‘We’re changing the way we experience – and enjoy – our city’

Downtown BIZ is taking people by the hand, with a multitude of tours, to help them discover the excitement of its public places and unique treasures.

Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande

Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City, spoke to hundreds of planning students, urbanists and the general public this past February as part of the Canadian Association of Planning Students conference here. His main question was: can urban design make cities and people happier?

In Winnipeg, new initiatives and ideas are helping to transform the way in which we use, experience and enjoy public space. We are beginning to embrace minus 40-degree cold with pop-up restaurants on frozen rivers. We are reclaiming surface parking lots by turning them into drive-in movie theatres.

We are adding interactive and playful public art throughout our downtown’s major thoroughfares. We are hosting dinners for more than 1,200 people in unusual and unexpected spaces. We are becoming a friendly, lively and enjoyable city – a convivial city. What more can we do?

Spaces for people

Green spaces are not an urban luxury. We should just have more of them. Green spaces help foster connections between communities and the natural environment, allowing for a more breathable and liveable city. Downtown Winnipeg strives to increase – and maintain – the amount of green space available to residents, visitors and workers. While Winnipeg has a forest canopy of eight million trees, downtown’s tree stock is estimated to be close to 3,000. Our city can support residential growth and tourism attraction by adding more green space for people to gather and enjoy.

Festivals and events bring people outdoors and create lasting memories. Over 950,000 Winnipeggers came downtown to enjoy more than 50 festivals and events in 2014, from wine tastings outdoors and dancing in the street to giant movies at the park and musical performances. Over eight million people frequent downtown arts, cultural and entertainment venues annually. There is no doubt that Winnipeggers have an appetite for arts and theatre, concerts and sporting events. Our city needs to continue to support organizations, people and innovators who are positioning downtown Winnipeg as a premier entertainment destination.

Tours take people by the hand and help unearth new experiences. We all remember our most favourite moments downtown – whether it’s a night out on a patio during the hot summer or a visit to one of downtown’s many architectural hidden gems. Our intimate city experiences are often what we share, celebrate and boast about with our friends, peers and family.

Rather than placing an ad in the paper or paying for a billboard spot, the Downtown BIZ continues to take people by the hand and show them what’s new and exciting in the heart of our city. From cycling to wine tastings to an adventure atop rooftop gardens and a trek along the river trail leading to the historical site of The Forks, Winnipeggers have a special opportunity to discover firsthand with a raft of special tours what makes downtown Winnipeg a unique place to visit.

Focused, personal and intimate tours, in my opinion, are what’s needed in our downtown – and will help expose more and more people to all that’s great about our city’s core. Sometimes it takes just a simple nudge for people’s perceptions to change for the better, and so the Downtown BIZ, with these tours, is asking people to give their downtown a chance.

It belongs to us all

Public spaces need to be open, inclusive and accepting of people from all walks of life. When we look at design and how our cities were built, it is clear they were built by and for individuals with privilege. Our city needs to continue to discuss ways in which we can transform public spaces to be inclusive for all, places where all people belong.

When we create places that give Winnipeggers opportunities to gather, play, and interact, we are sure to boost our city’s overall health and happiness.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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