Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I've become THAT person

You know, the one that ties up City resources with self-serving complaints to 311 about neighbours who have long grass. Don't get me wrong, I also send in dozens of complaints about "real" problems, but I've had enough of my neighbours and their untidy ways.

From the City of Winnipeg website regarding the Neighbourhood Liveability By-law (in nice simple language, compared to they by-law itself) in regards to boulevards:
Is there a minimum level of boulevard maintenance that property owners are responsible for?
Yes, the property owner is responsible for the following boulevard maintenance:

  • ensuring grass is no more than 15 cm (6 inches) high
  • ensuring other vegetation, other than turf, is no more than 1.0 m (39 inches) high
  • controlling noxious weeds
  • keeping the boulevard free of garbage
Are there exceptions? Of course there are!
 What boulevards are maintained by the City?
  • boulevards beside a regional street
  • boulevards flanking properties beside a regional street
  • ditches where grass has never been planted
  • boulevards at the rear of a property
  • extended boulevards – meaning a boulevard that is at least 20 feet wide as measured from the roadway to the sidewalk or property line
Does the City easily link to what the regional streets are? Of course they don't! But you can find it here. (To be fair that's from 2012 but I imagine it to be similar for 2013). Needless to say, none of my neighbours live near regional streets.

I live on a corner, the other 3 corner properties are all rental properties, which as we know is no excuse to have them look like crap. However, being a nice understanding neighbour who realizes that yard work might not be super exciting to a tenant, I have offered on numerous occasions to mow these boulevards. The one condition? Make sure they are free of garbage, it's not good for my lawnmower. Even as tenants they should want to live in a nice clean community, so it's win win - no yard work for them, nice clean "yard".

Do any of them pick up trash? Nope. Are their boulevards full of garbage and noxious weeds? Yup. Do I painstakingly remove weeds from my boulevard and yard? Yup. Oddly this not-giving-a-shit attitude also extends down to the next block where the corner houses also sit amongst tall grasses. The weirdest is the one that I know is owner occupied and that I also know paid a pretty penny for their house. Who buys a house for like $170k IN THE NORTH END (this was almost two years ago already!) and isn't the type to mow their lawn? I've also extended my offer to these people, but not been taken up on it.

It's interesting to reflect back on our youth and see how we are shaped into adults. Growing up in suburbia my family home was the horrible one. Generally in poor repair with grass that rivaled any open field, we would get orders to mow the lawn. Weirdly, the next door neighbour wasn't thrilled with the goat that got brought over to do the job (I wish I was kidding).

Teenage me didn't really understand what was going on; I knew that we were different but I didn't entirely understand why the neighbours cared so much what our yard looked like. I also had zero interest in doing any of that sort of yard work. Fast forward to buying my house. I don't know where it came from, but from day 1 I felt it was important to demonstrate that I valued myself and my neighbours and to keep a tidy yard. I certainly, not in a million years would have guessed that I would turn into that person who gets down on all fours to clip the grass along the chain link fence.

Now, for a fun little experiment, let's see how long it takes for those 9 properties to get mowed. I was patient, I waited until the majority of the grass reached the 6" in height to report it (lest I seem over zealous and not be taken seriously in the future to the 311 gods).

Flowers for my boulevard, and only $23.50!
311, in their auto-response emailing ways has told me that I can expect an initial response within 48 hours. Last year the official standby response was that a by-law officer would inspect within business 10 days, so, two weeks. I happen to know that there is a good chance that all 9 requests will not go to the same officer (how efficient). I also know that it is unlikely that they will be told to do anything about the noxious weeds - I will be lucky just to have them cut down. I also know that at least one of those property owners lives in like East St. Paul or something which means that they will allow extra time for the order to reach him. If I recall correctly I think they will be given something ridiculous like 7 days to fix the problems.

So, potentially (and highly likely) it will take until at least June 20th for any of these lawns to get mowed. Good thing the grass and weeds will have magically stopped growing until then.

