Will it really be OurWinnipeg?

SpeakUpWinnipeg.com sounds promising, but some worry it won’t produce

Lauren Lange, a member of the Speak Up Squad, has been out and about all summer talking to Winnipeggers about what they want to see in their city. Chris Friesen

Despite the city’s seemingly proactive approach to city planning as seen with the recent OurWinnipeg development plan and SpeakUpWinnipeg.com, some residents are worried their views won’t be translated into action.
Lauren Lange, a city planning student and member of the Speak Up Squad, has heard such concerns firsthand.

“I assure them that the way this kind of active consultation translates into real policy is that the city will look at the repetition of certain themes throughout a broad perspective of different communities… And make amendments based on that consultation,” Lange said.

OurWinnipeg and SpeakUpWinnipeg.com are initiatives launched by the city on April 25 that take a collaborative approach to city planning. SpeakUpWinnipeg.com gives Winnipeggers the chance to provide their recommendations, thoughts and reflections on the city planning process. The ideas gathered through the website will go towards the 25-year OurWinnipeg development plan, a departure from the past Plan Winnipeg development strategies.

The Speak Up Squad has been present at Canada and Aboriginal day celebrations as well as at the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, gathering information on what Winnipeggers want from their city.

“I am optimistic about the process, as a whole and based on being out there with the Squad,” Lange said.

Between April and October of this year, the Speak Up Winnipeg blog, a forum centered around topics that are high on the city’s priority list, will be open to everyone. By November 2009, those reflections (as well as the notes gathered from community outreach and other discussions) will be drafted into a short report, ending phase one of the three-phase plan. The goal is to come up with a development plan next year that has been created with the continuous input of average Winnipeggers.

Winnipeg has been going in the wrong direction for a long time.

Andrei Friesen, graduate student

“The development process is usually very top down in nature with only those directly involved meeting to discuss and approve details and holding a couple community meetings,” said Andrei Friesen, a graduate student in city planning at the University of Manitoba.

“This [Speak Up Winnipeg] is very good because it seems a lot more accessible for the planning process…City planning is very important…It needs to be a consultative process.”

In addition, several round-table discussions have been set up with urban aboriginals, the francophone community and other interested parties. In late June, Speak Up Winnipeg held “Imagine Your City,” a workshop at the Winnipeg Art Gallery that guided citizens through focus groups. Over 400 Winnipeggers participated, according to Michelle Richard, OurWinnipeg’s co-ordinator.

“The average Winnipegger wants a community that works for them,” said Richard. “Winnipeggers are responding in very interesting and creative ways throughout this process…We are hearing the same things in the malls as we are on the website and in focus groups that we’ve done throughout the summer and will continue to do through the fall.”

What organizers are hearing is that Winnipeggers are vastly concerned with the livability and safety of their communities and want to deviate from our current automobile culture, she said.

“Winnipeg has been going in the wrong direction for a long time,” said Friesen. “It is interesting that the mayor, who has professed not to be a visionary politician, is putting his reputation behind this.”

The three phases of the OurWinnipeg initiative involve various forms of consultation and discussion. These discussions will go towards amending and drafting policy proposals, which are then enhanced or scrapped through further consultation. The process culminates with the formal adoption of the 25-year OurWinnipeg plan in April 2010.

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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