Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Winnipeg Urban Renewal Mega-projects: Conclusion

Those were four mega-projects that were support to revitalize parts of the downtown: Civic Centre; Manitoba Centennial Centre; Portage Place and the MTS Centre.

The buildings and services provided by these facilities were all needed but in some cases the projects grew much larger than required and stifled the spin-off effects that they were supposed to create around them.

One might argue that had some of the complexes been split up and a series of smaller, purpose-built buildings were peppered around the core that it may have been cheaper and may have had a greater impact - it certainly would not have had less of an impact.

Given the money spent for very few results have we gone off the mega-project as a developemnt tool ? Not really.

Hydro Building
Currently underway is the Manitoba Hydro Tower. Not located in the traditional office tower section of downtown or filling in one of the many vacant lots and pads that scar the face of downtown, the decision was made to remove a square block of retail on the south side of Portage. Retailing not that strong ? Tear it down and replace it with something else.

Main Street
600 Main Demolition
There is also the WRHA building on Main Street. An area undergoing a grassroots revitalization with artists lofts and galleries, a café and a couple of existing businesses moving into the area to take advantage of cheap rents. Instead of continuing to encouraging or fostering the bottom-up changes that were taking place, the city instead made masterminded a plan to tear down a block long section of the street for a low rise, suburban style office building.

Point Douglas
Still in the debate stage is the grandest revitalization project, both in terms of land and cash, since The Forks or North Portage: the South Point Douglas Stadium. Another $300m in the hopes of creating a massive area revitalization with a football stadium as the anchor.

Why do we keep going back to the mega-project when we need to revitalize ?

I think there are a couple of reasons.

Winnipeg is very much an old boys network. If one of a handful of people come forward to present a project they will get the ear of the people in power. These projects, if created on a grander scale, can include publicl finance from those in power. Hard to justify building a number of small projects when you can get 50% - 75% of the cost covered for you from the public purse.

Winnipeg is very much a suburban city. Perhaps 70% of people polled might say they would love to see a vibrant downtown but it's likely that 15% of theme would actually go downtown next time they want to grab a bite or catch a movie. People are waiting for 'big change" and big project, it is hoped, will prove to them tht there has been big change.

There seems to be little support for community or grassroots revitalization. Austin's famed 6th Avenue is just a collection of low rise, some in poor condition, buildings that people would go to to catch live music. We've had a couple of examples of that in the past - Osborne Village and Corydon are two but I could not imagine Selkirk Avenue or even Ellice Avenue ever becoming the same thing unless the bulldozers were sent in first.

From looking at these past projects, and the new ones on the horizon I really shake my head at Winnipeg's fondness for the mega-project as revitalization tool. I assume we're never going to learn the lesson until the core of the city is just a checkerboard of well intentioned but unsuccessful mega-projects.

Then we can send in the bulldozers and start all over again.


Anonymous said...

That was a very insightful survey of Winnipeg's past and present downtown megaprojects. What are your thoughts on the RRC Princess Street Campus and where it fits into this all? It is smaller than most (or all) of the other megaprojects you mentioned, but it appears to have had a bigger effect on its surroundings than the other larger, costlier megaprojects.

Christian Cassidy said...

The projects that I think have done well are RRC, The Forks and the Millennium Library.

Big difference is that they bring people down to the site throughout the day / week just just 9-5. RRC and the Library aren't as sexy as the other but they get the job done. I think RRC has made a bigger difference in three years than the Civic Centre did in 30.

jonathan said...

Check out Bartley Kives' article in today's Detour section. The subject should seem a little familiar to you.

Anonymous said...

Heh. I thought the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Great job on reviewing the mega-projects. It seems that we've now built little islands to visit and need to fill in the gaps between these projects with people. A major move to build housing in the city center would be great.

what do you think will need to be done to see that happen?

Christian Cassidy said...

You're right about the islands. Part of that is the size of the downtown, the other IMHO is a lack of overall planning when it comes to these things. We get the "shiny object" excitement and repeat it here and there but there's not follow through on how to stitch them together over time.

Anonymous said...

The idea of islands of development amid parking-lot wasteland had me think about downtown density. Take a look see if you'd like.