#201 – Shit City, Part One: Introduction + Winnipeg, Manitoba

It’s time to introduce a new series to the blog! Canadian cities are banal, awful places full of boredom and misery. Residents of cities having a rough go of unaffordability, poor transit, and limited opportunities have all been addressed generally by this blog before. Shit City is my chance to highlight the specific failures afflicted on the residents of each and every major Canadian center. We’re going to get into transit timing using Google Maps, discuss a lot of ratios of income to pricing of all sorts of local goods, and read some opinions and reviews from tourists and locals alike about the local “attractions”. Shit City will follow a framework, which is going to work thus for the moment:

  1. Introduction
  2. Ratios and numbers:
    Income to housing prices
    Income to food prices
    Poverty rates/food bank use/homelessness (whatever I can find)
    Criminality
  3. Access to transit
  4. Reviews of local “attractions”

Right, let’s get started then with our first Shit City, and what a Shit City it is. We’re talking about Winnipeg, the discarded rail-town that was left to rot on the banks of the Red River. The legendary tragedy of Winnipeg, home to Indigenous gangs and a group that fishes bodies out of the Red River is well-established. On top of being the home of one of Canada’s most brutal police actions, Winnipeg’s role in Canadian city lore is to serve as the Oakland of Canada – scrappy, mean, poor, and influential in pop culture. Winnipeg got all but the last one right, which is a shame because the combination of Indigenous heritage and urban cataclysm produces some dope raps.

Instead of dope raps, Winnipeg is epitomized by the Weakerthans’ “One Great City“. When Can-Con is mocking a place in Canada you know it sucks. The first two lines of the song might as well be my entire post. “Late afternoon, another day is nearly done/a darker gray is breaking through a lighter one”. This is truly a remarkable song, by the way. It takes some kind of balls to be this honest. See? Canada can’t suck the life out of every artistic endeavor taking place within its wretched walls – only most of them!

Here’s how Winnipeg stacks up by the numbers:

Median total monthly income, family: $81,880/year (2015 figure) / 12 = $6823/month
Monthly income for two full-time minimum-wage earners: $3675 (2017 figure)
Cost of property: $288,500 (2016 figure)
Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1068/month
Average food costs: $819.95 (2011 figure)

This means that the food costs about 12% of median monthly income and that rent will set you back 15.6% of your median family income. That’s actually not all that terrible…but when you’re working minimum wage, it gets ugly. In that case rent is 29% of your monthly income and food is 22%. That means you get $1837.50 to spend on utilities, transportation, debt repayments – everything else.

Criminality and poverty in Winnipeg are concentrated in the city’s notorious North End, which looks like this:

The unemployment rate in the neighborhood of Point Douglas is 9.5% in 2011, and male life expectancy in Point Douglas South was 66.7 years. Which is roughly on par with West Timor, a country that was ravaged by military occupation until 1999. Did you not see the part above where I talked about people fundraising to drag nets along the Red River to look for corpses? Yeah, this place is a total shitheap.

Did I mention that Winnipeg is infamous for gang-related violence? Because we got all kinds of gang violence to talk about, friends! It’s enough of a problem that gangs are pulling the kids of recent migrants into their groups, with upstart gangs forming constantly even as the city pretends to have “resolved” the problem over and over again. Street gangs like the Manitoba Warriors have grown increasingly sophisticated; even worse, police are failing to keep up with their crime sprees. Rivalries between Indigenous gangs and classic Canadian criminal offerings like the Hell’s Angels present all kinds of thrilling chances to see the roiling poverty of Canada’s cities (and imagination) on overdrive.

Winnipeg features classic elements of poor transit planning. An overfixation on suburban routes, cutting services while raising fares, and failure to properly operate critical lines on the route has seen Winnipeg’s transit system hobbled. The city failed at the implementation of electronic fares so badly that the bus drivers’ union demanded that the system be scrapped. During critically important times for transit like New Years’ Eve the Winnipeg transit system simply shits the bed. The impoverished North End features pathetic bus infrastructure, including a pitiful 22% incidence of bus stops with shelters and few routes going anywhere important. Having never taken this transit system the best I can do is to say that the hallmarks of mediocre North American transit are alive and well in Winnipeg.

