The Winnipeg Free Press carried a few comments today from visiting urban planners (“Maybe We’re On The Right Track After All“). For all the negative vibes that Don Street Blog sends out regarding the city, its good to stop for a minute and point out that things have come a long way in the past few years. The list of big downtown projects is huge and a testament to the hard work of groups like Downtown BIZ, Center Venture, and yes, some members of Winnipeg City Council. Great start. Pat yourselves on the back.
However, looking to the future, I am struck by the 2006 census data for downtown neighborhoods. Broadway-Assiniboine, my immediate neighbor, experienced a decline of over 300 people (over 5%) since 2001. The combined South Point Douglas – Exchange District population is sitting at 762. The Forks has a population of zero and the neighborhood on the other side of the bridge has seen a 6.8% population decline. But, it’s not all bad. Spence, with its wonderful neighborhood association, grew 12.5% and Central Park, with its large immigrant population and support from local community centers like Welcome Place and the Knox United Church, saw a growth of 9.4%, including a mini-baby boom.
What do Central Park and Spence have going for them? How can that be replicated in the rest of the city center? My very immodest proposal is that in order for Winnipeg to capitalize on the major projects built in the heart of the city, we need to organize groups locally that can fill in the space between the Mega-Projects with people. These groups create the safe places and communities. They put in the community gardens, make the steets safer, organize the markets. For governments, we need to organize tax incentives provincially and municipally to encourage housing in the downtown. We need to improve public transportation and cycling routes in the city center. And, we need to take a serious look at housing developments near the Forks.
Immodest proposals, yes. But at a time when we should seriously deal with climate change and the looming peak in global oil production, the Province can hardly afford not to have an urban strategy that seeks to dramatically increase downtown density.