New urbanists offer disaster relief



If you survived Katrina but your house didn’t, you might today be living on your lot in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However ignominious, even trashy, these 300 square-foot rectangles on wheels might look, they do offer somewhere to sleep, shower, watch TV, and stash your stuff while you rebuild your home. But if you’re among the 300,000 families still homeless in the Gulf Coast region this spring, you might be lucky enough to get one of the 40,000 U.S. Senate-approved Katrina Cottages ( that could be built this summer.

A hit at the 2006 International Builders Show back in January, the Katrina cottage comes in several design variants with a style architect Marianne Cusato describes as, “vernacular Gulf Coast.”

“It’s a dignified alternative to the FEMA trailer,” says Cusato on the phone in her apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. Traditional home styles in the Gulf Coast Region inspired her designs, which feature a large, eight-foot-deep porch, upright casement windows, and pitched tin roof. Some floorplans include a 308 square foot studio, a one-bedroom of the same size, and a 434 square-foot two-bedroom. With bunk beds, even the smaller houses might accommodate four people.

“Human nature is actually to look for a small, cozy place,” says Cusato, whose Manhattan apartment, no larger than a Cusato Cottage, lends her a certain hands-on expertise in designing small spaces. But she grew up in Anchorage amid Alaska’s wide-open spaces, from where she visited Washington, D.C., and San Francisco in her youth. Falling in love with those cities’ traditional buildings, she went on to study architecture at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

“Notre Dame,” she says, “teaches traditional and classical architecture, which taught me to articulate what it is about a building that makes it resonate through time.”

Indeed, another of her notable projects is a design alternative to the proposed Alaska state capitol, featuring a set of domes reminiscent of the many Russian Orthodox churches — many of which stand today — that were among the first structures erected in Alaska. Her forthcoming book, Get Your House Right: How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Today’s Traditional Architecture, contains a forward by England’s Prince Charles, whose neo-traditionalist, new urbanist Poundbury Village is a manifestation of his strong views critical of post-war planning and architecture.

Never mind Katrina, some New Urbanists contend that post-war suburban development and its attendant car culture constitute a much bigger economic and aesthetic disaster. John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism, was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 until 2004 and is credited with transforming his city’s reputation from rustbelt backwater to modern, Midwestern metropolis.

When I reached him via phone at his office in Chicago, where he now lives, Norquist explained how he did it. Downtown, one-way streets were converted back to two-way traffic, and parking restrictions were lifted. Surface-level parking lots were targeted for development by any means necessary.

“You have to stop permitting new surface lots,” he says. “If land goes on the market, the guy who buys it can’t pave it. There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary parking lot.

“But if you want to get rid of the old ones you have to pay — that’s a legitimate use of eminent domain,” he says, referring to a legal practice known in Canada as expropriation. Parking lots can then be broken into smaller lots, and sold to developers under the stipulation that they must be built upon, and not used for parking.

Most audaciously, however, Norquist was behind the decision to demolish Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway, freeing 26 acres of downtown land that’s being developed according to New Urbanist principles: Mixed storefront-apartment buildings four- to six-storeys high, three-storey rowhouses, and landmark buildings up to 20 storeys high.

A few years ago, as a guest of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Norquist had the chance to meet then-mayor Glen Murray, who is often credited as having a “visionary” approach to Winnipeg’s future. Norquist’s opinion is that, despite Murray’s claims, our former mayor was no friend of the late author (and new urbanist inspiration) Jane Jacobs.

Eliminating parking restrictions and converting Winnipeg’s downtown streets back to two-way traffic could be accomplished inside of a week, if city hall were serious about bringing retail prosperity back to our city centre. But Mayor Sam Katz, like his predecessor, tries to be too many things to too many people, and thus remains rudderless, clueless, and ineffectual. Tax-tweaking alone won’t suffice; big changes to the physical makeup of our city are necessary to undo the mistakes of our modernist past. For so long as we fail to do so, the disaster that shut down the once-impressive retail and entertainment presence — indeed, the urban life — along Portage Avenue and Main Street will only continue to worsen.

‘Broken windows’ and social pseudoscience

By Dallas Hansen

Saturday, May 27, 2006

During the months preceding the‭ ‬1999‭ ‬Pan-Am Games,‭ ‬much mention was being made of the‭ “‬Broken Windows‭”‬-style policing that had supposedly been responsible for plummeting crime rates in New York City.‭ ‬In a nutshell,‭ ‬the idea is that signs of social disorder—loitering,‭ ‬public drinking,‭ ‬graffiti,‭ ‬prostitution,‭ ‬panhandling,‭ ‬squeegee men,‭ ‬etc.‭—‬and physical disorder—noise,‭ ‬abandoned vehicles or buildings,‭ ‬dogs,‭ ‬sidewalk litter,‭ ‬trash in vacant lots,‭ ‬etc.‭—‬create an ambiance of lawlessness that invite more serious crime such as robbery,‭ ‬assault,‭ ‬burglary,‭ ‬rape,‭ ‬or murder.

Between the the Pan-Am Games leaving town almost seven years ago and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s visit here earlier this month,‭ ‬Broken Windows theory wasn’t mentioned much in Winnipeg,‭ ‬but now it’s the talk of the town’s policymakers.‭ ‬Even the‭ ‬Winnipeg Real Estate News has recently devoted front-page space to this timely topic.‭ ‬Everyone seems to be looking forward to getting down to the business of establishing law-and-order upon Winnipeg’s crime-saturated streets.

