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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Spacing reports from Winnipeg

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I’m out in Winnipeg leading a workshop on magazine design for Spacing‘s national distributor Magazines Canada. I’ve only been here a short time but here are some initial thoughts about this city:

• Along Winnipeg’s fabled street of Portage, the city has turned the metallic traffic signal boxes into street-side art installations (pictured above). I’ve seen eight of them so far and each uniquely portrays an aspect of Winnipeg’s history and culture. This type of work is happening in Toronto too, both unofficially (along Spadina similar boxes have been wallpapered) and officially (Joe Pantelone’s office sent us a few examples of Bell telephone switch boxes that have been turned into tiny murals by local artists).
 Modern architecture has not completely ravaged this city of its wonderful colonial buildings. There are some incredible buildings here that have not been sacrificed for newer structures, like the Bay store just opposite of where I’m staying (pictured right).
The lamp posts in the downtown core (picutred below, centre) are colonial in appearance but are modernly integrated into one pole. Low lying lights are for pedestrians, while up higher on the post are lights that illuminate the road for drivers. In T.O. we tend to erect two separate lamp posts that clutter our sidewalks (College Street in Little Italy is a good example).
• Winnipeg has maps of the downtown core (picutred below, left) that face on to the sidewalk! Unlike our poorly sited and obnoxious info pillars, Winnipeg’s planners figured tourists are much more interested in finding out where they are instead of being told what they should buy. They also have poster kiosks which seems to keep the old-time poles clutter-free (pictured below, right).

The intersection of Portage and Main is this city’s most widely celebrated crossroads, but I cannot understand why. As a pedestrian, you are barred from crossing at any part of the street. They have erected islands between the road and sidewalk that make it physically impossible to scale. If you want to get to the other side, you must go underground and navigate your way through a slightly confusing mess of exits.
• There were a number of drag races along Portage last night. Actually, all night. I was up at 4am and could hear, every few minutes, cars squealing their tires once the light turned green. A friend from Winnipeg told me over lunch today that people come down to Portage on Sunday nights with lawn chairs and watch these souped-up cars race each other.
• Though it is only the third day of October, the temperature here feels like November. Most people are wearing their winter coats. I only brought shorts.