By Stefano Grande
In a city as diverse as ours, downtown truly matters. It’s full of activity, welcomes people of all backgrounds and is the economic engine of our city. With continued strategic investment and attention, it will once again be the pride of Winnipeggers.
The success of our entire province rests on this understanding. And there are many partners and stakeholders who are committed to this goal.
So, it’s important to ask: after years of progress, how healthy is our downtown today?
Trends suggest the downtown’s health has improved significantly over the last several years. This newfound health, however, is as fragile as it is encouraging – and it needs continued and sustained commitment from the public to nurture it.
A pledge of funding from the province’s Winnipeg Regeneration Strategy and continued use of tax-increment financing will help the area become a vibrant neighbourhood. Rapid transit and policies that provide a more sustainable alternative to urban sprawl are also desperately needed, because they help to direct market forces and development inwards. These are but some of the broad conclusions formed at the Health of the Downtown Summit, an assembly convened by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and its partners.
Some of the city’s most influential urban minds gathered to not only celebrate current and emerging downtown successes, but to discuss our downtown’s future. Some of their recommendations were presented to the candidates of this year’s mayoral election.
More than $2 billion of investment and over 100 development projects are making a significant contribution to the revitalization of our downtown. Residential growth of over 16,000 people has been supported with 1,800 new housing projects.
A focus on creating complete neighbourhoods, like The Waterfront, Exchange District, The Forks, and the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED), and how to physically connect them has emerged.
The MTS Centre, Shaw Park and educational institutions have been drivers of increased pedestrian traffic. More than 69,000 workers continue to contribute to the local economy, and the expansion of the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg and opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will add to the millions of local and national tourists who experience downtown – serving as a springboard for further restaurant and retail attraction.
Closer than ever
Winnipeggers are closer today to seeing a fully revitalized downtown than ever before. So how do we continue and strengthen this momentum?
While many ideas percolated at the summit, there was one resounding thought among the participants: the need for civic leadership.
This fall, we will have a new mayor and city council. If progress is to continue, they must continue to make downtown a priority. And plans are already in place, such as the city’s guiding policy framework, OurWinnipeg – but they require less political interference, and the appropriate resources and oversight to see them through.
Summit participants also noted the need to change our current approach to development. Density, mixed-use development, accessibility and rapid transit are but few of the necessities required in our city and downtown, which can help to generate more taxes per hectare and lower the city’s operating costs, while creating the vibe and excitement Winnipeggers want.
Development supported by public investment should be prioritized in strategic areas within the downtown, as seen with the SHED. Poorly-designed facades and surface-level parking lots should also be prohibited through stringent design guidelines.
While people say downtown is cleaner than ever before, sidewalks are still broken and in disrepair. Sidewalks need to be safe for people to walk and lined with appealing places and stores to visit.
Downtown is a special place where history, culture, and incredible architecture come together – these assets need to be celebrated. Creativity and ingenuity leads to the rebirth of our downtown, not regulations and minimalism.
Downtown is for everyone
Lastly, we must recognize our city and our downtown are places that belong to everyone – the rich and the poor, people who help and those who need help. Downtown can prosper economically when it enables everyone to contribute socially. It’s time for Winnipeg to adopt the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, recently released by the United Way.
We’ve travelled far on the road back to health for our downtown over the last 10 years, but the journey continues. Let’s keep moving forward.