Indeed,‭ ‬not only do statistics—whatever their inaccuracies—confirm that Winnipeg is among this country’s most dangerous cities,‭ ‬there is plenty of supporting anecdotal evidence.‭ ‬Friends of mine,‭ ‬sponsored street skateboarders whose ability to make a living rests on procuring fresh footage of tricks and stunts upon urban architecture,‭ ‬have no qualms about travelling the downtown sidewalks at night with thousands of dollars worth of laptop computers and video recording equipment in Vancouver,‭ ‬Montreal,‭ ‬Toronto,‭ ‬San Francisco,‭ ‬or even Barcelona.‭ ‬But to do the same in Winnipeg is considered inadvisable.

Can Broken Windows-style policing make our city safe enough to remedy our reputation‭? ‬Can we cut crime the way New York City did‭? ‬Likely not.‭

New York City’s streets are filled with buildings that offer the benefit of what criminologists call‭ “‬natural surveillance‭” ‬and urbanists call‭ “‬people watching‭”‬:‭ ‬sidewalk storefronts,‭ ‬with people living up above.‭ ‬New Yorkers tend to be keenly interested in what goes on in the sidewalks below and often a yell from a window is all it takes to stop a crime in progress.‭ ‬Besides,‭ ‬sociologists are divided on whether Broken Windows deserves the credit for New York City’s drop in crime.‭ ‬Bernard E.‭ ‬Harcourt,‭ ‬writing in the November,‭ ‬1998‭ ‬issue of the‭ ‬Michigan Law Review,‭ ‬is one of many academics who suggest that the New York City’s mid-1990s crime plunge is nothing more than coincidence.

‭“‬Criminologists have suggested a number of possible factors that may have contributed to the declining crime rates in New York City.‭ ‬These include‭ ‬significant increase in the New York City police force,‭ ‬a general shift in drug use from crack cocaine to heroin,‭ ‬favorable economic conditions in the‭ ‬1990s,‭ ‬new computerised tracking systems that speed up police responses to crime‭ [‬COMSTAT‭]‬,‭ ‬a dip in the number of eighteen-‭ ‬to twenty-four-year-old males,‭ ‬an increase in the number of hardcore offenders currently incarcerated in city jails and state prisons,‭ ‬the arrest of several big drug gangs in New York,‭ ‬as well as possible changes in adolescent behavior.‭” ‬To that I would add a renewed interest in middle-class urban living and the subsequent neighbourhood gentrification that followed the‭ “‬white flight‭” ‬to the suburbs that marked the decades previous.

Broken Windows theory is the brainchild of professors James Q.‭ ‬Wilson and George L.‭ ‬Kelling,‭ ‬who first introduced the idea in an eponymous‭ ‬1982‭ ‬essay in the‭ ‬Atlantic Monthly.‭ ‬Among his many other achievements,‭ ‬Wilson is known for his defense of racial profiling and his suggestion of genetic predispositions to criminality.‭ ‬As an occasional contributor to the conservative‭ ‬National Review,‭ ‬he published a pro death-penalty piece titled‭ “‬Executing the Retarded.‭” ‬Wilson doesn’t believe in bringing back truant officers‭; ‬he thinks‭ “[‬P]olice…‭ ‬can be effective truant officers by stopping and questioning young people of apparent school age standing on street corners at a time when school is in session.‭ ‬If they cannot show that they have a reasonable excuse for not being in school,‭ ‬then the police should escort them to either their home or the school.‭” ‬As for why London has enjoyed a much lower rate of murder than New York City every year for the last‭ ‬200‭ ‬years,‭ ‬Wilson explains,‭ “‬It took England several centuries of tough rule,‭ ‬brutal punishment and the inculcation of class-based values to achieve a low homicide rate.‭”

Under Broken Windows,‭ ‬the line between‭ “‬honest,‭ ‬hardworking citizen‭” ‬and‭ “‬criminal‭” ‬gets blurred.‭ ‬Dare to crack open a beer in a park,‭ ‬or even to jaywalk,‭ ‬and you could receive a not a warning,‭ ‬nor even a ticket,‭ ‬but a good day or two in a holding cell.‭ ‬You might get worse—complaints about police brutality skyrocketed after Giuliani took office.‭ ‬Here in Canada,‭ ‬one public drinker paid the ultimate price when Ian Bush,‭ ‬22,‭ ‬a millworker from Houston,‭ ‬BC,‭ ‬took a bullet to the head after being handcuffed and detained by the RCMP for having an open beer outside a hockey game.

Is Broken Windows theory useless‭? ‬No—there’s no question graffiti-proofing New York’s subway trains helped to restore a sense of safety underground.‭ ‬But there are limits to its efficacy,‭ ‬and treating every minor violation like a felony is not just a waste of resources but a way down a slippery slope,‭ ‬at the bottom of which lies a police state.

© 2007 /


E85: Fuel of the future?

