Manitoba Post Articles

Portage and Main.

On October 24, vote to remove the barriers!

So much of success is predicated on attitude – how we feel about ourselves and what image we project to the world. In Winnipeg, the barriers at Portage and Main project a bitter, cold, soviet feeling about us that belongs to a bygone era. This symbol of self-defeat has also become stamped on our psyche as citizens – for many, it is much easier to say we can’t rather than we can.

This is not the Winnipeg that was the Wonder City of the Northwest, that competed with Chicago for supremacy over the grain trade, that sent thousands of influential change makers to the world. But we can have that Winnipeg back. Removing the barriers will do amazing things for how we see ourselves and who we are.

When the barriers were erected, it was to satisfy an out-of-town developer who then abandoned us, reneging on his promise to build a second tower at Graham and Main, a job that is just now being done some thirty years later. It had nothing to do with traffic demands, although that argument was later presented to support the bad decision. Back then, the streets were still teeming with people on Portage Avenue. If you could get them to all go underground, the thinking was, you’d be able to support the merchants who were being enticed to move their retail shops and cafes to the mall

It didn’t work out that way. All the barriers did was drive people indoors, off the streets and eventually away from downtown completely. The only people who shop in the underground mall are those who work in the adjacent high rises and the odd tourist staying at the Fairmont Hotel, and even they are frequently disappointed to learn that nothing is open after five.

The barriers at Portage and Main have made the corner a wasteland, while pedestrians are forced to detour below. (Above right photo by Peter Vanderheyden).

So down with the barriers! Up with people!

If you attended Nuit Blanche this fall, you know how absolutely lovely parts of downtown Winnipeg have become, but you have to experience them on foot, not from your car. It’s the Winnipeg that is shown in the 2017 movie, Lovesick, produced by Winnipeg Film maker Tyson Carson, which has been billed as a love letter to Winnipeg for the beautiful scenes it includes that frame a pretty ordinary love story and make it special.

But to fully exploit and appreciate that Winnipeg, we need to allow it to creep onto our most famous corner and allow those driving by to get a taste of the special flavours of our downtown – just as they do when driving through Osborne Village.

Currently, there is a big screen beside the TD Bank building that at one time showed outdoor movies in the summer. Imagine a revitalization of that idea on that corner where people could sit at a sidewalk café and sip lattes (maybe laced with something spicier) while they watched. Across the street, there could be a laser light show playing over the face of the gracious old Bank of Montreal., and a fountain in front of the Richardson Building (which is already nicely landscaped behind the barriers). Everywhere, there would be people, crossing Portage and Main, to-ing and fro-ing to the Forks and across that lovely bridge to St. Boniface, over to the Exchange and along Main to the Concert Hall and Theatre Centre.

So now we have traffic downtown. Retail shops begin to spring up in the beautiful old heritage buildings North along Main. There is already new life emerging from the 40-storey skyscraper being built at the corner of Graham and Main. Little boutiques and bars spring up along all the arteries leading to our iconic corner, replacing those that did when the barriers went up.

With traffic returning to downtown, there is now impetus to renew the crumbling parkades that dot the area, bringing revenue to the owners and spurring new development. That will help the thousands of people who are paying through the nose for very poor parking accommodation today.

Today, we are becoming more and more aware that living an indoor life can seriously impair our wellbeing through constant exposure to chemicals and a lack of contact with the eco system that feeds our immune systems and internal selves.

Downtowners in a barrier-free Winnipeg are healthier because they can escape the built environment for a quick outdoor trek to one of the many new restaurants at noon. They are safe because they no longer dare the challenge automobiles as they jaywalk across the streets at the end of the barriers.

The disabled now have access. What more needs to be said?

Now, with Portage and Main open, our horizons broaden and suddenly we can see the value of removing the rail lines from our city. Aside from the very real threat these inner city railways pose as they transport volatile substances through our very heart, there is the other barrier – the one that separates north from south, that cuts our town in to haves and have nots.

With the barriers down, our psychology will change as we contemplate how we can instead of why we shouldn’t.

As attitudes change, our bedroom communities, those that make up the Capital Region, will also benefit from a more open and willing point of view from Winnipeg and its citizens, which can only translate into more joint planning, more co-operative action in terms of attracting new business and prosperity.

So now it is up to you Winnipeg: On October 24, you can wallow in the grim past half century, or you can forge ahead to a bright, new, open-minded and open-hearted future, full of courage and confidence by voting to tear down those ugly barriers at Portage and Main.



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