Sunday, February 10, 2008

New software does not an urban vision make

I was at the Winnipeg Chamber function on Friday for our Worship's annual State of the City address. About 1,000 folks were in attendance, which is a pretty spectacular turnout, I think.

In the opening moments, I chatted with a few people at my table about the issues or debates Katz would likely raise in his speech. I thought he might touch on some of the big debates going on now, such as Asper's proposal for a new football stadium, the Upper Fort Garry heritage park plan, or Katz's own water park pet project.

I thought Sam might even take a leap forward and provide us with some vision of what our city could be: a glimpse of a new, more environmentally conscious city, perhaps; a proposal for rehabilitating our declining transit system into something many of us could use and be proud of; some vision of Winnipeg as a centre of urban Aboriginal culture and pride; or even his seemingly forgotten promise of enhancing our network of neighbourhood community centres so that kids everywhere can take part in recreational and sporting opportunities. I was to be sorrily disappointed.

Katz's entirely-memorized teleprompted and very slow-spoken address began with a whole lot of name dropping, thanking each city councillor by name, as well as the new police chief, Keith McCaskill, and a host of other folks. He later again thanked each councillor at least two or three times, perhaps trying to emphasize that city council is all one happy family these days.

While I wasn't really expecting to be moved one way or the other by the mayor's speech, I was completely flabbergasted by the huge amount of time he spent yakking about CrimeStat, the city's one-year old software program for monitoring crime trends by neighbourhood. The audience was treated to explanations of how the system works, PowerPoint slides showing real crime statistics for the St. James neighbourhood, and scenarios of how such data might allow for quicker police responses to crime trends.

It's fine to mention the new techniques for monitoring crime, but I'm astonished with the amount of hot air that was spent on what amounts to a software purchase and a cool website page. I have no problem with a system that allows police to better monitor crime trends -- it is, in fact, part of their job to do just that. But should it be such astonishing mayoral speech-level news that the police are given an upgrade on the tools they use to do their job? What's going to be the highlight of next year's address: how Excel formulas helped improve the city's accounting workload? How city vehicles slid around less after being installed with winter tires?

The problem with Winnipeg's political leadership continues to be one of narrow vision. While other cities guide their projects with visions of what their urban space should look and feel like, Winnipeg confuses one-off projects with vision by continuing to tinker with the accessories: a park or a downtown shopping mall or a redesigned bus shelter or a software program don't equal a vision. These are things that should be guided by vision. Where is Sam's vision? Where does Sam see us in ten years? In twenty? What will or should life be like for Winnipeggers? How will or should non-Winnipeggers view our city? Sam? Hello, Sam?

The real crime is that of hopes and opportunities lost: what might this city look like had we had fewer vision-less mayors? What kind of Winnipeg might yet be possible?

Photo: Portage Avenue, near Hargrave Street, in 1920.


PolicyFrog said...

Not memorized, he had two teleprompters in front of him.

Prairie Topiary said...

Thanks for catching that!

unclebob said...

Nice post

Software tracking was a tool created by American jurisdictions to monitor the effectiveness of their radical management shift in crime fighting and hold to account the personnel in charge of both management and delivery.

It is not a singular element that can be lifted and implemented with expectations of similar results compared to a holistic and visionary approach. (even within crime fighting ....let alone broader city vision)