Dallas Hansen


In Chicago last month I bought a used car, and, because the tank was nearly empty, filled it with gasoline. Next to the regular, mid-grade, and premium pump nozzles was another option, labelled “E85.” Although it had been a while since I had pumped gas into a motor vehicle, the availability of E85 — 85 per cent ethanol fuel blended with 15 per cent gasoline — left me unsurprised. In recent years I had, in my voracious daily readings, read many times about flex-fuel vehicles and 85 per cent ethanol gas. This is, I thought, 2006; cars are running on ethanol now. Flex-fuel sensors, which allow a vehicle to use E85, straight unleaded gasoline, or any combination of the two, are standard equipment on many new cars.

Through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, E85 was offered at every gas station at which I filled. Back in Winnipeg, however, I rolled up to a pump and wondered: Where’s the E85?

If you’re driving a provincial or federal government fleet vehicle, the E85 is at Notre Dame and Dublin, where a filling station was opened just this March. If, however, you’re driving your own private vehicle, you’ll have to distill your own, as some Midwestern motorists are doing. E85 is not commercially available in Manitoba.

Why would a supply line that’s consistent throughout the Midwestern U.S. suddenly halt at the border?

Most Manitobans are familiar with E10 gasohol, a 10 per cent ethanol/gasoline blend manufactured and marketed at Mohawk gas stations. Mohawk, which has since been acquired by Husky Energy Inc., began producing ethanol at its Minnedosa plant in 1981. While current capacity is 10 million litres annually, look for a 13-fold increase in production in mid-2007 when the new Minnedosa plant now under construction comes online. But don’t look for E85. According to Husky vice-president Vince Chin, the company has no plans to commercially market E85 in 2007. The production increase is rather to satisfy the provincial government’s mandate that gasoline sold in the province contain 10 per cent ethanol.

Chin says the commercial availability of E85 is “contingent upon a number of things. It’s like a chicken-and-egg effect.” You need, he says, the demand before there’s the availability, and the availability before there’s the demand. But many cars sold in Manitoba since 2001 are already flex-fuel capable, even if their owners don’t yet know it, and cheap, after-market kits are now available to convert many late-model vehicles to E85 readiness.

Jared Carlberg, a University of Manitoba agribusiness professor, doesn’t know where the E85 is either. In fact, he was surprised when I revealed to him the extent of E85’s availability in the Midwestern states.

“The buck kind of stops at the Canadian border,” he said. “It’s not really clear why.”

“At 75 bucks a barrel it makes a lot more sense to start investigating these non-traditional fuels.”

Other countries are doing it. E85 is widely available in Sweden, and in Brazil “total flex” vehicles can use 100 per cent ethanol, readily available at the pump, or any proportion of ethanol mixed with gasoline.

Finally, I spoke to Shaun Loney, director of energy policy for the Manitoba government.

“You’ll have a difficult time,” he said, “finding E85 anywhere in Canada, for the simple reason that the federal government hasn’t stepped up to the plate yet.” Whereas the U.S. federal government offers generous incentives for the ethanol industry, Canada’s incentives fail to match even those given to the oil and gas industry.

Rest assured, however, that E85 is coming. According to Loney, ethanol distillation, which in Manitoba currently comes from wheat (and in the U.S. comes primarily from corn), is moving to straw cellulose, which produces proportionately more ethanol. And as a by-product of producing ethanol from wheat, you get distiller’s grain, a high-protein livestock feed that comprises up to 35 per cent of revenues from ethanol production.

“Not only is this a homegrown solution to energy security,” said Loney, “it’s an important part of our overall economic development strategy.”

Which makes good sense for Manitoba, as the agricultural industry becomes, in one sense, a fuel industry. Archer Daniels Midland, the “supermarket to the world,” is fast becoming known as “the Exxon of corn” now that it is the largest producer of ethanol in the U.S. In the last year, ADM’s share price has more than doubled. As Manitoba wheat makes a big comeback, the answer to “Where’s the E85?” could soon be “Everywhere.”

Des Moines can’t touch Winnipeg



IS Des Moines Winnipeg’s twin? Recently, (Winnipeg through our eyes, May 1) the Free Press proffered that Iowa’s state capital is our “Mirror image.” Although I have visited Des Moines, it’s easier to see the differences via Google Earth. Just zoom in on any residential neighbourhood just off the central business district; then do the same with Winnipeg.

Whereas the sparsely laid houses in inner-city Des Moines occupy large lots, houses in Winnipeg are built right next to each other, and three-storey apartment blocks appear throughout our city grid. Winnipeg is much denser.

How much denser? In Des Moines proper (2000 census population 198,682) the overall density is 835 persons per square kilometre. In Winnipeg proper — i.e. pre-Unicity Winnipeg, excluding suburbs — the overall population is about the same (around 190,000, according to the 2001 census) but the density is 3,092 persons per square kilometre. In several urban neighbourhoods — Central Park, Roslyn, Broadway-Assiniboine — density exceeds 10,000 persons per square kilometre, and densities above 4,000 persons per square kilometre exist as far out as Weston. Even the semi-rural Charleswood neighbourhood of Roblin Park has a population density of 1,491 persons per square kilometre — far above the average of Des Moines proper, never mind their sprawling seven-county census metropolitan area (2000 census population 550,659).

Unlike Des Moines, Winnipeg is truly a city, with a vast, dense urban grid. It’s not just downtown and suburbia; there’s a city in between, and it’s big.

During the streetcar era, most of urban Winnipeg’s homes lay within quick walking distance of a mixed commercial-residential strip offering such essentials as a corner grocery store, a barber shop, a bakery, a caf, a hardware store, etc. Everything else was downtown, just a speedy streetcar ride away.

