Tag Archives: Stefano Grande

Portage and Main

Stefano Grande

The Downtown BIZ is supportive of implementing a phased approach to make below and above grade improvements at the iconic intersection of Portage and Main, and in a forward motion that one day can lead to pedestrians crossing Portage and Main.

Last week, City Hall passed a $3.5 million motion to repair the crumbling Portage and Main intersection. But rather bringing back the barricades, which are crumbling, moving forward with building proper sidewalks and integrating the new design into the efforts of the private sectors own effort for the beautification of their own private spaces / plaza area. Continue reading Portage and Main

The dirty truth: what it takes to keep downtown clean

I smell like garbage. But that’s okay. I had the best day of the year this past week when I helped clean up downtown with the Downtown BIZ’s clean team.
Every now and then, I take to the streets with our front-line staff. It’s important to get your hands dirty, to see firsthand how your staff and the incredible work they perform impact our downtown. To get a better sense of what they do and how they do it. To understand and appreciate their challenges. To hear their ideas on how we can make their jobs more exciting, meaningful, and easier. So, I traded in my suit for a forest green uniform, work boots, a safety vest, and got an opportunity to get to know the people and the lives of my crew who serve as incredible ambassadors for our downtown.

I wanted to help clean up downtown with my team to show them how proud I am of them. I wanted my clean team to know that I appreciate the work that they do. And no doubt this week’s engagement with my team proved to deliver on this and more. Now that I have seen them in action, I can speak with confidence and integrity when I talk to the media or to our 1,300 members about how clean downtown truly is.

Hanging out with the team also reaffirmed my belief that they truly believe that they can transform the downtown daily. It’s obvious that our downtown-cleaning program is managed well and it shows. Picking litter, power washing sidewalks, cleaning bus shelters, removing graffiti and more – these are just a few of the daily tasks undertaken. I fear the day we stop. Because the trash, litter, and grime will not stop. It’s a daily war on downtown trash and litter. A war that we’re winning.

But it’s going to take the commitment of our entire community to keep downtown looking clean and great. Many of our business and property owners go the extra mile to keep areas around their buildings clean and tidy. They wash their windows, sweep the sidewalks. Thank you for caring when many others still don’t! And thank you to the many downtowners who move out of the way so we can do our job, and who smile and thank us when we keep sidewalks free of debris and garbage.

What I also learned was how businesses are creating jobs for people to improve the cleanliness of the downtown. Through their funding, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ has been able to employ nearly 22 full-time and part-time clean team employees. When I took a break during lunch to hang with the team, I was touched by a moment between Brendan, a clean-team employee, and his wife – they were chatting over Skype. She was incredibly proud of Brendan for working hard to put food on their table. It’s a tough job.
But it’s incredibly rewarding and steady. I’m proud of the people who work for us. They are the definition of family.

My brief experience with my clean team was rewarding for many reasons. Deep down, I am envious of the daily sense of accomplishment they are able to feel at the end of every day. I certainly felt it. Working in a suit behind a desk can create change, too, but it often takes much longer to achieve.

When I came home to my kids to kiss them good night, they asked why I was limping, aching and sore. All I told them was that I had a hard day at work.

Thanks team.

Downtown Winnipeg vs. Downtown Vancouver – is there any comparison?

By Stefano Grande (photo by Paul Krueger)

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about our downtown’s growth at a conference held by Winnipeg Realtors. One of the participants asked if Winnipeg’s downtown could become as vibrant as Vancouver’s. It could – or at least close to it.
All we need to do is develop a better understanding of the property tax economics of density vs. sprawl and the land use tools needed to make it happen.
Vancouver’s downtown is regarded as a hub for shopping and entertainment, and is a place where people live and work, brimming with nighttime action. Tourism and convention-goers have also helped to drive economic development forward. Over the last decade, Vancouver’s downtown has helped to transform the area into a world-class destination.
The addition of gourmet markets, luxury residences, fine-dining restaurants and high-end boutiques has helped to spur an increase in the residential population, bringing the density to about 100,000 people.
This growth is being driven by two market forces. First, growth is driven through offshore investment and immigration. Second, Vancouver’s downtown is finite, which forces density and high-rise development many cities wish they could have. Today, it is one of the most livable and walkable cities in the world. In essence, the ocean and the mountains are a boundary limiting sprawl, in turn creating density.
Winnipeg’s vast prairies invite sprawl
Winnipeg is not Vancouver. Our economy and immigration grow at a slower pace, and current land use development patterns favour sprawl. That’s what happens when you have plenty of prairies and no mountains or ocean.
But imagine if Winnipeg was to better manage suburban sprawl, and in doing so, created strong, resilient, walkable and vibrant neighbourhoods – the type of neighbourhoods that are healthy for people and great for taxpayers.
The rationale for doing so was made even more clear when the Downtown BIZ and its partners invited Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3 and an expert who specializes in analyzing the economic potential of dense development, to talk about the issues.
Proof that density pays
His research provides ironclad data proving infill projects, revitalization of historical buildings and density, have a much more efficient and significant economic impact than sprawl, leading to more sustainable cities and much less burden for the taxpayer. He is here to help Winnipeggers understand these principles.
There are indeed major challenges and costs associated with urban sprawl in Winnipeg. Despite this knowledge, the same development approvals happen time and time again. So perhaps it’s time for the city to create a tool to recreate the oceans and mountains of Vancouver to force density, vibrancy, and a more productive city.
Urban limits
Seriously, though, how about an urban limit line? A policy can be added for our city to create a better balance between infill and suburban sprawl. OurWinnipeg, the city’s land development framework, points in this direction, but for it to work, it needs teeth. In cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo and Montreal, boundaries to restrict growth and preserve green space are enforced. This pushes the real estate market and development inwards, creating stronger and more vibrant neighbourhoods, and ultimately, a more sustainable city.
Such an approach requires leadership from the province and the city to educate the community about urban growth boundaries and its positive impacts. What if developers were allowed to build single-family homes on the periphery of our city, but only if they committed to multi-family and infill units in key areas within the city? Many cities use this carrot-and-stick approach to create a fiscally healthy and vibrant city. There is no shortage of ideas and solutions to help to continue renewing our downtown and inner city. Let’s get engaged and discuss how to move forward.
Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.