STORIES

THE SPACE IN-BETWEEN WINNIPEG, MB CENTRAL PARK NEIGHBOURHOOD – SCROLL ↓

"We have an entrenched systemic problem in Manitoba – poverty is not just about individuals living on social assistance – it involves persistent social and economic barriers to shared economic prosperity for a large segment of society. The data cannot tell us who moves out of poverty and who moves into it, but the fluctuations in poverty rates mean that families are moving in and out of poverty. There are new families (primarily immigrants and First Nations people moving off reserves) coming into cities and towns without the income supports for a relatively fair standard of living. The poverty rates for children from Aboriginal and newcomer families remain higher than for other populations."

 

- Social Planning Council of Winnipeg,

Child and Family Report Card, 2012

 

PROJECT

Centre Village Housing Project

ARCHITECT

5468796 architecture / Cohlmeyer Architecture

YEAR CONSTRUCTED

2010

AREA

single units:

35m² - 81m² (375 sq ft - 875 sq ft)

BUDGET

$2.5 million CAD

CLIENT

City of Winnipeg

PROJECT

Central Park Revitalization

ARCHITECT

Scatliff + Miller + Murray

YEAR CONSTRUCTED

2010

BUDGET

$5 million CAD

CLIENT

City of Winnipeg

WINNIPEG

population:  663,617

area:  464 km²

 

 

A NEW BEGINNING

 

 

 

 

Tanjil Mahmud Raju and his wife Shamina Khan Sharna first arrived to downtown Winnipeg from Bangladesh in the fall of 2012. Without jobs or references, they struggled for four months to find a long-term home for themselves and their young son, Ariash. In Bangladesh, Tanjil worked as an investigative journalist and Shamima worked as an accountant.

After completing dozens of housing applications, they were relieved to be accepted into  the new Centre Village housing project in downtown Winnipeg’s Central Park neighbourhood. They moved into the 25 unit building in December, just as Manitoba’s long, cold winter set in. Undeterred, the couple started working towards a plan to secure jobs as healthcare workers in the city.

 

It was not until the summertime that they started to feel unsafe in the neighbourhood. With the local beer store open until 2:30am on most evenings, Tanjil and Shamina began to notice men drinking and loitering in the courtyard, just outside their kitchen door.

 

“When the summer came, then we find it’s really a bad area because lots of people in the nighttime after 10pm, they come in that open area because it’s shaded," said Shamima. "All the sides there is a boundary, so they can do anything there.”

 

She said that on a few occasions she considered calling the police, but her husband, wary of bringing unwanted  attention to his family, insisted they ignore it.

 

Inside the apartment, Shamima cooks for her husband and son in the ground floor kitchen, which opens directly to the courtyard. The slender apartment is stacked on three levels, with two bedrooms on top, and a living room and bathroom on the second floor. Shamima said that most evenings, the family eats dinner sitting on the steps between the kitchen and the dining room, to avoid carrying their dishes up and down the stairs.

 

The family has spent the better part of two years living in the Central Park neighbourhood. Like many new immigrants to the area, they are planning to move outside of downtown Winnipeg, to a bigger home in a safer neighbourhood, as soon as they can afford it.

DOWNTOWN WINNIPEG

 

 

 

Winnipeg has a higher poverty rate than any other major city in Canada, with 20 per cent of Manitoba children living under the poverty line. While the majority of middle-class Winnipeggers live in suburbs surrounding the downtown core, the inner city has become the destination for  successive waves of new immigrants and refugees from Europe, South East Asia, Latin America and Africa.

 

In 2013, Manitoba received 1,484 refugees, more per capita than any other province or territory in Canada. In the last three to four decades, an increasing number of Aboriginal people have moved into the city from reserves and smaller, more rural communities.

 

The Central Park neighbourhood, named after the large public park that covers nearly a fifth of the area, is home to immigrants from more than 50 countries, making it one of the most ethnically diverse populations in all of North America. Covering an area of 0.2 km, this small, densely populated neighbourhood is located a stone’s-throw from Winnipeg’s relatively affluent Exchange District, the historic downtown area dotted with fashionable boutiques, design shops and high-end restaurants.

 

For years, the Central Park neighbourhood has suffered for a lack affordable housing, especially homes with enough space to comfortably accommodate large family sizes. As a result, home ownership is impossible for most newcomers, some of whom wait for up to two years to secure long-term rental housing.

 

Typically, areas like Central Park have operated as a transition zone for new immigrants, a place for newcomers to become established before moving on to what is understood to be better, safer neighbourhoods. The transient nature of Central Park has made it challenging for a cohesive community to form, one that would protect against crime, and fight for better housing, services and public space.

CENTRAL PARK

NEIGHBOURHOOD STATISTICS

HOME OWNERSHIP

HOUSING TYPE

AVERAGE INCOME

ETHNICITY

 

THE CHURCH,

THE MOSQUE &

THE PARK

 

 

 

 

On the eastern edge of the park stands the Knox United Church, an inter-cultural faith community led by Pastor Bill Millar. Under Millar, the church community actively engages with the new immigrants and refugees, at times partnering with the neighbouring Mosque to address common needs and challenges within the neighbourhood.

In 2006, the church, working with Muslim members of the African community whose religion forbids them from paying interest on loans, decided to address the lack of home ownership in the neighbourhood. They hoped to create a co-operative, rent-to-own housing model, whereby the rent collected from the first building could be used to fund the next development. Potential tenants would be screened thoroughly to ensure that they could meet the rent requirements and contribute positively to the co-operative scheme.