But a half century of de-urbanization has destroyed storefront continuity along such streets as Portage, Main, Notre Dame, Selkirk, and Sargent. Parking lots, empty lots, strip malls, and gas stations lie interspersed between old brick mixed-use buildings that were somehow spared, lending our major urban streets a look resembling a smile with missing teeth. Inner-city shoppers, today mostly motorists, now tend to look outward, often toward the St. James Industrial Park’s big-box stores, for their needs.

But imagine our city rebuilt and restored, with a giant, continuous walkable storefront environment reaching far out from the downtown. It’s a Winnipeg better compared to Chicago, not Des Moines, and such an urban continuity would make for a potent attraction for both residents and visitors.

Restoring storefront continuity along inner city streets was not among the 10 suggestions offered by the Free Press in its series on downtown, but it should have been.

The city also needs a subway system and not a bus-rapid transit network that eliminates on-street parking along commercial inner-city streets and imperils storefront business while making it harder for pedestrians to cross the streets. (Parked cars on both sides of a four-lane street mean you need only cross two lanes of traffic.) Simultaneously, the Free Press articles encouraged the city to spend whatever it takes to build 10,000 new housing units downtown, but having eight subway stations servicing our large downtown, as per a plan first proposed in 1959, would be a greater incentive to build than any number of subsidies or tax tweaks.

Unlike any other transit idea proposed for Winnipeg, the 1959 plan would offer heated indoor platforms and would bring pedestrians to the greatest number of major destinations — the Health Sciences Centre, Red River College, St. Boniface General Hospital — and urban street corners where people already walk and where rapid transit service is most needed: Portage and Hargrave, River and Osborne, Selkirk and Salter, etc.

According to a 2000 report by the World Bank, subway systems average $50 million per kilometre. That means a 40-kilometre stretch in Winnipeg would cost about $2 billion. A lot of money? Yes. But $2 billion couldn’t buy anywhere near the amount of urban regeneration it would initiate — and Main Street needs more than a light makeover. Between a billion-dollar dam, a half-billion dollar airport terminal, and a mooted $300 million human rights museum, not to mention a the floodway expansion, Manitoba has proved we can afford big projects. Private markets, to flourish, require solid infrastructure, and the urban environment is lost without real rapid transit. A chintzy, bus-based system will only compound our problems both downtown and in the city in between.

Jane Jacobs: First, she saved Manhattan

The Winnipeg Free Press
Focus, Saturday, April 29, 2006, p. a17


For those who followed and admired her work, the death Tuesday of urban philosopher Jane Jacobs was moving and profound. Among the many achievements of her long life, it could be said she was, more than anyone else, single-handedly responsible for saving Manhattan from a destructive disaster far worse than Sept. 11, 2001. Were it not for her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her indefatigable activism, there would today be a freeway connecting the Holland Tunnel with the Manhattan Bridge, sacrificing the beloved neighbourhoods of SoHo, Chinatown, and Greenwich Village.

Soon after moving to Toronto in 1969, she saved that city from a similar fate, leading the protest against the planned Spadina Expressway that would have razed that city’s Chinatown.

The Death And Life of Great American Cities was a moving work whose effects can be seen throughout North America in efforts to rebuild inner cities damaged by modernism. Her identification of four key generators of city diversity — mixed residential and commercial uses, short blocks, aged buildings, density — have helped planners crack the code that defines what makes some neighbourhoods safe and successful and others dull and dangerous.

Her work profoundly influenced the direction of my own life, leading me to pinpoint Commercial Drive in Vancouver as an ideal place to live, and live there I did for six years. It was during a visit home to Winnipeg in June 2000 that I saw my hometown’s urban problems. I was moved to write my first-ever piece for the Free Press opinion page, “Replace modernism with mixed use.”

There’s little evidence that Jacobs’ ideas have had an impact in Winnipeg. There’s some mixed-use proposals for St. Boniface’s Provencher Boulevard and downtown’s Waterfront Drive, but Jacobs, who never wrote about Winnipeg, probably would have best liked Main Street in the pre-modernist era, when the streetcars kept the streets teeming and certain single blocks of storefront businesses offered a diversity of services — cafs, grocers, boutiques, hardware stores, barbers, tailors, etc. — far greater than today’s automobile-centric shopping malls.

“The activity generated by people on errands, or people aiming for food or drink, is itself an attraction to still other people,” wrote Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “[T]hat the sight of people attracts still other people, is something that city planners and city architectural designers seem to find incomprehensible. They operate on the premise that city people seek the sight of emptiness, obvious order and quiet. Nothing could be less true. People’s love of watching activity and other people is constantly evident in cities everywhere.”

Besides her famous rows with Robert Moses, New York’s expressway-mad master builder, Jacobs aimed her most ruthless criticism at the ideas of Ebenezer Howard — the late 19th century utopian planner who envisioned a low-density, town-country hybrid “Garden City” separating residences, industry, and agriculture — and Swiss architect Le Corbusier, whose “Radiant City” schemes of Internationalist-style towers-in-the-park living became the archetype for public housing projects throughout the U.S. and especially in East Germany and the Soviet Union.

