Sunday, October 03, 2010

Round About the Public We Go

In recent weeks, Winnipeggers and politicians have been schooled in the essential art of public consultation.

When new public projects are planned, how much time and money should government spend talking to people about a project’s details and listening to the public's concerns?

The answer’s easy: just enough, right? Too little will make people mad. Too much and you’re singing Kumbaya.

The level of consultation used in the development of roundabouts and a new football stadium helps shed some light on how government decides the degree to which it consults.

Seemingly overnight and much to the surprise of local residents and business owners, new roundabouts and other traffic controls sprung up in locations such as Assiniboine and Grosvenor Avenue.

Few people knew they were planned. Few people were given a chance to provide input or express an opinion. And, as a result, many people feel frustrated having to live with changes over which they had little control or input.

Conversely, Creswin officials recently held a widely publicized open house allowing residents in the vicinity of the new football stadium to ask questions, provide input, and express concerns about the proposed project. The project has been the subject of significant public debate, and the plans to build a stadium at the University of Manitoba have been public for years.

However, when this amount of time is taken to discuss a single project, the quality of the public debate ends up becoming significantly degraded.

Consider, for example, the concerns of Ms. Patricia Sumter who is worried about living in proximity to a new football stadium:
"My concern is that during the game people will be drinking and then walking back through our neighbourhood (to get home). They might be investigating our house if it looks dark. Are we supposed to get a Doberman?"
Really, eh? You’re worried drunk sports fans are going to walk by your house and “investigate” it if it looks dark?

If Ms. Sumter currently lives in proximity to the University of Manitoba, it’s almost guaranteed drunk people already walk by her house regularly. Especially in September when there’s hardly a single sober student within ten miles of the University campus.

And we can only assume Ms. Sumter, herself and her friends, have never ever (not even once) raised an excessive pint or two in proximity to other peoples’ houses.

When given too much time to talk, the public almost always manages to lower the level of debate to a point that’s unbecoming of a chimp.

And this is one of the reasons why politicians and government officials sometimes try to “roundabout” the public. They’re simply trying to protect the public from their own stupidity.

So, if you find yourself upset with the lack of consultation on Winnipeg’s new roundabouts, thank people like Ms. Sumter. And try to leave poor Luis Escobar alone. He was only trying to protect you from yourself!