaws but they didn’t sound like they were coming from that direction. And no, my tree was still there, unassuming, undisturbed. I continued home, a tightness in my chest. An uneasiness stayed with me all afternoon.

Sooner or later, the tree will come down, limb by limb. Until it is gone.

********

My tree lived to see another dawn. When we woke on Friday, the treetops were tipped with a foreboding golden glow; the air felt strangely thick and mysterious. A storm was brewing.

Within an hour, a massive downpour had begun and the sky was so dark that the streetlights came back on. Other parts of the city were flooded in short order; footage of inundated buses went viral and made headlines, prompting check-in texts from weather-watching mothers many provinces away. It poured here in Glenelm too, but our streets were merely soggy. What made the difference? Was it our indefatigable canopy, waning, but keeping calm and carrying on?

Down the street, my tree stood steadfast in the torrential rain, safe another day. No one would be doing any work in these conditions.

And then it was Saturday. Chainsaws stilled, the neighbourhood filled with the sounds of weekend renovation projects, kids playing, woodpeckers pecking and lawns being shorn maybe one last time.

I passed my tree several times in the back-and-forth rhythm of the weekend. There she was, stalwart in service, oblivious to her fate. Or was she turning inward already, preparing herself? Resigning herself.

Monday came and I forgot that treework would be starting again. When I opened the door and heard chainsaws I panicked, then paused, listening. No, they were working the next street over.

The sharks were circling.

*******
September 24, 2019

Today is Tuesday, and this morning I noted the treework signs were up. Surely, today will be the day, I thought, and I walked down the street in light rain, leaned on her a bit, thanked her. Anyone watching would either know what I was doing, or think I was nuts. I took one last, one very last picture.

On the way home I remembered Judith Viorst’s wonderful picture book, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. I loved the book as a kid and can barely get through as an adult (perfect poignancy, and all that).

I thought about how when my tree is gone, it won’t really be gone. It will be part of everything else in the world: the air, the water, other trees, me. That’s a pretty nice job for a tree.

The chainsaws rang out most of the day, but at 9:30pm my tree is standing. To use a terrible turn of phrase, the suspense is killing me.

They partially planted our first project tree this morning, outside of Glenelm School. An Ohio Buckeye. Not a lot of leaves on her, but she looks good and strong. At tomorrow’s shovel ceremony we’ll finish the planting and celebrate the project being in the “trees in the ground” phase, at last.

I sat down to work on what I wanted to say, but got distracted with looking at the incredible open data map of all the public trees in Winnipeg. And I found myself focusing on the ash. There are more than a hundred of them on our neighbourhood boulevards. Unlike the elms, they don’t stand a chance.

I’m still procrastinating as I write this. I am suddenly not in the mood for hope. It’s getting late. I’m exhausted; too many nights of staying up late. All day I’ve been telling myself I will get this done early and get a good night’s sleep and be rested for the festivities tomorrow morning.

Just now something occurred to me: what are the odds that my tree comes down tomorrow, the same day as we celebrate the launch of our project? I’ve always been a sucker for full circles. Hope: restored.

***
September 25, 2019

I got my full circle. Chainsaws were the soundtrack to our speeches and thank yous and dedications as we finished planting our first project tree on Wednesday, National Tree Day.

The real, final photo, taken on the way to the shovel ceremony.
I’m not sure why, but this one really gets me.

Thank you to whoever planted her.

Thank you to all those who cared for her.

Thank you to the crew who brought her down. It must be an emotionally draining job to take down trees day after day.

Thank you to the universe for letting me notice her when I did and appreciate the last year she stood. And for giving me a perfect illustration of the circle of life on a day when I really needed it.

Thank you, dear tree. You are nowhere and everywhere now. I will miss you. Your death won’t be in vain.

Postscript

The city has just been battered by a devastating snowstorm, the worst Manitoba Hydro says it has ever dealt with. Our entire neighbourhood is without power for 30 hours (and that’s nothing compared to others who were still waiting for power, more than a week later).

In the wee hours of Friday, unable to sleep, I stare out the window into the unsettlingly bright night, watching the branches pitch and sway, sagging impossibly groundward. The trees still have most of their leaves, so the weight of the wet snowfall is compounded. It doesn’t look good, and in fact it’s much worse than I even imagine.

The city and province have declared states of emergency. I nearly cry when my best friend texts me from Alberta, “Are you surviving the terrible weather? How are the trees on your street? The canopy!”

It could be worse, but the ones on my street don’t look great: limbs shredded, split and dangling, their natural shapes distorted and unrecognizable. Photos from across the city come rolling in over news sites and social media; the devastation makes my heart tense up.

