Chapter 1. INTRODUCTION

The central business district of Winnipeg is generally regarded as the area lying between the C.P.R. tracks on the north, the Assiniboine River on the south, the Red River on the east, and Sherbrook Street on the west. This area is relatively large about 1,400 acres and contains more than merely the central business district “core”; it contains in addition to the core a substantial “frame” around the core in which are contained a variety of industries including retailing, wholesaling, manufacturing, and service, as well as a considerable number of dwelling typical of the "frame" area of most North American cities.

This central area, for the purpose of study and analysis, has been divided into four component areas. The first of these components is the area lying between the C.P.R. tracks and Notre Dame Avenue, west of Main Street. The City of Winnipeg has commissioned an urban renewal scheme to be prepared for this area, known as “Urban Renewal Area 2”; the Final General Report for the scheme was presented to the City in January, 1968.

The second component area is that which lies east of Main Street, between the C.P.R. tracks on the north, and the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers on the south. This area is known as “Urban Renewal Area 3”. The City of Winnipeg has also commissioned an urban renewal scheme to be prepared for this area, and the Final General was presented to the City's Housing and Urban Renewal Department in April, 1969.

The [XMLmind] component area is that which lies west of Memorial Boulevard to Sherbrook Street. A study of this area is now in preparation, and the report will be published in due course.

The fourth component area is the balance of the central business district and lies between Notre Dame Avenue on the north, the Assiniboine River on the south, Main Street on the east, and Memorial Boulevard-Colony Street on the west. This area is the subject of the present report and is referred to here as “the Downtown”. In fact, this area which may be regarded as “the Downtown” proper; the other three areas are more correctly regarded as the fringe areas or "frame" of the Downtown.

The findings of this report can come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with urban affairs, and is informed about what is happening to the cities of North America. The report reveals that Winnipeg's downtown is going through the same changes as the Downtowns of other cities of this continent: it has lost most of its resident population; the people who are left are older and poorer than the "average" in the city; it is losing its manufacturing, wholesaling, and warehousing industries; it is losing retail trade; only its services industries are holding their own but the volume and rate of new investment in the area are not sufficient to compensate for the losses. In short, Winnipeg's Downtown, like that of many North American cities, is declining.

The report proposes a plan to reverse the prevailing trend, and to bring the Downtown back to a condition of flourishing vitality and activity. This plan requires a number of special, perhaps even extraordinary measures on the part of the public; it can only be realized through the strategic expenditure of public money, and great public effort. It seems reasonable to ask therefore why such special measures are justified.

Why, indeed, should the public make a great effort to reverse what seems to be a “natural” trend, and try to bring a high level of investment and development activity into this particular part of the city?

A number of persuasive answers can be given to that question. To begin with, there is already a very heavy public capital investment in the Downtown in utilities and services. These in the main are still in good condition, with a considerable life expectancy, but with a growing unused capacity. As more of the population and businesses of the central area are decentralized to the suburbs, the use of the Downtown services and utilities declines. At the same time however, new capacity has to be created in the suburbs to accommodate the new development there. In fact the new suburban services have to be designed for an ultimate capacity far in excess of present demand, because the growth of the suburbs is expected to continue beyond their present levels. This means that excess capacity is also being created in the Downtown, due to the decline in the number of users, the community finds itself in the situation in which it is carrying two sets of systems, neither of which at the present time is fully utilized. This represents a high social cost.

The proliferation of the suburbs also means the extension of public services whose economy is a function of the number of users per unit. If there are few users per given unit of service, then the cost per capita is high; if there are many users, the per capita cost is reduced. Suburban development compared to central area development, is low density; the per capita cost of services is very high compared to that in developments of high density. The Downtown can only be developed at high densities, and consequently offers greater economy of per capita services costs.

