Winnipeg in the 1890s was a bustling city of 30,000 people. Horse-drawn carriages dodged new electric trolley cars as pedestrians click-clacked along oak-plank boardwalks lining the sides of wide, mud-packed streets.
In residential areas, the tradition of planting boulevard trees was initiated to beautify the featureless prairie city. Many of the 12,000 elm trees planted in that first decade were located in the Hudson's Bay Company Reserve, a parcel of land surrounding Upper Fort Garry, retained by HBC as payment for surrendering Rupert's Land in 1870.
Over the past few weeks, Winnipeg newspapers have been filled with scandalous stories of government mismanagement and partisanship that has paralyzed city hall in a quagmire of resignation, accusation and recrimination.
As the citizens of Winnipeg focused on the dysfunction of their city's municipal leadership, voters in Alberta's two largest cities went to the polls to elect what has been dubbed Canada's dynamic duo of civic politics. In Edmonton, former city councillor Don Iveson, 34, received nearly two-thirds of the vote to become Canada's youngest big-city mayor. Calgary's wildly popular incumbent mayor, Naheed Nenshi, 41, swept back into power with support from almost three-quarters of voters.
‘IT is fatal to specialize... the more diverse we are in what we do, the better.’ — Jane Jacobs
In 1961 Jane Jacobs wrote her landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It would redefine our understanding of what makes urban areas vibrant, prosperous and safe. Jacobs likened the city to a living organism, where physical elements such as buildings, parks and sidewalks worked in harmony with social and economic conditions to create a spontaneous blend of what she called "organized complexity." She emphasized the importance of buildings that interact with their surroundings and engage pedestrians along the sidewalk, insisting even large buildings be attractive, welcoming and offer a visually rich experience at the human scale.
At 10 o'clock this morning, there will be precisely 2,000 days left until the intersection of Portage and Main, Winnipeg's famous windy corner, can legally be opened once again to pedestrians. Whether it will open or not remains to be seen.
The story is well-known by now. With the construction of the Trizec building in the late 1970s, an underground connection was made to each of the intersection's four corners. In an effort to force people into the shops that lined the concourse, a 40-year agreement was signed with the six adjacent property owners that read, "The city agrees that it will not consent to any construction of a pedestrian crossing over or under any street" (at Portage and Main). Concrete barricades adorned with colourful flowers were installed and the intersection was sealed off to a generation of people.
Winnipeggers have traditionally had an off and on relationship with the architecture of their city. At the beginning of the last century we built with the optimism of a young metropolis destined to become the Paris of the Prairies. We raised the tallest building in the country and the finest marble and terra-cotta banking halls on the continent stood as a symbol of our promise. Winnipeg was animated with finely manicured parks, bustling sidewalks and busy urban plazas. Its citizens held a deeply rooted connection to their built environment. They had big-city solutions for big-city dreams.
In the decades ending that century, we became indifferent to the built quality of our city. Buildings were no longer constructed with the same permanence. The suburbs exploded, our parks fell into disrepair, the city centre was deserted and urban planning became an exercise in traffic management. We even gave our most famous intersection a makeover with all the charm of a freeway exit ramp.
Winnipeg's population is nearing 800,000 and is growing by more than 10,000 per year. Property values are rising, construction is happening and the economy is prospering. We have an IKEA, a professional hockey team and a half-dozen new towers rising in our skyline.
Winnipeg is without question a progressing city -- but is it a progressive one?
Looking down from the terraces during the opening of Investors Group Field, many Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans may have wondered, why doesn't the University of Manitoba simply pave that overgrown golf course to the north and let everyone park on it?
The simple answer is the U of M has much greater plans for the former Southwood Golf Course, adjacent to their Fort Garry campus. In 2011, the university took the bold step of acquiring the oldest golf course in Manitoba, the first 18-hole track designed by renowned landscape architect Stanley Thompson. Their vision is to transform the tree-lined fairways into a high-density neighbourhood of at least 4,200 residential units (equivalent to almost two dozen 20-storey condo towers) and 21,000 square metres of retail space (roughly five Safeway stores). The development will integrate dense, mid-rise, multi-family buildings with public green space and pedestrian networks, linked to the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor that's being extending to the new stadium.
The Archives of Manitoba are filled with photos of buildings, but there are none of parking lots. Urbanites hate them. Mayors and premiers campaign against them. Parking lots are a maligned group.
It is easy to love a building, to find beauty and meaning in stone columns and arched windows, but nobody ever considers the story of a parking lot or wonders what ghosts might linger on their asphalt surfaces.carl
On a late November evening in 1877, the distinctive clip-clop, clip-clop of horses' hooves would pierce through Winnipeg's cold autumn air. The setting sun outlined the silhouette of an overloaded stagecoach staggering along the sharp prairie horizon. Curious onlookers were drawn by the moan of rigid wheels struggling to navigate the city's dusty Main Street. Unfamiliar sounds of foreign voices came from within the American caravan transporting the first three Chinese settlers to the isolated town of 6,500 people.
Charley Yam, the leader of the three, would soon open the city's first Chinese laundry on Post Office Street (now Lombard Avenue). Three months later, demanding better living conditions, his employees would stage an armed revolt. The 'Chinese War' would captivate readers of the Manitoba Free Press, which announced the end of the week-long standoff with the simple message, "Two Chinese laundries are now in operation in this city." Six more would open over the next eight years.
There is nothing more frustrating than flying into a new city while sitting in the middle seat of an airplane. You stretch to see over the person beside you who's pressed up against the small round window. You strain to catch a glimpse of the city passing below you, trying to formulate that first impression of the place you are about to experience.
We often seem to rate the urban quality of North American cities in this way, as if we are 1,000 feet in the air. The size of its freeways or the height of its skyline resonate as symbols of civic affluence and vibrancy.