The city estimates 30,000 public trees have been damaged in the storm. By my calculations that’s about a tenth of all park and boulevard trees. On top of the physical damage, they also worry that the spread of Dutch Elm Disease and Emerald Ash Borer could be accelerated if folks store or move branches for firewood.

***
I feel like this will be a defining event for the future of our city’s trees. It could be the catalyst for massive investment and renewal. Or it could be the death knell.

I sat on this post for weeks, postponing publishing it for reasons unknown to me until now. I guess in a way I was afraid that once I published it, it would be real.



Dear EPC: We Need Safe Speeds

July 8th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

A letter I sent to the members of the Executive Policy Committee, who will be voting on enacting Winnipeg’s new speed limit by-law at tomorrow’s meeting.

Good morning, Mayor Bowman and members of Executive Policy Committee

I’m unable to attend the EPC meeting as a delegation tomorrow morning, but I wanted to submit my feedback to you on the vitally important issue of Winnipeg’s new speed limit by-law.

You will be hearing from many smart, passionate people at tomorrow’s meeting, many there because of the Safe Speeds Wpg campaign, which is advocating for 30km/h residential speeds. I know they will be providing you with solid evidence on why adopting lower speed limits is the only acceptable path for Winnipeg. I add my voice to theirs to urge you to do the right thing, even when you think you have no support and fear the backlash from your constituents. 

I know you are all parents, like I am. Although your kids are almost all out of car seats, I want you to think about those days. Chances are good that you can remember at least one time when your child did not want to sit down and be buckled into their car seat. (Or, if you had a child like one of mine, it was a struggle every single time!)

Think back to what you did in those instances (sorry, I know they’re not exactly rosy memories!!). Your child was screaming, contorting, fighting back – anything to resist being strapped into the safety of his or her car seat. In those moments, did you consider for even half a second that you might just not worry about the car seat this time? No. You took a deep breath, and you gave yourself and your kid a pep talk, and you did up those buckles. Because you were the parent and you knew that safety was YOUR job and NOT OPTIONAL.

I know you’re already facing loud opposition to reduced speeds and that when you enact safe speeds you’ll get a lot of pushback. But this is your job. We’re one year into your terms and by 2022, people will have adapted to our new reality and possibly even come to realize that safe speeds are better for everyone.

Please don’t let the loud, angry voices of the drivers who are opposed to safe speeds drown out the voices of the people who can see that 30km/h speed limits will make a better, safer city for people of all ages, abilities and modes of transportation. We don’t need public consultation or pilot projects or further investigation. The evidence might not be popular, but it is clear and not up for debate: slower speeds save lives and make healthier cities. 
When you discuss and vote on this issue tomorrow, please remember the child who is kicking and screaming about being put in the carseat, and whether you gave in or held your ground.

Winnipeg needs leaders who care as much about the lives of its citizens as they care about the safety of their own children.

Please make the right choice.

Sincerely,
Emma Durand-Wood

YIMBY Musings

March 28th, 2019 by Emma Durand-Wood

Given the choice, what kind of person would willingly spend 17 hours of their Friday at City Hall?

A recent Appeal Committee meeting lasted from 9:30am until well after midnight, with many folks there to speak to multiple agenda items. As I learned, the answer to that question is “people who care a lot about where they live”.

Also, to some extent, a person like me, who for some strange reason tuned into the livestream off and on all day and then once the kids were in bed, made popcorn and drank homebrew and watched the meeting as it stretched on into the wee hours, until Friday was actually Saturday.

Partly I was keen to see self-proclaimed urbanist Coun. Matt Allard in action, and to see what Coun. Browaty would do with a proposed lot split on Kildonan Drive facing huge opposition, and to see whether Coun. Santos would bring some fresh new Point Douglas perspective to the table.

But given that the agenda was packed with infill-related issues and multi-family developments and there looked to be a huge number of delegations, I was also on a mission to hear, straight from people’s mouths, their objections to these projects. I was hoping that by better listening and understanding the common objections, I might be better placed to counter them.

Yep: I’m in camp YIMBY. And it’s easy to think of folks who turn out against development as NIMBYs, but I think that kind of dehumanizes them–turns them into “the other”, which isn’t going to get us anywhere. So lately I’ve been trying to remind myself to think of behaviours and attitudes, not people, as NIMBY.

As I mentioned earlier, it quickly became apparent that the kind of people who are willing to give up an entire day, or more than a day, to have their 10 minutes to voice their opposition, are the kind of people who care a lot about where they live. Even if I can’t for the life of me understand what the big problem is, or what they are really afraid of, I have no doubt they care a lot about their neighbourhoods. I found a perfect summation of this paradox here (emphasis mine):

“even though hypervigilant neighbours can too often overreact and be toxically afraid of change and difference, they are also very often an indicator species of a great community. Because many of the same impulses that lead someone to (wrong-headedly) kick up a fuss about a homeless shelter or a set of stacked townhouses will also lead them to organize community meetings or set up swap meets and farmer’s markets in their local parks, or lobby politicians for better amenities in their area.

