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Grand designs

Behind every favourite public space in Winnipeg is a landscape architect with a vision.

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Winnipeg, be not discouraged by the painful and prolonged embarrassment that is Portage and Main.

Our most famous intersection may be a failure, but Winnipeg has, often despite itself, created some great and beloved public spaces.

Those are the ones with many different uses in all seasons, like the new Central Park downtown where there’s a toboggan run in the winter and performances of Shakespeare in the summer. Great spaces also respect and accentuate existing natural features, such as the huge woodlot preserved as part of the landscaping around the new Winnipeg Humane Society headquarters. Great public spaces are planned to last generations, and evolve, like Assiniboine Park. And they foster neighbourly interaction and promote pride in the city, like The Forks.

Great public spaces include everything from traditional parks such as Vimy Ridge to the plantings and paths around the new Investors Group Field to the distinct way the streets feel in the Exchange District — the lights, the paving stones, the curbs, the benches, the setbacks.

"Any one of your favourite places you think of going in Winnipeg — that’s landscape architecture," said Monica Giesbrecht, a principal at the firm Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram. "The great ones are the ones you don’t even have a clue we designed."

In Winnipeg, landscape architecture sometimes fails to earn much love. Politicians and developers often focus only on the buildings themselves, rather than what’s between them and what binds a neighbourhood together. The creation and maintenance of Winnipeg’s public spaces often isn’t counted in the infrastructure deficit, even though they define the city’s character and make it livable. And landscape architects often get confused with gardeners or get brought in at the end of a project as an afterthought to, as Giesbrecht jokes, put some parsley on the pig.

September is Manitoba’s first Landscape Architecture Month — long overdue, since the province is home to the country’s first and still excellent landscape architecture programs. To mark the month, some of Winnipeg’s best landscape experts — Giesbrecht, Bob Somers from Scatliff+Miller+Murray, and the University of Manitoba’s Ted McLachlan — took stock of Winnipeg’s public spaces, picking some hidden gems and pointing out (many) missed opportunities.

History

Updated on Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 10:23 AM CDT: Spelling mistake corrected

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