Winnipeg doesn't have Vancouver's majestic seawall or Calgary's mountain backdrop. It doesn't have a Maritime harbour or a hulking, big-city skyline.
Winnipeg is flat and remote and often way too cold.
Ask any Winnipegger what their favourite piece of public art is and the response will likely be a confused look and the question, "Winnipeg has public art?"
Ours is an artistic community. With only two per cent of Canada's population, we have 12 per cent of its musicians. We have the country's oldest civic art gallery, French-language theatre, English regional theatre and dance company. We are home to a renowned symphony and numerous artistic festivals. Despite this creative heritage, we have fallen behind other major Canadian cities in our funding for and implementation of great public art.
Winnipeg is a garbage city.
We send more of it to the landfill than any other municipality in Canada, generating 750,000 tonnes of waste each year. This is equal to the weight of nearly 200,000 full grown African elephants, representing more than 1,000 kilograms from each citizen. Even with a blue box in every home, we divert only 17 per cent of our waste from the landfill, the lowest recycling rate in the country and one-third of what cities like Vancouver and Toronto accomplish. That's a lot of elephants.
Do you ever wake up in the morning, turn on the weather channel and notice the temperatures shown at The Forks are often several degrees warmer than those at the airport?
You wouldn't think an area's climate would change over six kilometres, but it turns out that annually, the average overnight low at The Forks is -0.7 C while at the airport it is almost three degrees colder at -3.4 C. On sunny summer days, the temperature variation between the downtown and the outskirts of the city can reach six or seven degrees Celsius.
2Home to inspiring modern architecture, set within a dense and vibrant urban context, the most significant impression any visitor has of the Scandinavian capital is an overwhelming presence of bicycles.
In Copenhagen, 37 per cent of the population ride their bikes to work every day. With a vast, integrated system of separated lanes and dedicated lights, rush-hour traffic can often be heavier for cyclists than motorists. The system is so safe only 15 per cent of Danes choose to wear a helmet.
First we need to fix the roads, replace the sewers, fill the potholes. Our property taxes are too high already. We can't afford it. It would cost too much. There are bigger priorities for Winnipeg.
Sentiments like these have generally followed recent public discussion over the potential relocation and redevelopment of the Canadian Pacific Railway yards northwest of the downtown. Instigated by a request to government (by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg) for a feasibility study, the public debate has met with significant skepticism over the value of what seems to be an unachievable goal, considering the apparent costs and current economic pressures on local government.
Dec. 15, 2010: Winnipeg city council approves demolition of the Shanghai Restaurant building at 228 King St. with the following condition for redevelopment: "preparation of a firm redevelopment proposal and a formal application for a building permit."
July 18, 2012: Approval for demolition is granted with the following change to the original conditions: "receipt of an urban design submission that meets the intent of council not to allow a surface parking area."
In the spring of 1997, as a prairie ocean slowly formed around our city, we anxiously followed along as the provincial flood forecaster reported the rising water levels each day, describing it as 21, 22 or 23 feet above James. The term became a local catchphrase, but few people knew that "James" referred to the James Avenue Pumping Station, an unassuming little building along the Red River in the Exchange District.
As the waters receded, the spotlight dimmed and the building's last moments of fame faded away. A century earlier, however, the pumping station was one of the most important buildings in our growing young city.
So... what now?
Over the past few months, Winnipeggers have been captivated by the most recent chapter in one of our city's great legends of modern folklore, the search for the ever-elusive "world-class Winnipeg water park."
We waited 15 years for an NHL hockey team. Now we have one. We waited 36 years for an IKEA. Next Christmas we will have one. We waited 53 years for a modern rapid transit system. In two weeks we will have one. Well, sort of.
After more than a dozen studies, countless advisory committees and an endless number of task forces, Winnipeg's first, three-kilometre-long rapid transit line will soon be running. This modest first step comes more than five decades after the now infamous 'Wilson Plan' first recommended the creation of a rapid transit system for Winnipeg.
Moonlight sparkled on the water as a sleek new cargo ship backed away from her Vancouver dock and quietly slipped into the dark November night. Without ceremony, the Clifford J. Rodgers set sail for the Yukon carrying a shipment of beer, stored for the first time in a series of specially fabricated stacking metal containers. On that autumn night in 1955, she became the first cargo ship in the world to use this revolutionary technology that would transform the global economy in the 20th century.
Today, 90 per cent of the world's cargo is transported in standardized shipping containers, with more than 20 million containers making 200 million trips each year.
Winnipeg had a great year in 2011. The lengthy string of positive urban development headlines was recently interrupted, however, by the announcement that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is facing a significant funding shortfall. This has provided fuel to the critics of what will forever be a controversial building, but for many in the construction industry it is not a surprising development.
Construction cost inflation is a challenge most projects in Manitoba have confronted in recent years. The double-edged sword of high growth is as construction activity increases and contractors become busier, competitive bidding and cost stability decrease. Over the past years, Manitobas construction cost escalation has been as much as three times the inflation rate.
Sign, sign. Everywhere a sign. Blockin' out the scenery. Breakin' my mind. Do this. Don't do that. Can't you read the sign?
These famous song lyrics colourfully illustrate how ubiquitous signs have become in our urban environment. Street signs, billboards, traffic signs and video screens are all inescapable components of every cityscape.
At 4:20 on Sunday afternoon a puck dropped, a crowd roared and our isolated little burg instantly regained its place in the elite club of major-league cities. With this, a new confidence has emerged, galvanizing our civic pride and public spirit.
While basking in the national spotlight, it is easy to forget that in only eight short months our beloved community-owned football team will be contributing its own bit of swagger to Winnipeg's new big-league attitude, with the opening of its new stadium at the University of Manitoba.