Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Loop new way to do downtown

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The launch last month of the Loop, a walking tour of central Winnipeg, was initially conceived last year in Boston -- one of the world's most walkable cities.

While attending a conference, I explored Boston's downtown and walked its renowned Freedom Trail, a 4-kilometre urban walking trail created in the 1950s to preserve the story of the American Revolution through 16 historically significant sites.

Today, the Freedom Trail is an integral part of Boston's identity, yielding tremendous economic value via education, tourism and preservation programs.

It's a signature New England experience, attracting more than 3.2 million people annually and contributing to the city's high walkability score of 79 per cent.

After returning home, I started to wonder: Could Winnipeg offer a similar experience for visitors and residents alike? Could we tap into our rich history and iconic architecture while promoting the health-related benefits of walking to elevate our walkable-city status beyond its current 52 per cent standing?

While the physical and social benefits of walking are many, walkability is perhaps best appreciated in the context of urban vitality. A walkable city attracts more visitors and makes downtown living more attractive to a broader range of people, which in turn drives economic activity.

Conventional wisdom used to be you create a strong economy first, then increased population and a higher quality of life would surely follow.

But now the reverse seems more accurate: Creating an enhanced quality of life is the first step toward attracting new residents and generating jobs.

Winnipeg's downtown belongs to everyone. Whatever neighbourhood you call home, downtown is yours, too. Investing in a beautiful and vibrant downtown can be the rising tide that buoys all ships. We should celebrate our downtown and share it willingly with all comers.

Since downtown was the obvious spot for our own walking trail, we kicked things off by examining our current urban landscape and discovered the mechanics were already in place; it was simply a matter of working together to bring the idea to life.

The Loop's launch is a significant milestone in maximizing Winnipeg's natural appeal, recognizing its historic roots and its architectural gems.

Even if you've lived here your entire life, I'm confident you'll discover something new while you're in the Loop. It's a fascinating walk that showcases St. Boniface's historic sites and downtown Winnipeg's distinct districts and landmarks.

Winnipeg is in a state of transformation. From the imminent opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the expansion of the Assiniboine Park and Zoo -- from new commercial mixed-use development to iconic designer architecture that is winning awards. And let's not forget about the exciting Nordic-themed spa opening this fall. An array of new image-building opportunities are on the horizon to add to an already impressive grounding of heritage buildings.

Today's traveller wants to be immersed in the cities they visit. Residents, too, seek sustainability and efforts that preserve a city's heritage while contributing to its economic development and quality of life. Given such high stakes, we should be happy indeed about the Loop.

The Loop is a 9.5-kilometre, 3.5-hour self-guided circuit that invites walkers to explore urban Winnipeg's historic, cultural, architectural and modern-day gems.

Starting off at The Forks, the Loop crosses Esplanade Riel and winds its way through some of St. Boniface's oldest sites. Then it loops back on Provencher Boulevard, goes over the bridge, heads down Waterfront Drive through the cultural and Exchange Districts, and moves up Portage Avenue through the new sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED).

After that, it turns left onto Memorial Boulevard toward the Manitoba Legislative Building, and finally traverses Assiniboine Avenue and Broadway before reaching its end after passing through Union Station back at The Forks.

A brochure describing the Loop includes a map with 50 notable stops explained in both English and French. This great resource is available at visitor centres at The Forks, Tourisme Riel, Tourism Winnipeg, Downtown BIZ, Exchange BIZ and other downtown partner locations.

It's available online at www.tourismwinnipeg.com/theloop. This version includes a printable map and provides walkers with even more information on the sites they'll experience along the way.

Marina R. James is president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2013 A17

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