August 19, 2017

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Imagine what Portage and Main can be

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2016 (556 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

To open or not to open? This past week, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ stirred Winnipeggers’ thoughts about the re-opening of our iconic intersection, Portage and Main.

More than 40,000 people joined in online and many shared their passionate opinions on social media and at our pop-up display in the underground Winnipeg concourse. It became quite clear this is an issue Winnipeggers care about, so we kept the conversation going at our "Imagine Portage and Main’ event, featuring Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance.

In what proved to be a whirlwind tour, Tompkins spoke with city planners, engineers, transportation experts, councillors and property owners, sharing his experience in turning Times Square’s busiest street into a vibrant pedestrian plaza. He discussed how he collaborated with local architects and transportation authorities, and engaged New Yorkers.

More importantly, he helped shine a light on the challenges other downtowns have and the innovative solutions they are using to create change.

New York’s Times Square demonstrates we are not alone in the championing of great downtowns. Downtowns are the economic drivers of cities. They are the face we present to the rest of the world. Cities need to invest more in their downtowns to keep their cities sustainable and competitive. Attracting investment, tourism and business development can only be achieved by taking advantage of our downtown’s history, culture and people-centred neighbourhoods. Like Portage and Main, these are our greatest assets.

Portage and Main is a hub that can connect The Forks, Exchange District, waterfront and the sports, hospitality and entertainment district. Connecting these neighbourhoods will keep people walking and exploring, and will give them another reason to work, live and visit in the downtown.

Let’s think about Broadway: This majestic thoroughfare and its beautifully lush canopy of elms and wide sidewalks is a place downtown where workers hang out every noon hour, either sitting on a patio or walking from Main Street to Osborne. It is a magnet for companies looking to expand their offices into the downtown, for tourists wanting to listen to music or enjoy cuisine from a bevy of food trucks, and is home to the greatest density of residents in the downtown.

Like Broadway, Portage and Main can become another great place for people. For our downtown to reach its potential, it needs to be a place where people will want to hang out and walk from street corner to street corner. Tompkins explained we need to listen and engage our community in this conversation — hearing out their ideas, visions, concerns and challenges.

Some inspiring and encouraging thoughts came out of the "Imagine’ conversation:

  • In a collaborative way, we need to continue focusing on exercising our imaginations, thinking about how we can make public spaces, such as Portage and Main, incredible.
  • There is potential for economic growth with more pedestrians at Portage and Main. If we can encourage people to hang out here, there are so many spin-offs for street-level retail, which grows the pie for all in this area.
  • As our downtown grows and develops, we need to study movement at the historic corner, to think about managing the flow and choreography of people and vehicles, and to help people to connect above and below grade, as well as to other districts (especially for tourists and those living downtown).
  • We should think holistically, focusing on good design and nurturing its distinct, authentic characteristics, as well as celebrating its history.
  • Incremental change at Portage and Main could be a huge opportunity to take a chance and to experiment (with things such as moveable barricades, pop-up art displays or events), while surveying people to gradually plot what we want and what will work for this intersection.
  • Getting it right at Portage and Main will require consistent, coherent and strategic interventions over time.

Opening Portage and Main to pedestrians and making it part of a downtown vision will need leadership, from the public and politicians.

Thankfully, our downtown, mayor and city departments are committed to the challenge.


Stephanie Voyce and Stefano Grande are with Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

 

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