Jacobs stayed at work well into her 80s; her last book, Dark Age Ahead (Random House, 2004) lamented the breakdown of communities and families (“families rigged to fail”), society’s emphasis on credentials rather than education, and the mass amnesia associated with dark ages, where even the memory of what was lost is lost. “When Portland, Oregon, bought some [streetcars] recently, it had to order them from the Czech Republic,” she writes, “because the U.S. streetcar manufacturing industry, once the largest and most technologically advanced in the world, no longer exists.” Indeed, an often-mentioned theme in Dark Age Ahead is the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy, in which streetcar systems were torn up in 146 jurisdictions throughout North America. Many young people living in those places today might not be aware that streetcars once served their streets; even if they are aware, they might not know how extensive were those systems. (How many Winnipeggers today know our city streets once enjoyed over 200 kilometres of streetcar lines?)

At the time of her death, Jacobs was at work on two manuscripts, but they are sure to find their way to print. Her body may have passed, but her ideas have more life than ever.

Category: Editorial and Opinions
Uniform subject(s): Real estate industry; Architecture and urban planning

Why our young abandon Winnipeg

Retaining urban singles key to raising population

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Dallas Hansen

Why are “a disproportionate number of young, skilled workers” quitting Manitoba for greener pastures in BC and Alberta? Neither the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce or the University of Manitoba economics department has any clue, but both are calling for “an in-depth provincial study….”

No need to waste another several years scratching your heads, fellows–I’ve already studied this more deeply than any think-tank every could. As a whole, young, single, educated men and women are leaving Winnipeg because–compared to Vancouver, Toronto, or, sadly, even Calgary–Winnipeg is thought to be, to put it diplomatically, bumpkinly. Provincial.

How Cowtown, once best known for its rodeo festival, ever did eclipse our superior reputation for sophistication might be profitably examined, but it’s not just about jobs and oil. According to Statscan, Manitoba’s unemployment rate for February, 2006 is 4.4 per cent, second lowest in the country, and a half-percentage point below British Columbia’s. Alberta, at 3.1 per cent, might be able to guarantee you a job, but then why do so many young Winnipeggers opt for Vancouver?

As a former Vancouverite who would never consider moving to Calgary, I’ll tell you why. It isn’t the climate–three weeks at a time without a ray of sunlight is worse than three weeks of minus thirty. It’s that Vancouver appeals to young, single, educated adults through its quality urban neighbourhoods. Whether you live in Kitsilano or English Bay, Yaletown or Commercial Drive, you have a giant selection of little grocery stores, cafés, neighbourhood pubs and sundry shops within easy walking–providing plenty of community-building, face-to-face meetings with your young, single, educated peers. Under such conditions a car seems superfluous; without one, the increased cost of living is no longer. Add a potential for better earnings and you’re financially better off.

Some, such as U of M economist John McCallum, have suggested Manitoba has a marketing problem. But no amount of slick advertising can rouse demand for what is essentially an unpalatable product–at least compared to what our competitors can offer. Then what’s our problem? Winter? Edmonton’s is no better. Lack of jobs? Winnipeg’s got plenty, even for artists, writers, actors, etc. In my case, I found opportunity through a publishing institution old as the city itself–the Free Press.

Cities, at minimum, are a collection of buildings and people. A block of densely packed, upright historic frame houses is worth much, much more–both monetarily and in use-value–when it is proximal to a lively, storefront-lined pedestrian shopping street. While today the closest thing Winnipeg has to such a thing might be Corydon Avenue (though it is also dotted with set-back strip malls, a gas station, an auto body shop, a giant phone utility building, etc.) during Winnipeg’s growth days many of our streets–Main, Portage, Selkirk, James, Euclid, Notre Dame–were built up in blocks of solid storefront with apartments on the upper floors. This mixed-use model has proved essential to creating zones of urbanity, the sort of attractive public spaces where the young, single, and educated want to be.

Even if oil prices crash tomorrow, out-migration will continue to haunt Manitoba’s economy until we admit to Winnipeg’s modernist mistakes and begin an aggressive reconstruction program. By all and any means, we must reëstablish storefront continuity along our main city streets, building several storeys of apartment dwellings above; de-regulate on-street parking, moving cars off commercial lands that ought to be built upon; and, most importantly–thought this is a point typically lost upon Chamber-of-Commerce types–we must build a grade-separated, rail based rapid transit system that will every day bring downtown tens of thousands of people, but not their cars, while returning the lifestyle advantage back toward the convenient centre and away from the sterile suburbs.

Speaking of suburbia, that’s one environment from which the young, single, and educated creative classes are almost invariably repelled. Given the dullness of such subdivisions as Linden Woods and Island Lakes, disconnected as they are from the wholesome spontaneity of city life, it’s no wonder that so many middle-class, suburban youth have turned to stimulant drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy) to feel stimulated.

Calgary is an ugly mess of urban sprawl, tacky houses, and ugly modernist buildings. But planners there know this, which is why they’re pushing to build inner-city density while adding to their successful light-rail transit system. They’re proud of having an inner-city population of 117,000, and their civic government is chasing enough infill development to add another 34,000 by 2024. Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s inner city population, from 1986 to 2007, fell by 13,000, but remains still (somewhat) ahead of Calgary’s.

Compared to Calgary, Winnipeg would have a much easier time feeling like a metropolis. We need only try.

