Will barriers minimize CMHR’s impact on downtown Winnipeg?

Will the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in the next year, or two, or three, transform Winnipeg into Canada’s Bilbao — that is, a once-gritty city turned into a sudden hot destination for tourists from all over?

This blog has been skeptical of such grand claims. High-profile museum openings didn’t do much to stir up tourist trade in Helsinki, Finland, much less in Sheffield, England; though the early numbers are still good for the Titanic Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland — handily timed to open 100 years after the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic to take advantage of peak public interest.

The skepticism, for the time being, still stands. Winnipeg, simply, is not Bilbao. The elements that make Bilbao a star attraction — not just the famous Guggenheim Bilbao museum, but also a picturesque old town and fame among foodies for having some of the best food in Europe — aren’t present here.

Nor are the ultra-low-cost carriers, or the call of the exotic, that make it as easy and as common for a German to fly down to Spain for the long weekend as it is for a Winnipegger to drive down to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Not to mention that there’s plenty of competition to be “the next Bilbao”. Holon, Israel wants that distinction. So does Lens, France, an industrial town 176 kilometres (109 miles) north of Paris. Hobart, Tasmania wants to be the next Bilbao, too — and has a rather picturesque setting to boot, unlike East Lansing, Michigan.

But let’s assume that this blog is wrong, and tourists do flock in to suddenly exotic Winnipeg to see the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights after it opens. Will the crowds have much of an effect on downtown?

It is, for the most part, unlikely.

Consider the site of the museum. Like the Forks, it will be physically and psychologically isolated from downtown by the CN Rail tracks, Union Station and Main St. On the east and south sides, the Red and Assinboine Rivers provide natural buffer zones between the museum and the rest of the city.

These barriers mean that the museum — again, like the Forks — will have a strongly directional push/pull effect on foot traffic. The yellow boundary below shows the areas within a 10-minute walk of the museum site, where foot traffic would be expected to be heaviest. This traffic would flow most naturally to and from the east end of Broadway, the western edge of Provencher, the Forks to the southeast, and with relatively little resistance, to and from the neighbouring ballpark and the less interesting area to the northwest.

In other areas, the 10-minute walking distance barely extends much to the west of Main Street.

CMHR Walking Times

Approximate walking times from the CMHR: 10 mins. (yellow), 15 mins. (blue) and 20 mins. (red)

The 15-minute walking distance, in blue, shows the same directional effect, with the strongest push-pull being along the Broadway/Provencher and Main/Queen Elizabeth Way corridors. By the time one reaches the blue boundaries, foot traffic to and from the museum will have largely dispersed.

The 20-minute walking distance, in red, is again strongly directional. At this boundary — a longish walk from the museum — foot traffic will be too thin to have much effect at all. Notable places out on this fringe or beyond includes the convention centre, Cityplace, Portage Place and The Bay.

In short, there’s a good chance of spin-off benefits at the Forks, along the south end of Main Street, at the corner of Provencher and Tache, and perhaps up toward the Fairmont — if the crowds materialize. Other areas should expect a more modest impact owing to their longer walking distances from the museum.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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