The private sector, too, has an enormous investment Downtown. This part of the city has the highest concentration of private investment in the entire metropolitan area, and it contributes far more than any other part of the city to the general metropolitan economy. The value of buildings, the size of the payroll, are all more highly concentrated Downtown than anywhere else. And the public revenues derived from this concentration are higher than from any other area of equivalent size. It does not seem reasonable that a sector of the city which is so important to the area’s economy, and which represents such a valuable public and private interest should be allowed to decline and be dispersed through the slow process of decentralization, attrition, and neglect.

All of the above considerations are of great importance. But they are not the only arguments in favor of rehabilitating the central area. They may not even be the most important or the most persuasive considerations. Perhaps the most telling argument in favor of a special-effort to revitalize Downtown is the fact that the future of the whole of Metropolitan Winnipeg hinges to a very degree on what is going to become of the central business district.

This critical relationship is so because the character and personality of a city are expressed by its Downtown; the image of a city which is presented to the world is that which is projected by its central business district. The truth of this proposition becomes immediately apparent when one calls to mind the great cities of the world. The image which the names Paris, New York, London, Moscow, Montreal, Stockholm, Vienna, Copenhagen, conjure up is the image of their central business area; and it is so not merely for the greatest cities but generally for all cities.

At [XMLmind] present time Winnipeg has lost some ground to other cities in the Canadian hierarchy, and particularly has lost some ground to Calgary and Edmonton as the great metropolis of western Canada. Winnipeg’s image has deteriorated to some extent over the last decade or two, which has been a reflection of the city's relatively modest rate of growth of population and new development when compared with other centres in Canada where growth has been more dynamic.

Winnipeg is now at the point where it must build a new character and a new image which will command confidence and admiration if it is to attract the type and magnitude of investment which will enable it to continue to occupy a place amongst the first rank of Canadian cities. Such a character and such an image can only be created in the Downtown.

The issue at stake here is not merely whether Winnipeg can continue to occupy the fourth place in the hierarchy of Canadian cities, but whether it can continue to improve the quality of life for its citizens. The question of growth and size is meaningful only insofar as it is related to the growth of personal opportunity and the enrichment of life which that growth makes possible. These ends are not necessarily best served by the explosive growth rates of the multi-million population cities. A more satisfactory rate of improvement can probably be achieved by much smaller communities and by much more modest rates of growth. But growth and investment both are certainly required. Without them a city is unable to build the facilities it requires to house all of its many activities, or to attract and hold the people with the talent, energy and dedication necessary for high achievement. In order to attract such investment and such people, Winnipeg must become more attractive than it is. Such attractiveness can only be created in the Downtown.

The development of a highly imaginative and exciting central area will attract new people and new investment not only to Winnipeg’s Downtown, but also to the suburbs. Everybody shares the character and reputation of a city’s Downtown, and everybody benefits if that character and that reputation have power to charm and excite and attract not only new people, but new investment, new ideas, new activities. Because of this the benefits of an attractive Downtown will flow in full measure into the suburban areas.

For all of these reasons the revitalization of the Downtown should be undertaken, and should be given the necessary support by all segments of the metropolitan community.

The following report sets out the findings of a study which began in April, 1967, and is completed with the publication of this document. The report reviews the trends in the Downtown, documents its present condition, analyzes its problems, and makes proposals for re-creating it in a new, exciting, and attractive image.

Inherent in the report is the idea that the changes which are adversely affecting the Downtown of the North American city can themselves be changed. What are sometimes referred to by conventional wisdom as “natural trends” are not “natural”, but are the result of man-made circumstances. The movement of population and investment out of the central area, in some quarters regarded as "natural", has occurred as a result of conscious actions of men seeking certain social goals which were felt to be good, and those movements can be reversed and changed by the actions of men arising out of a different view of the kind of city which is found to be desirable.

It is to be hoped that the facts of the report will be found to be true, its argument sound and persuasive, and the new image it proposes for the Downtown desirable. If so there is every reason to hope that the community will unite in bringing that new image to reality. And if that happens, there is no doubt that Winnipeg, in the coming decades, will emerge as one of the leading cities not only of Canada, but of the North American continent.

Illustration 1-A: Aerial View of Downtown from the South.