Chicago hope: The Windy City offers an ideal urban model



LAST Saturday, as my girlfriend and I emerged from the Apple computer store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the sidewalks were buzzing with talk of a looming anti-war protest. As we rounded the corner onto Oak Street, a massive crowd began marching toward us chanting, whistling, waving signs and banners. For the next quarter hour we sat on a stoop, watching the spectacle of thousands of protesters walking past, and it struck me that even if so many Chicagoans dislike their country’s foreign policy, they do love their city’s downtown.

Although I had other business in Chicago, one of my intentions was to see what The Windy City has in common with the Chicago of the North.

Certainly Winnipeg’s Union Bank Tower, Lindsay Building, Electric Railway Chambers Building, and the Paris Building are scaled-down versions of the scores of original-era Chicago-style buildings that abound within Chicago’s downtown loop. But what impressed me more than the vestiges of a bygone architectural era were how scaled and sympathetic new buildings were to their surroundings. Usually brick exterior, they tend to follow a classic formula that has worked to enliven the downtowns of so many cities: ground-level storefront, second-floor offices, and anywhere from four to 18 storeys of apartment dwellings.

There is no reason why Winnipeg shouldn’t seize upon this winning formula. Obviously Winnipeg is a fraction of Chicago’s size, but we should certainly aim to mimic its urban successes on our own scale. No one’s suggesting we build to the scale of Hancock Center or the Sears Tower; depending on the street, five, seven, 10, or 15 storeys will do fine. Winnipeg already has many buildings of 15 stories or higher. Rather than spreading out to the Perimeter and beyond, it would make sense to restore not only densities lost in the latter half of the 20th century, but to build even more densely than we did in the streetcar era, thus adding to our tax base without having to expand services such as roads, sewers, garbage collection, snow removal, street cleaning, etc. It’s possible, indeed desirable, to add another 250,000 people into Winnipeg’s pre-1970 boundaries.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Blue West Construction, a condo development firm, has illustrated plans for the southwest corner of Main Street and Bannatyne Avenue that would see an existing three-storey heritage building incorporated into a seven-storey storefront-condo building. After a few hundred similar projects, downtown Winnipeg would seem much more like Chicago, at least as much as it did in 1920.

Chicago, too, has made its mistakes. Many of its new mixed-use buildings are taking the place of parking lots and strip malls that took the place of devalued buildings in the modernist era. Cabrini-Green, a giant housing project that epitomized the failure of public housing in America, has been mostly torn down for mixed-use buildings and new townhouses built in a traditional Chicago style. Peripheral downtown streets feature close, detached houses of various classic styles that could’ve been built in 1896 or 1996.

Chicago's signature 19th-century mixed-use storefront apartments. Photo: Dallas Hansen 2007

Chicago’s signature 19th-century mixed-use storefront apartments.
Photo: Dallas Hansen 2007

All this would be impossible without the services of the Chicago Transit Authority, whose subway and elevated rapid transit stations feed thousands from every station each day, sparing any need for automobile storage. Rapid transit alone is the difference between bustling, prosperous Chicago and desolate, failing Detroit.

Wicker Park, a neighbourhood on Chicago’s northwest side, was when I visited it last a decade ago rather rundown by comparison to today. Many of its buildings were abandoned, its storefronts filled with such services as pawn shops. Artists and bohemians moved in and gentrification followed, so that today Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park is lined with upscale boutiques, friendly watering holes, and trendy hair salons, in addition to the usual sorts of services, such as drug and grocery stores, that neighbourhood residents need. Above the storefronts are newly renovated lofts. Chain outfits such as 7-Eleven and Best Buy move into the ground level at the sidewalk rather than box stores with parking lots.

For all its walkability, Chicago is still friendly to the motorist. The main objective of this trip was to pick up a used car purchased via the Internet. Although parking was scarce outside our hotel in the northside neighbourhood of Wrigleyville, I did find a spot on the street overnight and area residents with a neighbourhood parking permit would have no trouble. A similar permit plan would benefit Winnipeg’s downtown and inner city residents with nowhere to park but on the street — yet constantly inconvenienced by parking restrictions.

Winnipeg would do well to strive to become known again as the Chicago of the North. Neither Calgary nor Edmonton could ever pull it off.

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Source: Winnipeg Free Press (MB), Mar 25, 2006, pa17

Item: 7BS7BS4038359476

Fake sweeteners and their sour effects

The Winnipeg Free Press

Saturday, February 25, 2006, p. a15

Bad news for diet soda fans. A recent study, published last year by Italy’s Ramazzini Foundation, has concluded the worst:

“Our study shows that APM (aspartame) is a multipotential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw, much less than the current ADI [acceptable daily intake] for humans in Europe (40 mg/kg body weight) and in the United States (50 mg/kg bw).”

The Ramazzini Foundation study claims APM causes brain tumors in rats, affirming that artificial sweetener — commonly known as Equal or NutraSweet — deserves a spot alongside such known cancer-causing sugar substitutes as saccharin (banned in Canada, but still around in the U.S.) and cyclamate (banned in the U.S., but still around in Canada). In Mexico, food and drink containing APM comes with ominous warning labelling; in New Mexico, Democratic State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino has introduced a bill that would see the stuff banned.

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, would have us believe APM is safe. But it’s well known that the methyl esters in APM break down into free methanol, and subsequently formaldehyde, at temperatures above 30C.

