Divine inspiration drives downtown green plan
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Cathy Campbell came up with the idea of greening downtown Winnipeg while taking in the view from her office window at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
“I was tired of looking out at parking lots,” said Campbell, then rector at the church located between Smith and Donald streets at Graham Avenue.
As she gazed eastwards, she thought: “’Wouldn’t a park, with a garden and trees, be nice?’ I could almost see it in my mind.”
That was two years ago. Today, Campbell and her successor at Holy Trinity, Andrew Rampton, are on a mission to green up the area along Graham from the old Bay building to Main Street.
Their first step was creating a vision statement for the area.
“We wanted to see more green space,” said Campbell, now an honorary assistant priest at the church.
“It would be great to have a walkable, pleasant community there,” added Rampton, noting the church’s property currently provides the only green space on the street.
Benefits listed in the vision statement include offering a safe and friendly way for people to move between the city’s key attractions, providing more foot traffic for local businesses, improving land utilization and real estate value, and protecting and promoting biodiversity.
“It’s a vision of what downtown Winnipeg could be, a human space for us all,” Campbell said.
Vision in hand, they started knocking on doors. “We would talk to anyone who would listen to us,” she said.
Along the way, they picked up key supporters such as the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, CentreVenture, City of Winnipeg planning department, and local developers and business owners.
“There doesn’t seem to be any opposition to the idea,” said Rampton, noting the city’s transit master plan calls for getting buses off Graham Avenue.
“People just ask what’s the best way to do it so that it serves the most people, and about cost. Otherwise, everyone is in favour.”
An advisory council was created in early 2021, and started meeting to develop a plan.
“We were hoping to be further along by now, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down,” Campbell said.
Their dream is to see Graham Avenue turned into a pedestrian mall, complete with grass, small parks and lots of trees.
“There are 40 trees along the street now, I counted them,” said Campbell. “There should be more.”
A key part of the vision is incorporating Indigenous voices and ideas.
“If the Exchange District is about commercial Winnipeg of old, and Upper Fort Garry is about the colonial era, maybe this can reflect pre-colonial times,” Campbell said, adding that could involve planting prairie grasses and other native species.
As for the parking lots by the church, “We’d love to see the city strike a deal with developers to buy them,” she said, adding: “It would change the whole character of that section of downtown.”
Pamela Hardman, who directs marketing, engagement and communications for Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, supports the plan.
“Improving pedestrian connections and experiences adds to the vibrancy and walkability of our downtown and helps make it a place where people want to explore and spend time,” she said.
“The downtown community coming together to move projects like the green corridor forward shows the strong commitment and passion folks have for the neighbourhood.”
Wendy Janzen, who has experience in the development sector in Winnipeg, is part of the advisory committee.
“I like the idea of creating a healthy and vibrant downtown this way,” she said. “It would help local business.”
She gives Campbell and Rampton a lot of credit.
“Their commitment goes beyond their congregation to the wider community,” she said, adding, in her work, “It’s not usual to spend time talking to churches about this.”
Asked why a church might be leading this effort, Campbell said: “There is a connection between our theology, creation and our neighbourhood. They are hugely entwined.”
Added Rampton: “Christians are called to care for creation care, although we haven’t always been good at this.”
When he looks around downtown, “all I see is asphalt,” Rampton said. “Maybe that’s not the best way to relate to creation.”
It’s not lost on the two there’s a civic election coming up.
“Maybe the new mayor can do something visionary,” Campbell said.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.