Obviously, some perceived threats are toxic, some are silly and some are real. But what those calling the newspapers and going to the mattresses about those perceived threats have in common is a sense of ownership over their community, and an impulse to vigilantly stand up to try to make it a better place to live. And a big population of people like that is actually among the most valuable resources a neighbourhood can have.”

That’s why I feel so personally…conflicted isn’t the right word, but tending towards empathetic, maybe? Because even though I don’t agree with the things they are fighting, I can sort of understand where they are coming from. They love their neighbourhood and see infill or new developments as a threat to what they love about it.

During the course of the delegations against the various proposed developments, there were lots of different arguments. Sometimes they were things I really can appreciate–like how hard it would be to lose your sunlight, or the prospect of losing healthy, mature elms that have survived DED thus far.

Many people talked about how parking would be impacted, which I think is an understandable worry in the context of Winnipeg, where few neighbourhoods have functional transit service or comfortable, convenient, low-stress AT infrastructure. (Don’t get me wrong: foregoing density-increasing development because of parking is the wrong move. That’s treating the symptom, not the disease.)

But I often found myself losing my willingness to be empathetic and look for common ground when so many of the arguments sounded suspiciously like “some of my best friends are gay!”

There was lots along the lines of  “I do support infill. I’m not against density. Just not here.”

Folks were often quick to point to other areas in their neighbourhood or beyond that would be more suitable. One person even said something along the lines of, “I understand that Winnipeg needs infill, and I support it. But I mean, this is a nice neighbourhood.” Ouch.

So that’s where I really struggle. How can we find common ground and begin to convince these folks that a) this has to happen, b) every neighbourhood will have its turn, and c) I promise you, the world won’t end.

What’s extra aggravating is that people think they should have final say over every aspect of an infill house, while seemingly overlooking the fact that they’d have zero say over someone who bought the same lot, didn’t split it, tore down the existing house and built something new, which would be undoubtedly bigger and less in keeping with the other houses. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but should neighbours get a say in how some dwellings look, but not others?

And don’t get me started on the assumption that everyone wants a backyard, and the conflation of reduced grass on private property with a loss of public greenspace.

It’s hard to be empathetic, when the outcry is so sensational. I’ve read lots of letters submitted to the city clerk in opposition to these projects, and some of them leave me shaking my head. I know folks love their area just the way it is and hate the idea of it changing in any way. But the idea that adding one additional single family house on a vacant lot will somehow erode the fabric of their community? It just doesn’t compute. I don’t know what could convince them otherwise.

What also smarts is something personal. My own neighbourhood of Glenelm (not to be confused with Glenwood, where much of the opposition to infill is taking place) was built over several decades and is basically a hodgepodge of styles, sizes, and ages of housing. We’re all on small lots, most 30ft, with little room between houses –side yard? What’s a side yard? I know this look and feel is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it.

What I love more than the aesthetic, though, is the mix of neighbours it allows for, because there’s something for everyone here, all stages of life. Neighbours in their 20s, neighbours in their 80s. Families with little kids and not-quite-retired empty-nesters. Homeowners and tenants, singles and couples, young and old alike. I know folks whose kids grew up, moved out, then moved back to buy their first home here. And I know folks who love it so much they convinced their parents to buy their last home here, so they could be close to their children and grandchildren. That’s what kind of neighbourhood is possible when you have diverse housing options.

Glenelm is, as I mentioned on Twitter, marvelously eclectic, and my life is so much richer for it. So when I see people talking about how infill will destroy the character of their neighbourhood, it feels like they are horrified at the prospect of theirs becoming like mine.

I want to tell them that a neighbourhood is so much more than its houses. It’s the people that live there that make it a place worth living, at least in my experience.

All neighbourhoods are going to have to change if we want our city not to go bankrupt (more about that on my husband’s new blog, Dear Winnipeg) and our planet to stand a chance against climate change. In my neighbourhood, where lot splits aren’t on the table, “change” will probably look like single-family houses adding one or more extra suites, adding laneway housing, and maybe combining lots to build small apartment buildings. I welcome it all. I think it’s exciting.

To me, “Yes in my backyard” means more that just increasing density and productivity and making better use of our infrastructure. It means more neighbours to get to know, more front-yard pancake parties and porch-to-porch greetings, more impromptu back-lane chats, more people watching out for and helping each other out.

It would be a shame to let “less parking” get in the way of all that.