Downtown belongs to the people

In our Winnipeg, it has always been a central and inclusive meeting place – where people have gathered, raised their voices, been heard and respected and kept safe.

Stefano Grande

Last month, hundreds of thousands of women and their supporters took to the streets in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the United States and Canada and around the world in anti-Trump marches. These marches – powerful, historic and inclusive – took place in the downtown neighbourhoods of their respective cities.

In Washington, site of the largest gathering, a crowd of half a million people met in solidarity to denounce their new president and assert their basic human rights. The gathering took place downtown.

In Toronto, 60,000 people of all ages and representing all faiths, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds gathered at Queen’s Park in the city’s downtown.

And in Winnipeg, more than a thousand people from all corners of our city packed into the atrium at Portage Place Shopping Centre before proceeding to march up and down iconic Portage Avenue, singing, cheering and chanting together in the heart of downtown.

Every march needs a gathering place. Every march needs a meeting place – a place that is familiar to and central to the lives of the people coming together in common cause.

That meeting place needs to be accessible. It needs to be familiar and prominent, safe and tolerant, and able to accommodate big and impassioned crowds.

It needs to be a place that respects diversity, a place where everyone feels welcome. It needs to be historical, meaningful and inspirational, a place that bears witness, embraces participants and encourages spectators to look and listen and learn.

Last month, in hundreds of cities around the world that meeting place was the downtown, proving once again that in spite of the challenges presented by urban sprawl, downtowns remain vital to their cities and to their citizens.

Downtowns offer a unique sense of place that derives from their role as the starting point of their respective cities. They are where their cities’ government, culture, commerce and civic society first began. They are, historically, where city residents have always come together as one.

Here in Winnipeg our downtown has always been a central and inclusive meeting place – a place where people have gathered, raised their voices, held their signs aloft, marched the streets, and been heard and respected and kept safe.

With this march, and many before it and more to come, Winnipeg’s downtown demonstrated that it continues to be such a place – a place where Winnipeggers can loudly and proudly talk about what matters to them, a place where Winnipeggers can come together for any number of causes and concerns.

Downtown is where they can protest presidents or prime ministers, demand action on behalf of missing and murdered women, or celebrate historic anniversaries or unprecedented sports team victories.

As it has done so many times before, downtown Winnipeg once again proved that it is the ideal meeting and marching place, a warm and welcoming public venue eager to give all Winnipeggers the chance to stand up and be heard.

Every march needs a gathering place. In Winnipeg, that gathering place will always be downtown.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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