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"I am a fourth year Environmental Design student at the University of Manitoba, focusing my studies in Landscape and Urbanism. Originally from a little town in the middle of nowhere, BC, I moved to Winnipeg 5 years ago to pursue design. After a brief hiatus studying abroad in Denmark, I returned to Canada to finish my studies. I learned about Design Quarter a few months ago while searching for design non-profits in Winnipeg. I really like what they are trying to achieve here in the city, so I reached out to Zephyra and began volunteering in July 2017. It’s been a great opportunity, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it!" - Madeleine Dafoe, Environmental Design Student Blogger

"WHO ARE WE?" BY MADELEINE DAFOE

Design Quarter Winnipeg does more than act as a sign-post, pointing consumers in the right direction. We strive to create a navigable, walkable and local experience with a focus on community and quality. For my second blog, I thought that I would delve deeper into the story of Design Quarter to help you better understand what it’s all about!

Johanna Hurme, Design Quarter Winnipeg’s board chair, is originally from Helsinki, Finland, which has a vibrant, cultural area known as, Design District Helsinki. Johanna observed that Winnipeg had many of the seeds needed to grow a similar concept, it just needed a push in the right direction. As the Executive Director of Design Quarter, Zephyra Vun, tells me “[Johanna] had the idea to bring this 'design district' concept to Winnipeg in response to the ever-growing demographic of design-conscious consumers, and the plethora of talented makers [that] we have here in Winnipeg.”

With this plan in mind, the team at Design Quarter set about creating a framework for members focusing on businesses who had a strong connection or consideration for design, were locally owned, had unique things to offer the city and had consistency in branding. The goal of Design Quarter, as a non-profit, is to exhibit the creativity and individuality of local businesses that we have here in Winnipeg and to make them accessible to both locals and visitors. As Zephyra says, “design tourism is a growing trend, and Winnipeg has certainly put itself on the map as a cultural hub over the past several years.” Yet, many of us living here in Winnipeg are unaware of just what our downtown can offer. Design Quarter hopes to change this by providing colour coded maps and online resources that help promote the members of the Quarter and draw foot traffic into downtown.

An events page on Design Quarter’s website, for example, provides details on upcoming events, and an online map links with your GPS allowing you to navigate to member businesses around central Winnipeg. All of the members of Design Quarter are within minutes of each other in downtown, The Forks and the Exchange District encouraging visitors to walk between businesses and experience Winnipeg’s historic buildings, dense tree canopies in the summer, and bustling pedestrian thoroughfares along the way.

We see walkability as an essential factor in the growth of any big city as it promotes denser downtown cores, transit-oriented development, and fosters a better sense of community. As a heavily car-dependent city, Winnipeg needs to encourage walkability to intensify growth downtown and discourage the sprawl of our suburbs. “We hope that by showcasing what kind of the unique, local offerings are accessible just by walking through our downtown, Winnipeggers will be less reliant on their vehicles to get from place to place,” says Zephyra, “Many Winnipeggers don't realize that it only takes 12 minutes to walk from the Exchange District to The Forks!”

Still a relatively new organization, Design Quarter Winnipeg will celebrate its one year anniversary in May 2018. We aim to hold 1 to 2 major events every year, and in addition, host many private and public tours. Our first event, held in May of last year, was our public launch with media coverage in Old Market Square and an interactive VIP tour of some of our members. We have also collaborated with Upside Down Tree, Winnipeg Design Festival, and Nuit Blanche to hold other events throughout the year. We are currently planning another event for late March, which will feature a Design Quarter market / immersive design experience!

We owe much of our success to our dedicated members. We currently have 54 members but are hoping to reach 100 by year 3 or 4. By this point, Design Quarter will become self-sustaining, no longer reliant on outside funding and sponsorships. Zephyra tells me that, “the objective is to build the density and collective power necessary to hit the critical mass of local, downtown businesses.”

“One of our main objectives is to not only provide a strong marketing platform or strategy for local businesses already in the Exchange District and surrounding area but also to encourage new design entrepreneurs to move into [downtown],” says Zephyra. We want to create a base for these businesses to network and interact with each other, not just within the Exchange, but also at The Forks, and within the broader area of downtown. By promoting this, we will encourage a strong, united community of local business within Winnipeg, “creating one impactful, connected community of creatives,” as Zephyra puts it. Our goal is that by putting this framework in place and creating these connections, we will help to attract more creative entrepreneurs into Winnipeg’s downtown. In doing this, we will help expedite the process of rejuvenation within the city centre and create a more vibrant community.

We already see interest from many start-ups and businesses in different areas of the city, who are interested in Design Quarter and our goals. As Zephyra says, “[this] is a sign that we are heading in the right direction, and generating a dialogue about the significance of design culture in our everyday lives, and the importance of spotlighting Winnipeg's central, creative destinations."

We would not be where we are today without our Partners, Board of Directors, and, of course, our outstanding members. Partnerships with associations like Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba help us reach a broader market, and our Board of Directors volunteer their time and expertise, connecting us to the right people, to ensure that the ideas we create here at Design Quarter Winnipeg are possible, and will come to fruition. Design Quarter Winnipeg would not be possible without all of these key players, and as Zephyra says, “we [are] so impressed by the positive response we received immediately at the onset of the initiative, so many talented Winnipeggers ready to support and get involved.”