In the third of a series of 5 Future Vision essays commissioned by the Exchange District BIZ, Shelley Cook imagines an Exchange District 30 years in the future full of greenspace, history, art and most importantly: people.
You can read more about the Exchange District Planning Process here.
Looking at it now, it’s hard to imagine that traffic once flowed through the main throughways of the Exchange District, before the area was allocated as a public space. There are no more vehicles driving though the maze of old concrete buildings and green space, just around the invisible parameters of it.
This neighbourhood is one of Winnipeg’s most diverse, with green space surrounded by a maze of old concrete and terra cotta buildings and the hum of voices and life. There are always people here. They are the soul and the breath of the community, members of what has been coined Winnipeg’s most diverse neighbourhood.
Everything you need seems like it’s right around the corner.
There are five rental bike stations throughout the Exchange that make commuting and running errands simple. It’s lovely to ride past the splash pad and adjoining playground on Albert Street, right beside the restored Royal Albert Hotel. Directly across the street, The Exchange Market Co-op is where you can get your groceries, it also has a kiosk that sells the most incredible gelato. It’s the perfect treat for those summer days at the splash pad, and boy does it get busy when the weather gets hot. It’s also a perfect treat for when you’ve got to get your groceries. The market has three floors— the main floor and the second floor sell groceries and the top floor is a food court.
If you ride through the neighbourhood, you may notice that a number of the beautiful old buildings are mixed-use properties. This means they’re residential-commercial hybrids that give the neighbourhood a bit of a Brooklyn vibe. Living above a restaurant or a doctor’s office certainly isn’t for everyone, but there have been no shortage of people moving into these apartments. They’re neat and they’re functional, and they offer a real advantage for the local business owners, because the upstairs neighbours always have an eyes on things.
Speaking of the businesses in the Exchange, most of the them are local, as they have been for decades. Shopping and eating here is a distinct experience. You should see how beautifully the business owners decorate during the holidays. The Exchange turns into a sort of holiday village and people come here from all over just to wander around and look at the window displays, and the ornate decorations, and at all he lights. It really is stunning, especially then. You can enjoy a Christmas cocktail at any bar or lounge, and there’s a specialty holiday menu item at every restaurant it seems.
You can’t ride through the Exchange and not notice Red River College’s (RRC) Exchange District Campus. The beautiful restored conjoined building is a staple in the community and has turned residents of its students, thanks in large part to the student housing on William Avenue behind the college where the old Elgin parking pad used to be. Voted one of the best college campuses in Canada, RRC sees students enroll from all over the world, so the student housing is not only sensible, it’s also wonderfully diverse.
The most beautiful new building without a doubt is The Indigenous Art Institute of Manitoba, which was built by city hall where the old police headquarters used to be. It is a monument to Manitoba’s large First Nations people. The building itself was an Indigenous-initiated architectural and landscape design and is the largest in Canada. It’s become both a tourist attraction and a place of teaching and healing for all Manitobans. The main floor centre is an urban setting for all season powwows, events and ceremonies. The building also houses an open concept gallery of Indigenous art from all across Canada, with a large section dedicated to local First Nation artists. This state of the art building is not beautiful, it is functional and efficient too. There is room for classes, workshops, retail space and offices. It is a local source of pride not only for the community, but for the province as a whole.
There is always something happening in the Exchange. Festivals, markets, concerts, shows, events, parties, and movies that get filmed here. The public space always has a heartbeat of people simply just living within it, day or night. It’s safe, it’s beautiful and it’s walkable.
Shelley Cook is a Winnipeg writer and columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.