“Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to walk across Portage and Main,” said Megan Stewart. “I’m only 24, so it was locked up long before I was born.”
Stewart joined about 50 Winnipeggers who took over Portage and Main on Sunday morning, with help from a police escort, to announce that Portage and Main will be open to pedestrians again in 2017.
The group tied up traffic for about 30 minutes chanting “people over cars,” as car horns rang out across the famous intersection.
After stopping to pose for a picture in their Jane Jacobs masks, the group moved on to the patio at the Fairmount Hotel to discuss the announcement.
“What we’re doing this morning, is celebrating Jane Jacobs, the famous urbanist, who always talked about making sure cities and downtowns and places are for people first and then for cars,” said Stefano Grande, Downtown BIZ Executive Director.
In addition to speaking about Jacobs and her vision for urban planning, Grande also mentioned the importance of making connections between The Forks and Waterfront Drive and the downtown.
“It feels in the same way as when I was a young man, a teenager, and we discovered that we could stop the Allen Expressway from cutting Toronto in half when Jane Jacobs was there,” said Wins Bridgman, of BridgmanCollaborative Architecture.
“We are feeling the same way for the possibility for Winnipeg that has been, as we believe cut into quarters, and now can be brought together again.”
This particular event was just one of many Jane’s Walks. They not only happen throughout Winnipeg, but also all over the world, from Belfast to Beijing. The goal is to encourage more public participation in urban planning.
“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at … suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk,” wrote Jane Jacobs, in her book, Downtown is for People, 1957.
The group continued their walking discussion throughout the downtown and took time to hear citizen’s concerns around a variety of important issues at a number of stops.
“I think it was a great Jane’s walk, and I liked that there was the beginning of some discussions around how can urbanism and everything else that we do be intersectional,” said Riley McMurray.
“How do the struggles of many different groups interact and intercept and how can we address all of those?”
The group took one final opportunity to open the floor up to hear people’s ideas, before heading to snap a group photo in the Exchange District.
“How do you open it up for people of all abilities?” asked Larry Baillie, of Access Advisory Committee Winnipeg.
“Can you imagine having a cognitive disability, breaking down and crying in the middle of the underground concourse and no one’s there to help you? Or using a wheelchair after 12 o’clock at night, when there are no elevators, how do you get across Portage and Main?”
Mayor Brian Bowman has said he will remove the barriers and open the intersection to pedestrians in 2017.
While no concrete plans have been made as of yet, it is clear that many Winnipeggers feel passionately about the opening and have legitimate concerns that need to be considered.
Events like Jane’s Walk are a great way to spark this type of public debate over important issues.
This year’s Jane’s Walks have ended, so you’ll have to wait until next year for your chance to walk across Portage and Main.
If you’d like to learn more about Jane’s Walk, Jane Jacobs or citizen participation in city planning, please visit Janeswalk.org for more information or to register to lead your own walk.