It's an ironic coincidence that during the last three decades, with the rise in popularity of Tim Hortons, not only are Canadians' collective midriffs beginning to resemble the shape of a doughnut, but so too are many of our cities.
Referred to as the "doughnut effect," places like Winnipeg have seen a migration of population and commerce to the edges of the city, creating an economic void in the centre. As sprawling suburbs and big-box retail centres leapfrog each other outward, the city becomes less dense, less sustainable and weakened at its core. Many once-proud inner-city neighbourhoods now struggle with issues of crime and poverty as a result.
Many Winnipeggers share the childhood memory of eagerly tearing open the wax-paper wrapping, chewing that stale stick of gum while flipping through a new pack of hockey cards in search of their favourite players.
For most, the trading cards have been lost somewhere in time, but occasionally an old collection forgotten in the back of the closet is uncovered to reveal a valuable link to the past.
Like that collection of old hockey cards, hidden away for years, the buildings of Winnipeg's Exchange District have survived because they had largely been forgotten. Decades of slow growth has meant little pressure to redevelop the area, resulting in a substantially intact collection of historic buildings.
Imagine a city in the not-too-distant future. A medium-sized city, isolated and far from the power centres of the country.
Clinging to the banks of a muddy old river, the evidence of early prosperity is seen in the rail yards, once its lifeblood. For a century, the trains screeched and smoke billowed from the central yard, but when the asphalt railway took over, the area fell silent.
Over the years, the riverside industrial land was reclaimed as a great public space for the city. The old buildings were transformed into markets, and a waterfront walkway and a dramatic new bridge were built. Park space, a hotel, a theatre and restaurants were all part of the plan.
Imagine a Paris with no Eiffel Tower.
It seems incredible today, but from the moment the French icon began to rise skyward, it faced widespread opposition. The newspaper Le Temps wrote that the tower "threatened French art and history," its radical design destroying the "intact beauty of Paris."
Novelist Guy de Maupassant famously ate lunch every day in the tower's restaurant because, as he put it, "It's the only place in Paris where I don't have to look at it."
American tennis star Andre Agassi famously claimed, "image is everything." Actress Jennifer Lopez sells music, clothing and perfume bearing her name. Until recently, golfer Tiger Woods' trademark smile was used to sell everything from cars to soft drinks. The pervasive nature of today's mass media has created an explosion of celebrity culture in society.
Image-based celebrity branding has infiltrated even the traditional world of architecture, where media savvy 'starchitects' and their signature styles have become commodities to be purchased like the latest fashions off the runways of Milan. Cities around the globe clamour to have the latest works of the hottest 'it' designer. Having one of their buildings in your skyline is seen as the equivalent of having an Armani suit in your closet. Like casting Brad Pitt to star in your movie, building owners often hire 'starchitects' to ensure a level of prestige for their projects. While this phenomenon has traditionally been the playground of global cities such as New York and Toronto, three current Winnipeg projects indicate it may have found its way to our humble city.