What is that makes a city great? The people it produces? The tourist attractions? Substantial business presence? A combination of all of those things? I was thinking about this today – what would it take for outsiders to see Winnipeg as a great city. Politicians, tourism outlets, and various activist groups are always throwing around new and improved ideas. Removing the barriers at Portage and Main. Attracting big corporations to do business here. Fixing the roads. Everyone has a different idea about what Winnipeg needs to do to get there. However no one seems to have an overarching grand vision.
Downtown gets a lot of attention, deservedly so. Right now it is in the middle of a renaissance with new buildings going up and old buildings getting makeovers.It’s been really exciting to watch downtown slowly gain momentum over the last ten years. The local obsession with improving downtown has been the focus for so long. I’ve been wondering where we will go once the mission is accomplished.
Are we going to motivate ourselves to the next neighbourhood project? The North End or Point Douglas? The problem with those neighbourhoods is that only the people who live there are motivated to improve those spaces. The government has been able to pour tax dollars into downtown because it is arguably a space for everyone. And let’s be honest, most Winnipeggers want to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to the issues that the north end and point douglas face. If the majority of people were willing to give up on downtown, they will have no part in fixing other neighbourhoods.
If not other neighbourhoods, where will we put our obsessive energy? Once we aren’t ashamed of downtown, will we focus on our outside image and appealing to tourists and visitors? And here is where we struggle. Winnipeg is too self-conscious and insecure to market itself effectively to outsiders. The biggest problem I see is we compare ourselves to other places rather than focusing on what makes us special. Winnipeg does have its perks. It is relatively inexpensive, offering the amenities of a fair sized city and access to a lot of outdoor activities. We also have a near constant lineup of festivals all year. We should be marketing ourselves as hipster city central. We’ve got the casual look nailed down. You see it reflected in how people dress, a pub dominated nightlife scene, casual eateries with fine cuisine dining and a growing relationship with food trucks.
We should stop figuring out how to fix ourselves to be more like other places and focus on building up what we do have. We should stop marketing ourselves as a big city destination and instead sell ourselves as a laid back place to have a good time. After all, we are one great city.