During the 1991 Gulf War, soft drink manufacturers sent huge quantities of diet soda, which sat on pallets in the blazing Saudi sun before they were cooled. The latest theory on so-called Gulf War Syndrome is that the soldiers — guzzling cola laced with a toxic triple-whammy of methanol, formaldehyde and diketopiperazine — are suffering the after-effects of aspartame poisoning.

What’s remarkable about APM is how it arrived. In 1965, scientist Jim Schlatter of the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle was working on an anti-ulcer drug when he licked his finger and discovered a sweet taste. By 1974, APM was tentatively approved for public use, but accusations of falsified studies and unanswered questions about brain tumours in rats caused the FDA in 1975 to postpone its approval.

In 1977, Donald Rumsfeld, White House chief of staff and secretary of defence during the Ford administration, was hired as the president of G.D. Searle. Patty Wool-Allott, a former Searle salesperson, testified to a 1987 Senate committee that in 1981 Rumsfeld circulated a memo to his sales staff that he would “call in all his markers” to get FDA approval by the end of the year. Indeed, one of the first acts of the newly inaugurated president, Ronald Reagan, was to suspend, via executive order, the authority of FDA commissioner Jere E. Goyan, later replaced by Arthur Hull Hayes. Hayes’s first major decision was to approve APM for use in dry goods; his last major decision was to approve it for use in carbonated beverages, after which he went to work for Burson-Marsteller, Searle’s public relations firm, as a “consultant” at $1,000 a day.

Many consumers have vague notions of APM’s dangers and have switched to other forms of artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, marketed under the brand name Splenda. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a Chicago-area physician who operates a large health-awareness website ( filled with aspartame warnings, cautions there’s nothing splendid about Splenda.

“Sucralose,” he writes, “is basically chlorinated table sugar and as such, may have many of the risks of chlorine…”

As an alternative, Mercola suggests the natural herbal sweetener stevia, but I’ll stick with raw sugar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup. Xylitol, another natural sweetener derived from plants, has a loyal following also, but for diabetics Mercola advises avoiding sweets altogether and dieting on meat and vegetables.

Closer to home, John Linnell, who runs the Aspartame Poisoning Information Canada website ( out of his Toronto home, remembers the day in 1991 when he walked into a Loblaws supermarket and emerged with a case of Diet Key Lime Cola. “In 23 days I had nipples the size of a nursing mother,” he said to me when I reached him via phone. “I had just bought a pair of size 11 shoes, and 23 days later I needed a size 13.” Memory blanks, dizzy spells, and pains in his legs plagued him until 1995, when he received an e-mail about aspartame poisoning. He decided to abstain from diet soda.

“After three days, the memory blanks, dizzy spells disappeared. And at the end of the week most of the pain was out of my legs.”

In 2000, Linnell ate a piece of pre-packaged lemon pound cake, and his symptoms returned. His wife, aware of his sensitivity, ensured him that aspartame wasn’t among the ingredients. But when Linnell contacted the manufacturer, he discovered that in one of the cake’s ingredients, the lemon flavouring, aspartame was indeed present.

Linnell, who from 1991 to 1991 was drinking diet beverages at the rate of about a litre per day, admits what many have said about diet drinks: They are a hard habit to break. “Methanol,” he says, “is highly addictive.”

Full text, Ramazzini report:

Category: MiscellaneousUniform subject(s): Laws and regulations

Length: Medium, 660 words © 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

Franklin: The enlightened American



Shortly before the new year, I attended my first public auction, where my winning bid of $15 made me the owner of a collection of old books, the contents of which were unknown to me at bidding. Among the gems in my new collection was a 50-volume set of Harvard Classics, the first book of which was the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, whose 300th birthday on Jan. 6 was in tandem with my first efforts toward a hopeless resolution to read the entire 50 volumes before year’s end.

Even had Franklin not invented bifocals, swim fins, the Franklin stove and the lightning rod; even had he not paved and lit Philadelphia’s streets and founded that city’s public library, university and fire department; even if he hadn’t signed the Declaration of Independence, he would have been remembered as a master of English prose, as an anecdote from 1755, in which he warns an overconfident British general of the dangers on the road through Iroquois country, demonstrates. The heedless general, however, dismissed Franklin’s advice:

“These savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the king’s regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible that they should make any impression,” Franklin quotes the general as saying.

“I was conscious of an impropriety in my disputing with a military man in matters of his profession, and said no more.”

Franklin’s assessment proving correct — over 700 of the general’s 1,100 men were killed in a forest ambush — he later opined: “This whole transaction gave us Americans the first suspicion that our exalted ideas of the prowess of British regulars had not been well founded.”

For those who, like myself, lack a keen interest in early American history, Franklin’s memoirs can be construed as the ultimate self-help reader. Apprenticed to his brother, a Boston printer, at age 12, Franklin at 17 ran away broke to Philadelphia to become a man of his own making. There he found work with one of the city’s two printers, both of whom were, in Franklin’s estimation, “poorly qualified for their business.” In the American spirit, Franklin resolved to go into business on his own.

“Reading was the only amusement I allow’d myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu’d as indefatigable as it was necessary.”

His 13-step program for self-improvement came out of his identifying 13 cardinal virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. Attached to each was a short precept expressly defining the meaning. Silence, for example, was appended with the precept, “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” Or tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.” (These examples have been particularly beneficial to me.) Franklin then drew a table with the 13 virtues running down and the seven days of the week running across. Focusing upon one virtue at a time — Week 1 would be temperance — he would review his conduct at the end of each day and mark with a black dot “every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.”