And you’ll be leaning on that transit something fierce if you don’t have a car, because Christ on a unicycle does the weather in Winnipeg suck. My greatest annoyance with “Peggers” (as nobody should call them) was how, during the hellish depths of the Ottawa winter they would pull that caker conversational classic: “you think this is cold?” Hey, numbnuts – living in a place where the average low temperature in January is -20C isn’t something to be proud of. And don’t forget the muggy, sweaty summers complete with a Biblical plague of random bugs and shit! Even Mother Nature is trying to tell you to clear the fuck out of Winterpeg.

But what of Winnipeg’s tourist attractions, such as they are? Certainly among the more…ostentatious? Hypocritical? Whatever. Canada’s Human Rights Museum is a $300 million testament to vague concepts of human rights in a neighborhood where $300 million could have fixed a whole whack of societal problems. And the reviews are in!

Human Rights Museum Review 1Human Rights Museum Review 2

Unfinished, sloppy exhibits? Fucking sold! The San Jose Sharks declared Winnipeg the most awful place that they have to visit, which is stupid-sad considering that the Sharks also have to visit the ass-end of Fort Lauderdale, Edmonton, and Buffalo. Speaking of hockey, here are some hot takes on the recently-constructed MTS Place, home of the Winnipeg Jets:

Hockey Arena Review 1Hockey Arena Review 2

Poor signage, inadequate transit integration, and a lack of washrooms? That almost sounds like a lack of planning! How could this be? Beyond this, I have found…not much. A shopping mall full of drunks? Some boring outdoor skating? Museums in the middle of nowhere that cost a fortune? Oh…boy?

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#46 – Tim Horton’s Brown Sludge Water™, Part Four: the Timitentiary

One of the least pleasant places in the world to be is at a Tim Hortons “café”. Who wouldn’t want to sit staring into a void of parking, listening to underpaid workers attempting to negotiate temporary peace with knuckle-dragging shitbiscuit customers who don’t seem to understand that the milk and cream are poured automatically and pre-portioned (which means that no, the workers weren’t “trying to cheat me” out of milk, which is a refrain I hear far too often). The scope of the unpleasantness is vast and has myriad entrepots for blame. Some blame certainly goes to Tim’s stubborn adhesion to Canada’s equally-uncritical relationship with personal motorcars, which ensures that the outside world looks hideous and uninviting. Metal furnishings tinted with varying shades of shit-brown provide an uncomfortable allusion to shit, which when considering the quality of Tim’s products is not an association that they should be wanting to make. Uncomfortable chairs, ugly designs, bad urban form, and cakers as far as the eye can see. This sounds like my version of hell.

The horror of the physical experience of a Tim Horton’s begins before you even get inside. Cakers and their insane reliance on both driving and drinking a substance that needs to be plied with an unyielding quantity of fat and sugar in order to be palatable combine to create legendarily-stupid traffic snarls. Of course, the lack of planning and foresight incumbent to Canada don’t help in this regard, as moronic cakers are inclined to simply queue in their cars like cud-chewing morons when confronted with delay rather than considering whether they could go, y’know, literally anywhere else. Cakers are so in love with bad coffee and driving metal boxes that they regularly break traffic laws across Canada. Here’s Terrace, B.C. being retarded. The oilheaded buffoons of Fort McMurray are apparently of the opinion that roadways are akin to drive-through lineups. The mysteries of getting out of your car and walking into the Timitentiary are too much for cakers – from coast to coast, these morons can’t manage to grasp the incredible power that is fucking getting out of the car and walking. And we wonder why Canada is obese as fuck?

After crossing the vehicular Rubicon and daring to go inside the Tim’s you could almost be excused for huddling in your car and causing traffic snarls rather than going inside. When even the head office operates like a prison you just know that the front-facing experience is going to suck. Indeed, the average Tim Hortons has the aesthetic and feel of a waiting room in a substandard caker prison. A fixation on price-cutting and skeleton-staffing throughout the factory caker-feed industry means that the place is likely utterly disgusting. And check out these incredibly-comfortable looking chairs:

(S) Void within, void without.

And just to show how ubiquitous this horror is, here’s another picture of the inside of a Tim Horton’s:

(S) Yup, that sure is some boring shit. Note the “view”.

