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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

"Walking in winter wonderland" by madeleine dafoe

Walk Score compiled a list rating the walkability of many large Canadian Cities. Winnipeg has earned itself a mediocre rating of 53 out of a possible 100 points. This score reflects accurately the mix of walkability that we find within the city. While areas like Charleswood and Sage Creek are miserably unwalkable, neighbourhoods like Osborne Village and the Exchange District score nearly perfect scores. The walkability of our downtown core is important to the cultural health of our city. Many of the small shops in the Exchange would disappear without steady pedestrian traffic. Businesses like our Design Quarter members help to bolster the walkability of Winnipeg’s downtown keeping it lively and interesting at all times of the year.

We reached out to a few of our Design Quarter Members to discuss ways in which they promote pedestrian traffic and create a lively streetscape even in Winnipeg’s grueling winters.

 Image: @forth_wpg Instagram

Image: @forth_wpg Instagram

When you are walking down McDermot towards the river you will come across an old brick building surrounded by Tyndall Stone at the base. The windows, raised above street level, offer you a glimpse in, while warm light pours out. The patio swoops in on one side inviting you towards the building with the wooden slat benches guiding you. This patio is always bustling with friends chatting and business people meeting over coffee. The patio seeps life into the surrounding streetscape and brightens the whole block. 

When asked, Pamela Kirkpatrick from Forth confirmed that their “patio has been the biggest influence on creating a vibe on [their] section of McDermot. It's visible from all corners and its design pops out and peaks the interest of people walking by. Its use in the summer months give the sidewalk some life and creates a gathering point on an otherwise empty sidewalk.” By offering a place for people to stop and gather Forth has created a community. Events like their Puppy Patio have helped to encourage foot traffic even more and promote walkability.

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As for the winter months when the cold sets in and it feels like all of Winnipeg has become a tundra, their windows offer a warm and welcoming presence to the street below “the ambient soft light draws your eye up to see people in framed in the windows enjoying their lunch and talking with friends.” It is comforting when you are walking by and the wind is whipping your face with snow that is so cold that it stings, and you look up and see the warm glow emanating from Forth. It draws you in offering promises of friendly chatter and a warm beverage. For this reason, Forth does not see a decrease in foot traffic in the winter, “as a place where people gather and meet, we see an increase in the colder months,” a café during the day and a bar and music venue at night, “people love the flexibility of [the] space and meet [there] for so many reasons.”

Another member that we spoke to, Martha Street Studio, gave us their take on walkability in the winter. Martha Street Studio is situated on the short block of Martha Street just across from the Manitoba Museum. It is nearer to the edge of the quarter and outside of the most walkable area of downtown, however they still see a high amount of pedestrian traffic, due in part to their efforts to promote active transportation. Martha Street Studio is an old brick building that stands alone on the small block with a surface parking lot to the west and a Hydro station to the east. The building, which was originally built as a fur storage facility on 1918-19, recently underwent major renovations. “The drawings…designed by 5468796 architecture, [made the] front entryway barrier-free for those using mobility devices and [added] light with new windows and window wells. The addition of new building signage using [their] new MSS logo, designed by Darren Stebeleski, allowed Martha Street Studio to increase its visibility from Main Street in 2013. A painted sandwich board made by The Travelling Sign Painters, supports [their] open invitation to browse a collection of artists’ works, gifts in The Print Shop and exhibitions on view.” These renovations help to brighten the area around the studio, bringing more visual interest to a car-devoted section of downtown. 

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Martha Street Studio promotes alternate modes of transportation “by requesting bicycle racks be installed outside of Martha Street Studio…we are able to highlight healthy lifestyles, promote cycling as a green method of transportation, and support members coming to our studio,” says Kristin Nelson, Executive Director of Martha Street Studio. “Although we do see less of foot traffic in the winter months, artist-run centres like Martha Street Studio are always working to encourage audience participation in the arts and culture sector year-round. There is always plenty to see and do in both the winter and summer months, from classes, to exhibitions to special workshops and events.”

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Both Forth and Martha Street Studio are brightening the streetscape around them. They promote walkability by catering to pedestrians and other alternate forms of transportation and they create spaces in Winnipeg where people come and gather to have a good time. These are important things in our city and something that we need to value more. There are many areas of Winnipeg that remain unwalkable and unwelcoming to pedestrians and cyclists. As for our streetscapes here in Winnipeg, many of them are lacking. Pembina in the winter months is a bleak, grey, wasteland. We can do better Winnipeg. 

As Kristin puts it, “opening Portage and Main does still seem the most obvious and least expensive choice, despite the plebiscite, for promoting downtown walkability, linking The Forks, the Exchange District, the theatre district and shops along Portage Ave and Main Street.” However, there are also other ways that we can try to increase the walkability of Winnipeg in the winter. If more shops spilled out onto the sidewalks, warm lights welcoming passersby inside. If surface parking lots slowly faded, turning instead into city parks and new buildings. If bike lanes wound throughout our city connecting north, south, east and west. The city would be a more fun and exciting place to live. “Or perhaps,” as Kristin quips, “free toques to visitors is also good idea?”