Week 2 would focus upon silence, and so forth, so that he would cover all the 13 virtues thrice a year, eventually clearing his daily record of any black spots.

Initiated into the Freemasons at 25, he became Grand Master of Pennsylvania before 30, and later enjoyed the bacchanalian goings-on at Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club headquarters. Franklin is also known to have sired a number of illegitimate children. An anecdote from his autobiography gives a glimpse of his caddish side. Visiting with the wife of a friend who was indebted to him, he reminisces, “I grew fond of her company, and, being at the time under no religious restraint, and presuming upon my importance to her, I attempted familiarities (another erratum) which she repuls’d with a proper resentment, and acquainted him with my behaviour. This made a breach between us; and… he let me know he thought I had cancell’d all obligations he had been under to me.” Then there is the question of the human skeletons found beneath his London home in 1998, dated to the years he was living there. (The prevailing theory now is that they were the byproducts of experiments by his flatmate, surgeon William Hewson.)

It should not surprise us that one so individually accomplished would have subscribed to a spirituality of the self.

By continually improving his own public standing, Franklin was able to affect positively the lives of many — even three centuries beyond his birth.

Ethiopia waiting for democracy

Focus, Saturday, January 14, 2006, p. a17


LAST May, Ethiopia was the darling of western policymakers. After 17 years of Marxist-Leninism and 14 years under a glorified junta, its economy was growing at 12 per cent and multi-party elections were just days away. Ethiopia was looking like a model for African democracy.

The trouble began election day, May 15. Despite Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s assertion that “the election process in Ethiopia was free, fair, and transparent, by any standard,” organizations such as the Carter Center, Human Rights Watch, and the European Union Election Observation Mission beg to differ. Allegations of ballot-stuffing, intimidation at the polls, even political assassination, began to mar the election. While exit polling suggested a majority win for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy party, Zenawi moved to ban public demonstrations for a month.

When students at Addis Ababa University cut classes in protest, riot police moved in and hauled them away by the thousands. Two days later, taxi drivers and shop owners joined the protest, effectively shutting down the city. On June 8, police shot and killed at least 42 people, including women and children, which prompted the British government to suspend more than $40 million Cdn in planned foreign aid.

Eventually, CUD emerged with 109 seats in the 547-seat parliament. (Zenawi’s party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, holds 327.) But Zenawi’s ruling government is accusing CUD bosses of plotting a coup. Berhanu Negga, Addis Ababa’s recently elected mayor, holds a PhD in economics from the New School University in New York City. Currently he’s on ice — incommunicado — facing a possible death sentence for treason, his request for bail just recently denied. Hailu Shawel, 70, CUD’s president, is also being held, as are Yacob Hailemariam, a former UN Special Envoy and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and five Ethiopian journalists employed by Voice of America. Indeed, according to The Economist (Dec. 17, 2005), up to 40,000 political prisoners are being interned in military camps.

Behind the political animosity lies ethnic strife. Zenawi’s EPRDF is ostensibly a federalist melange of Ethiopia’s various nationalities, but its base is the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front that overthrew the Amharic Mengistu regime in 1991. While the Amharas comprise just a quarter of Ethiopia’s population, and the Tigrayans just eight per cent, the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, make up nearly 40 per cent of the population. Once secessionist, the Oromo Liberation Front now seeks merely “self-governance” in the Oromia region, which includes Addis Ababa.

The OLF claims to disavow terrorism, but their rhetoric is growing fierce. They claim that agents of the Zenawi government are persecuting Oromos not only in Ethiopia, but also in Kenya, where many are claiming refugee status. The word “genocide” is being bandied about, though perhaps too freely.

Zenawi is doing his best to maintain a veneer of democratic legitimacy whilst pursuing policies that could politely be called autocratic. Beyond his intolerance for dissent, he has been criticized for a relocation program that has seen thousands of peasants rounded up from arid highlands and transported to fertile, but malaria-soaked, wet lowlands. Agriculture, particularly coffee, remains the most important economic activity, but the government, like the Marxist regime it replaced, owns all the land. The CUD wants to privatize the land, but the government, in typical authoritarian fashion, claims that it would be a mistake to do so, as the peasants, if given title to the land upon which they work, would sell the properties and head for idle lives in the cities.

Beyond civil unrest or international condemnation, Zenawi’s government must deal with the spectre of another war with Eritrea, which seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, taking the port cities of Assab and Massawa and leaving Ethiopia landlocked. Following the 1998-2000 war, the new borders were never properly demarcated. Another conflict seems imminent.

With an almost split-even population of Muslims and Christians, Ethiopia is indeed a model for religious tolerance and co-operation. With the right leadership, the country could prosper. But economic reforms and truly fair, free, and transparent elections will be necessary. Rather than mass relocations, the country should be focusing on irrigation development and boosting exports. None of this will happen so long as Zenawi remains convinced he’s the country’s legitimate democratic head of government.

“If I had my way,” Zenawi told the BBC last year, “this would probably be my last term.” For the sake of his country, he should take his retirement now.

Category: Editorial and Opinions
Uniform subject(s): Heads of State and heads of government; Elections
Length: Medium, 630 words

© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.