People congregate in these places not because they are desirable places to be but because they are in many situations the only places remaining for cakers and their victims to sit and converse. Somewhere in these ugly-ass, one-size-fits-all walls there is a tragic sentiment – that somehow, Canadians gradually permitted the degradation of space to such a degree that sterile veneers and dirty floors supported by plastic donuts and wretched coffee have become the most common gathering places.

But at least those people who do go inside as opposed to wasting even more space in their vehicles than they would simply as people. Where cakers take to declaring the cultural force of Tim Hortons as a national marker of identity I take it as a sad testament to the fact that cakers claim to love places that are so abhorrent that so many of them avoid the entire place by sitting in their fucking cars. In either case the logic of the prison wins out – utilitarian slop and generic places for those who come in, and isolation for those who opt for the drive-through. Outside or in, there are few places as rotten by design as the average Tim Hortons.

 

#45 – Canada’s House of Cards

…Where to even begin with Canada’s disgraceful relationship with housing? We kind of fail from the word go here – this country is home to some incredibly shit housing. Starting with a fundamental lack of the stuff, a consequence of mindless suburbanization (of which Canada was a pioneer) and horrendous social housing policy (where any even exists). Probably somehow even worse than no home within the confines of caker urbanism are the absymal shacks that far too many Indigenous peoples live in. This is of course in the same country that seems to have an incredible fascination with speculating on housing markets. There’s something particularly cruel about the way that Canada effectively permits gambling with housing costs while so many of its people suffer for want of tolerable housing, and this vein of critique into Canada is basically endless. I could make this entire blog about shitty housing policy and probably still make to 200.

The best way to use this post, I suppose, is to introduce the scope of the problem. Canada has (unbelievably) developed a national housing strategy, apparently. I say “apparently” because I can’t find the actual document to review. What I’ve seen looks like a lot of handouts to developers and buzzwords, but without the actual document there’s not a whole lot of judgement that I can actually throw down. So let’s instead briefly glance at the scope of the problem that our valiant new housing strategy (which is about 50 years late) is attempting to conquer.

Before we speak of the particularly-unfathomable housing problems of Canada’s perpetual racial underclass, let’s talk about the disgrace that is Canada’s urban housing policy. As in the United States, suburbanization was practically subsidized in Canada, by both provincial and municipal machinations. Indeed, Canada was among the first places to seriously embrace this disasterous idea – as early as 1953 Toronto was getting ready to be choked by shit tract-development which was so rigidly-engineered (in exactly the kind of way Jane Jacobs tells us is a shit idea) that there were no sidewalks. As for the dreadful urban renewal which led to heartache and urban failure in so many American cities, well…yeah, we’ve got that too. And yeah, it’s pretty fucking shit here too.

(S) Regent Park as initially constructed. Yup, sure looks like towers of bullshit!

Canada’s low-income housing programs are almost hilariously underfunded and are in fact total shit. Toronto’s affordable housing, run by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, is literally crumbling due to age and lack of attention. With an overfixation on building more as opposed to repairing current stock, this problem doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. A fixation on maximizing profits leads to poor policy decisions which in fact encourage price speculation on housing markets. And that’s not to even mention the chronic mismatch between the building of rental units in Canadian cities and the need for said. And the scope of the problem is substantial – nearly 20% of Canadians pay more than 50% of their income towards rent costs, with small towns and suburbs playing a disproportionate role in that total.

And that, my friends, is where the good times end for Canada’s housing stock.

From here, we go to one of Canada’s most truly abhorrent sins. Indigenous housing stock, particularly on reserves is frankly third-world. In 2001 nearly half of the total reserve housing stock was in need of overhaul or replacement. More than half of Indigenous housing stock is reported to contain mold or mildew. Almost a third of reserve water supplies are unsafe; nearly 2000 housing units are without adequate sewage or water services. Shitty housing was the cause of a fire that killed four children and their father near London, Ontario in 2016; the home, which was effectively kindling was denied funding for housing improvements from Ottawa.

(S) “Oh, yeah. That looks about fine for dem Injins!” – Ottawa, probably

So that’s what we’re going to be picking at with this topic – how cakers entrenched an untenable housing system of boring, rolling suburbs, how urban centers have utterly failed their residents, how brutal the consequences of shitty policy are for Canada’s poorest, and of course the unbelieveable savagery that is Indigenous housing policy. It’s a whole seething ball of bullshit worth several posts, and you’d better believe that I intend to assail Canada’s shit housing from every angle.