June 07, 2012
On the demolition of WinnipegDear Councillor _____________
Hopefully you have been approached by constituents about this issue already. Obviously, the Free Press article about the sale/demolition of the Fortune Building is speculative – but it speaks to an ongoing problem with this city.
It seems that what city council values and what the citizens value are two different things. We LOVE our old buildings. Visitors to Winnipeg LOVE our old buildings. And we all LOVE the small, unique, character-filled businesses that make their homes in them.
It is these businesses and buildings that give Winnipeg its special character. It is what visitors remark about to their friends when they go back home. It is what gives our city a personality. A brand, if that word works for you.
No tourist falls in love with a city for its discount stores or ample parking. In the past 8 months I have been in Berlin, Montreal, Chicago, Milan, Amsterdam, Austin and Seattle. And lots more, actually – but those are the most important ones. I’m in the music industry, and I see a lot of cities – and it shines a giant spotlight on all the things we do wrong here. But it also inspires lots of ideas for things we could do right.
I just spent a week in San Francisco. Why is San Francisco so densely packed, wealthy, and a hotbed for both tourism and innovative ideas? Because it knows what its strengths are, builds on them, and doesn’t let short-sighted decisions get in its way. The Fillmore neighbourhood – similar to Osborne Village & Corydon – actually has a BAN on chain-stores to ensure the special character of the neighbourhood is preserved. And it is the 2nd hottest retail market in the city – property values that would make Academy Road’s most expensive outlets blush with trepidation. (And here we are demolishing two small, unique business buildings in Osborne Village for … a Shoppers Drug Mart?)
And yet within the most expensive S.F. neighbourhoods lie assorted old buildings and neighbourhood businesses – just like Times Change(d) – a great little music club that has done more for our city outside our boundaries than almost any other business in this city.
Now, to my point: we have it backwards. We keep tearing down our strengths in order to develop what we are lacking. New residential development is great! But build it across Main Street on the empty lot. Build it across from the Canada Post/Police building on Graham. Build it on any number of parking lots downtown. We have so much space to use up before we should consider taking anything down.
It is time for City Council to develop an aggressive and visionary plan for downtown. Reward the businesses and developments that make it a better place. Give them incentives. And penalize the surface parking lots that make downtown an embarrassment.
Here’s the easy part:
With the right incentive/penalty policy and our city’s current growth you could fill downtown with new 3-5 story residential in 10-15 years, triple the downtown population – which will support downtown businesses, raise land values, get more people walking the streets – which makes it SAFER and HEALTHIER, by the way – and create a vibrancy this city hasn’t seen since … well, since we started tearing down buildings for parking lots back in the 50’s.
We are NOT anti-development. We are excited by the idea of new residential and commercial buildings downtown – they are sorely needed! But we want them designed well and we want them built into the existing urban fabric. We want downtown to be treated like our city’s living room, not its garage.
Michael Petkau Falk