• phone: (204)977-2142
  • fax: (204)257-2331
  • mobile: (204)799-9330

You must have Adobe Flash installed

Blog by Ursula Thiessen

<< back to article list

What Does Woodwards say about Winnipeg's Downtown?

Picture from http://vancouver.ca/bps/realestate/woodwards/

I began my day today in an interesting, but appropriate way. I was in attendance at Robert Enright's book launch Body Heat: The Story of Woodward's Redevelopment.  A story on how one of Canada’s most innovative mixed-use developments became a reality after many years of dormancy as a derelict department store!

Several years ago I visited Vancouver with my wife and family.  Being from a long line of Real Estate investors, we decided  before we visited Stanley Park, we all wanted to see what downtown Vancouver was working on.  It was at this time that we strolled into the show room for the exact development Robert Enright discusses in his book.

This mixed use development of approximately one million square feet contains market and non-market residences, a 1908 heritage building with retail, offices and a daycare centre and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. It also includes public spaces and urban parks. All of the 536 market condos sold in a day over three years ago while low-income families and single residents are moving into the 200 affordable rental apartments.

As one development promotional ad proudly states: Woodward’s champions ideals of heritage revival, sustainable design, mixed-use planning and contemporary culture. 

Mr. Enright’s thoughts on what our city can learn from the Woodward’s story is intriguing. I enjoyed the presentation by Robert Enright on this amazing, and  by world standards, housing mega-project. The costs, complexity and sheer will of the developers is astounding. The differing political/demographic/cultural groups that met and allowed this development is beyond my comprehension.

But what to make of it for Winnipeg? Its far to large, expensive and extreme for Winnipeg’s more frugal economic climate, but there was still much to provoke thought on how it relates to Winnipeg.

Probably the most important single thought I left with was how the development's brave, honest, and in the end, successful marketing did not run away from urban grit but instead it embraced it. In contrast, I, in Winnipeg, as the downtown specialist, am forced (the only true word to use) to down play this same grit. Vancouver marketing genius Rennie is bold in stating “live bold or go back to the suburbs” and using wording that states “not manufactured, homogenized, or Walt Disnified”, this development is where drugs change hands and the homeless roam the street. This approach in Winnipeg would gather attention but for all the bad reasons.

Winnipeggers, I agree with Rennie's view of city centres, "If you live downtown, any downtown in any big city in the world, crime, poverty and the whole urban bowl of spaghetti is the rule". And people love it. Paris, New York and all the great cities of the world have a virtual “circus” in their downtowns and the world loves them for it.

When will we arrive in our city's centre together. When will we understand a big open field of grass doesn’t make for a great city, but rather tight, lively interaction creates the human dynamic that makes life interesting. When will we grow up and leave our small town vision behind.

I don’t know but when I see how Vancouver breathes and lives, when I examine their often enlightened approach to social issues, their green obsession, their health obsession, I think we need to learn from them, accept our gritty downtown landscape and plant some seeds for growth.

I know, I know, the grass is always greener, and they have their problems, but listening to Mr. Enrights stories about the Woodward development, I left jealous of our West Coast fellow Canadians. And all I can think is, why doesn't all the fertilizer our politicians spread, make Winnipeg's proverbial grass a little greener?

Picture from http://vancouver.ca/bps/realestate/woodwards/