Canstar Community News - ONLINE EDITION

All downtown needs is more people

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The Downtown Revitalization Group is an internet think-tank/chat room which allows contributors to share ideas about the best way to make our city centre a vibrant and safe place to work and play.

I am not an urban planner but I enjoy reading about some of the unique ways we might avoid having Winnipeg’s downtown turn into a dark abyss straight from a graphic novel after office workers flee to the suburbs every night.

Some of the best and the brightest offer their advice about what to do with The Bay building and how to clean up Portage Place and turn our downtown into a Frank Capra movie scene.

Our downtown is constantly berated for being an unpleasant and unsafe place to be. From street violence to the bother of panhandlers, Winnipeggers say they avoid downtown except for mass gatherings such as a Jets game or a concert because they only feel safe in numbers.

Osborne Village, recently voted the No. 1 neighbourhood in Canada, has the same potential for negative behaviour but, by and large, people feel safe day or night no matter if there is a big event or a quiet night on hand.

So what is the difference?

Pure and simple it’s people.

And so there is really only one answer downtown revitalization. Every effort must be made to increase the number of people who live downtown. Osborne Village is an urban area with lots of commerce and mass transit and maybe even a little less green space than downtown, but it has one of the highest population densities in Canada and that is why it is a relatively pleasant and safe place to live.

The most recent proposal for downtown development is a complex of three towers and a couple of promenades on the parking lot near Eaton Place. The developers have not included a residential component (and they haven’t "ruled it out"). And rumours have it the long vacant space beside the TD Centre at Portage and Main will soon be occupied by a 27-storey office tower.

Residential development should be the first priority in any sane or even bird-brained idea to revitalize downtown. Affordable and upscale rental and ownership units must be available.

Perhaps by sending out this message in such a pure and simple way it might get through. If we want to revitalize downtown, we have to get people to live there. Take it from us here in the Village. The supermarkets and department stores and all the other things people need will follow. And so will a safe, vibrant place to live.

Don Marks is a community correspondent for Osborne Village. You can reach him at marksonthings@gmail.com.

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