Winnipeg and its downtown have come alive, but key social, economic and environmental tasks must yet be tackled to create the dynamic core that typifies – and animates – a prosperous city.
By Stefano Grande and Jason Syvixay
According to Statistics Canada, the population of Manitoba’s capital region will increase to 1.6 million, from 1.2 million, by 2036. The trends are clear – more people are moving to urban centres. With rising costs to infrastructure, health care, jobs and transportation networks, managing this population growth should be a central concern during the provincial election.
True global cities are competitive when their knowledge, capital and people are concentrated. With this in mind, social, economic and environmental concerns that pose a barrier to a sustainable province may be reconciled with greater investments in downtowns.
Research tells us downtowns can comprise less than one per cent of a city’s total land area but generate up to 25 per cent of a city’s tax base. Downtowns and vibrant business districts across the province are important economic and social drivers. From Selkirk to Brandon and Thompson to Steinbach, they contribute to community well-being, and their boundaries define the diverse values, aspirations and hopes of our citizens.
As our leaders begin to focus on policies and platforms during the provincial election, we encourage them to mobilize greater participation from the public. Community discussion shapes successful and resilient strategies. As leaders begin to value the virtues of a prosperous city, meaningful job opportunities for business and innovation will begin to flourish throughout the province.
Hosted by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and its stakeholders, a forum in late March held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery spurred discussion with party leaders on the value of downtown Winnipeg. The need for heritage preservation, robust transportation investments to support all modes of travel, ending homelessness and sustaining the use of tax increment financing (TIFs) for residential and downtown district development, were some of the broad conclusions formed. To read their responses to the forum’s questions, visit www.downtownwinnipegbiz.com.
The last decade has seen tremendous growth and change. One of the BIZ’s major priorities has been to keep downtown front and centre in the hearts and minds of the government and Manitobans. The media have played and continue to play a role in shaping the fabric of our city and the thoughts of its people.
Together we have elevated conversations about safety, homelessness, impacts of sprawl on the downtown and inner city and incentives to housing development. Celebrating the arrival of new developments, foot patrols, police cadets, housing for the homeless and new businesses has given our community much-needed confidence to begin believing in the downtown again. With more than $2 billion in private- and public-sector investment over the last decade, our downtown is on the cusp of rebirth.
So what does future momentum and success look like? Where should we be headed in the next 10 years?
The vision for our downtown looks like this: it will be a series of dense, pedestrian-friendly, interconnected neighbourhoods where people of all ages and incomes can live, work and shop. The Exchange District, Waterfront Drive, Chinatown, the sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED), the University of Winnipeg campus, Broadway, Graham Mall, The Forks and Main Street will become vibrant every day of the week.
To get there, we will have clear, long-term redevelopment plans that attract investment for both new and refurbished older buildings. And between these neighbourhoods, where today we find parking lots or eight-lane highways, tomorrow there will be well-designed storefronts and public spaces.
Private and public financing tools such as TIFs are readily available to stimulate this development, in particular to create affordable housing and new commercial spaces, which will support young people who want to invest, live and/or work downtown.
The substance abuse and homelessness we see today and the harms it creates for people will be better managed. The 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness will be fully supported and funded by government and the private sector, and hundreds of homes will be built. Social workers from agencies on the front lines are working together to rapidly house and surround people in need with supports. Downtown will be safer and more tolerant.
Downtown is a place where the culture, music, art and history of our indigenous community resides and is proudly displayed alongside that of our immigrants.
This is an awakening period for the city of Winnipeg, a time when the heart of our city has become fully alive. While the 1980s and nineties showed signs of resuscitation, the failure of deep-rooted policy and the lack of focus to stimulate sustained private-sector development and business growth have already been documented.
The job of ensuring the current momentum continues will now fall upon our next elected government.
Stefano Grande is executive director of the Downtown BIZ. Jason Syvixay is the BIZ manager.