Now, on a far less bitchy note, check out those flowers! Those are only part of what is going to make up Wolseley Project 3.0. This year my next door neighbours have stepped up their game - their yard is teeming with flowers so I'm going to have to really do a good job if I want to stay the prettiest house on the block!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Completely unrelated to anything

I have a fear of single toilet handicap-accessible bathrooms. Like the ones at Subway and the Timmies "downtown" in Portage La Prairie. Yes, I know this is a departure from my regular complaining about everyone blaming the North End for everything and other such Winnipeg things but I needed to get it out there.

My office renovated a few months ago and now we have a nice big wheelchair friendly bathroom. Now, obviously I'm not actually against toilets being functional for those with mobility issues but why oh why must they be designed in such a way that if the door doesn't lock properly that someone could very easily catch you doing your business??? They are purposely designed to have the toilet far away from the door - there is no way to thrust your arm out and stop the door from opening!

I think it should be mandatory for these bathrooms to have a secondary lock system like one of those little slidey thingies, basically something that goes into a slot that I can visually verify that the door is indeed secure. Why don't I just double check when I go into these types of bathrooms you ask? Well, first of all, they all have the simple push button type lock rather than a twisty one (I hope I'm not losing you readers with all my technical terms like slidey and twisty...) and this is so that folks who don't have good dexterity can easily use them. Which means that if you try to check it, you are basically going to unlock it.

The other problem is, and the Timmies in Portage referenced earlier has this problem, is that if for some reason the door doesn't close completely (even though it seems like it's closed, I mean, I know how to use a door!) then "locking" the door by pushing in the little button doesn't do a lick of good because the catch isn't engaged properly. Thankfully, my paranoia caused me to discover this flaw before someone discovered me.

So, I therefore call for a secondary lock system, completely optional to use, for those who want that extra bit of security. Or if someone can at least put one in on my work bathroom that would be appreciated :)


A quick note related to my usual rants...Today a Winnipeg family has lost their home in a fire. I'm not sure yet what they might need but I hope Winnipeggers reach out to them once we find out. The CBC, like most of the media outlets in town covered this story.  I appreciate that they left "North End" out of the headline, because for those that get their news by only reading the headlines I'm sure the reaction would have been a typical one along the lines of "must be arson", "it's the North End, it's always on fire anyway, who cares" and so on. Now, of course, it did technically happen in the North End, so I couldn't have faulted them even if they had chosen to use the neighbourhood name in the headline, but I truly believe little things like this make a difference to how the rest of Winnipeg perceives us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

If this post seems familiar...

Update 21/5/13: Since CBC hasn't bothered to change their misleading headline I was still able to get a screenshot today and add it to this post. I know they have received several emails (mine included) alerting them to the confusing use of "north end".

It would be because I wrote virtually the same one the other day. Is there someone new over at the CBC? Someone who has no idea how Winnipeg refers to its neighbourhoods? CBC has a story about a dog poisoning on their website that they seem to have had trouble figuring out where exactly it happened and instead resorted to a not-so-generic neighbourhood section of the city  Global knew that it was West Kildonan.

Screen shot of the CBC story
Winnipeg has a neighbourhood that goes by the name "North End". Which means that if you would like to talk about something that happened in the north part of the city you either need to mention the specific neighbourhood (either one of the 236 unique neighbourhoods or one of the two dozen or so more commonly used names) or say something like "on the north side of Winnipeg". Not capitalizing "north end" although technically from what I recall about writing does make it not about the North End, the neighbourhood, no one is going to make that differentiation. Especially if you opt to only use it when you mention something negative.

The Winnipeg Free Press published a great piece by Kevin Chief over the weekend that was an excellent summation of how many of us choose to see the North End. Of course, most of the city doesn't see our potential and our triumphs. Many Winnipeggers, and even Canadians, associate the North End with only things that are negative, like poverty, crime, and despair. I would be foolish to try to pretend that these things don't exist here, perhaps even in slightly higher doses than other parts of the city, but it shouldn't define us.

So, in Winnipeg, whether you say north end or North End, people think of the same place. A quick glance of the CBC website shows me that they haven't adopted some new policy of simply breaking the city into 4 - north, south, east and west - other articles mention specific neighbourhoods. So why, whenenver (okay, current whenever is based on the sinkhole story and this one - I don't have the time to go back and search for more errors - one is too many!) it's a negative story are they just skipping the step of finding out where it actually happened and blaming it on the north end?

