An upcoming panel discussion hosted by The University of Winnipeg as part of Homecoming 2023 will delve into the past, present, and future of Winnipeg’s downtown.

Revitalization and Collaboration: Creating Positive Change Downtown takes place Thursday, September 21 from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. in Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex (599 Portage Avenue).

Panelists Dan Lett (Winnipeg Free Press), Kate Fenske (Downtown BIZ), Joe Kornelson (West End BIZ), and Dr. Sarah Zell (UWinnipeg's Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies) will discuss post-pandemic community development, grassroots initiatives, safety measures, housing, transportation, and youth opportunities.

“I think we’ve got a really great group of individuals who are going to speak to the ongoing transformation of the downtown, taking stock of the impact of the last couple years, and outline some really cool visions for where Winnipeg might be in a few years,” said UWinnipeg's Dr. Jino Distasio, Vice-President of Research and Innovation. 

Dr. Distasio, who will be moderating the panel, said downtowns all over the world were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cities across the globe, and the downtowns in particular, have disproportionately suffered post-pandemic,” he said. “To see the streets so empty over the last couple years, it’s painful to me.”

A thriving downtown remains an essential part of any modern city, for visitors and for residents.

“Downtowns bring together a real unique set of land uses, activities, and amenities that no other part of the city on its own has,” Dr. Disastio said. “They have a little bit of something for everybody.”

The task of revitalizing a downtown and regaining momentum lost during the pandemic is complex, but not impossible. Dr. Distasio said the best solutions will re-engage not only the downtown office worker, but also the urban tourist, conference-goer, and event attendee.

“The in-person experience is really the DNA of the downtown,” Dr. Distasio said. “Downtowns are these eclectic places, but they are primarily about people and experience. And I think we’re trying to figure out, how do we climb our way back to something like that?”

“We’re stuck in this position right now where we’re not quite sure,” he continued. “But we know that for the downtown experience to work, it’s got to be about experience to the highest degree. It is fully about embracing the now, and people need to drive that.”

As activity in the downtown approaches pre-pandemic levels, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on the downtown.

“We’ve got good bones in the downtown,” Dr. Distasio said. “We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is encourage people to select the downtown for a range of reasons, whether it’s to live or visit or experience.”

It's fitting that this discussion will take place at Winnipeg’s downtown university campus.

“Faculty and researchers at this University have really played a strong role in helping support positive change in, and awareness of, the downtown and the inner-city through coursework, research projects, and partnerships with community-based organizations,” Dr. Distasio said. “We have been a strong ally in the downtown and the inner city.”