With the recent murders in Charleswood (notice the CBC didn't call it the south end) I read many articles and saw mentions on social media that found neighbours to talk about how "things like this shouldn't happen in a nice neighbourhood like Charleswood" and so on. Newsflash: murder shouldn't happen in ANY neighbourhood. People in inner-city neighbourhoods are still mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends. No one deserves to be killed, so stop acting so superior people.

As an aside, thank you to the many media folks who have taken the time to watch what you write by knowing your neighbourhoods and mentioning street names and addresses rather than SCREAMING NORTH END and in an indirect way, helping to tone down the hate for the North End.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Officially, it doesn't really exist

The North End that is. Today the City released their new "Neighbourhoods of Winnipeg" section of their website (ok, for all I know it's always been there, but I saw people talking about it on Twitter today so I think it's new). Did you know that Winnipeg has 236 neighbourhoods? I sure didn't.

Interesting, because as we all know, whenever anything bad happens it is generally blamed on one of 3 areas: the North End, the West End and Downtown. According to the interactive map, none of these "neighbourhoods" actually exist. Their map is drawn on top of a Google map and even though Google (and the rest of us) calls it Downtown, it's actually South Portage.

Now, of course, I don't necessarily expect anyone (read: media) to always be super specific when detailing where an event happened, but maybe that's the way it should be, for accuracy. That way we avoid the many slip ups that erroneously blame one neighbourhood for another one's troubles. Because it's pretty much always related to troubles. Take for example the sinkhole that happened in Garden City, which for the record actually does exist as a neighbourhood called Garden City.

Now, the CBC reported the story saying it was in the North End. I believe they originally had it in the body of the story as well as the caption of the photo, but I'm not 100% sure because when I saw it, it was just the caption. But the comments section makes me think it was probably the body at first as well. One comment, by GoodN1GHT stood out to me in particular (after another commenter pointed out that this intersection was not in fact in the North End):
"If there is a shooting in Tuxedo, Tuxedo temporarily becomes part of the North End. It helps to keep outsiders thinking that Winnipeg's problems are in one small area."
I agree with this statement, but would also add that it keeps locals thinking the same thing.

I've been harping about this for literally years. Now, CBC did change their story/caption, but the internet, like an elephant, never forgets. This screenshot shows all the various other agencies, websites and so on that picked up their story - their stories never got changed. Also notice that I didn't bother to capitalize "North End" in my search - neither did the CBC in their original caption... I realized technically someone could refer to any part of the city by its direction, yes, Garden City is in the the north end of Winnipeg. However, in a city that has two neighbourhoods that already unofficially go by North End and West End, the way to state this without confusion would be to say "on the north side of the city" or something like that. I'm also about 99% certain that this story (like every other) didn't mean to inform people that it happened somewhere in the the northern part of the city. Obviously, when talking about a sinkhole it's not horrible to "accuse" the wrong neighbourhood, but the same can't be said for crime.

Winnipeg, especially in the core areas, has a huge PR problem already. Our media needs to realize that they are the ones who can help change that. People who choose to remain uniformed about what is really going on around them will keep reading headlines and making snap decisions based on that information. It's very easy to hate the North End or West Broadway (okay, well it was easy to hate it back in like, the 90s) when that's all you hear before or after the words stabbing and murder.

Challenge people and their perceptions. Maybe we do need to utilize the boundaries of the 236 neighbourhoods. In which case, I really don't like Eric Coy and all of its ditches. Or Elmhurst for that matter. If this isn't the way we go (because it would be very tedious to figure out every time, that's why we already have the broader neighbourhood terms), then we need to have the media adapt a standard format such as the ### block of Any St. (kudos does go to the Winnipeg Sun for often doing exactly this). This will slowly help retrain the brains of those that make their decisions based on media headlines.

As for defining those broader neighbourhood labels, I think asking organizations that have those labels in the name what their boundaries are - like the West End Biz, or the North End Community Renewal Corporation and so on would be a good start. If there are differences then maybe everyone just needs to sit down and hammer it out, once and for all.