 

Working together with CentreVenture, an arms length downtown development agency of the city of Winnipeg who owned large vacant lot on Balmoral Ave, they developed a set of specific programmatic elements. They wanted the homes to be modular and adaptable, able to transform into a larger units as the size of a family grew. They hoped that the development would feel like a village, with ‘mom and pop’ shops at the street level.

 

Despite the efforts of CentreVenture and the Knox United Church, the vision for a mixed-use, economically sustainable, co-operative housing model was never realized.

 

“As it began to materialize, we were well into the design, well into the commitment to the neighbourhood, and the concept of the co-op fractured. These communities are not as cohesive as we thought,” said Ross McGowan, President and CEO of CentreVenture.

 

Despite the setback, CentreVenture, the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba Housing, and the province of Manitoba contributed funding for what became an affordable housing development that offered 25 transitional housing units for new immigrants and refugees. With the change in direction, Knox Centre withdrew from the design process, as did the group of African immigrants who were meant to be the housing project’s future residents.

 

“With the change in direction, we pulled back,” says Millar.  “We said, we’re not having an active involvement in it because it’s not the project we originally envisioned.”

A NEW AGE OF ARCHITECTURE IN WINNIPEG

 

 

 

 

In the past decade, design and architecture in Winnipeg has become more ambitious. There has been a rise in construction in the city centre , and a new wave of young architects have established practices.  At the front of the new pack is 5468796 architecture, who have managed to gain international attention for their iconic contemporary buildings, pavilions and installations dotted across the city.

5468796 architecture partnered with Colhmeyer Architects on the Centre Village project, from its inception as a co-operative rent-to-own housing model to it’s final resolution as an affordable housing project. The programme for Centre Village held many challenges - it was not clear exactly who the future residents of the housing would be, and financing available for the project required 25 units to be built on what was originally zoned as a six house lot.

 

To achieve this density, 5468796 architecture decided to reference European standards, finding that they were 25-33% smaller than North American standards. Next, they determined the smallest size of living unit that was achievable by those standards.

 

“We had bags of these blocks, we stacked blocks. We knew how many blocks it would take to build 25 homes, and we really just worked it and worked it and worked it. You just keep working at it till it’s right, ” said Colin Neufeld, partner at 5468796 architecture.

 

Neufeld’s team determined a set of priorities that defined the form of the design. First, they decided that it was essential to have a public courtyard within the development, despite the shortage of space on the site. Second, they decided that it was essential for each unit have a private front door and an exterior patio.

 

The building, rendered in white stucco that is intended to reference Mediterranean and African housing typologies, is composed of a number of stacked units, with steel corten-clad stairs on the exterior.

 

“Apartment living was where they were coming from. This was about transition housing and challenging the status quo that public housing is the high-rise apartment block,” said Neufeld.

 

The Centre Village housing project gained attention from Canadian and international media, winning numerous design awards. However, the team at CentreVenture, the development corporation that still owns and manages the property, and has found that the challenges inherent in the project were not fully resolved with the design.

 

“When you’ve got three, four stories of stairs, and very small rooms, understanding family structures would have been helpful,” said McGowan, who is a licensed landscape architect.

 

He explains that many of the residences complain about a lack of space and an absence of built-in storage, a challenge especially for larger families with many children.

 

 McGowan admits that a thorough  consultation with the community would have helped to clarify the real priorities of the project, and concedes that the responsibility of this failure falls on everyone involved with the project, including CentreVenture and the architectural team.

 

Maintenance of Centre Village has become a central issue in the five years since it was occupied. Significant damage has been done to the building's aluminum window frames, and the courtyard is often littered with garbage, all due to the high volume of people that use Centre Village's courtyard as a hangout spot and shortcut and through the neighbourhood.

 

“You can’t just look at architecture and development in isolation. This one I think was looked at in isolation, and focused its interior at that courtyard, rather than let’s look outside the courtyard, at what the community is like,” said McGowan. "This project could’ve been designed in a desert. It does not have an architectural context."

 

The future of Centre Village is uncertain. CentreVenture is trying to divest from the property, since they do not have the resources to manage it in its current state. McGowan said that it is challenging to find a new investor.

 

"It’s challenged by its design. It only works with certain family structures. I think personally it would be great student housing project," said McGowan.

 

 

Ross McGowan, president and CEO of CentreVenture at the time that Centre Village was built, describing the outcome of the project design.

Maintenance of Centre Village has become a central issue in the five years since it was occupied. Significant damage has been done to the building's aluminum window frames, and the courtyard is often littered with garbage, all due to the high volume of people that use Centre Village's courtyard as a hangout spot and shortcut and through the neighbourhood.

 

“You can’t just look at architecture and development in isolation. This one I think was looked at in isolation, and focused its interior at that courtyard, rather than let’s look outside the courtyard, at what the community is like,” said McGowan. "This project could’ve been designed in a desert. It does not have an architectural context."

 

The future of Centre Village is uncertain. CentreVenture is trying to divest from the property, since they do not have the resources to manage it in its current state. McGowan said that it is challenging to find a new investor.

 

"It’s challenged by its design. It only works with certain family structures. I think personally it would be great student housing project," said McGowan.

Centre Village living room outfitted by 5468796 architecture with IKEA furniture.

Shamima, Tanjil, and Ariash's living room at Centre Village today.

THE SPACE IN-BETWEEN

 

 

 

In recent decades, the Central Village neighbourhood had become overrun with crime drugs and poverty. Families and children, living in the surrounding apartment blocks, reported feeling unsafe and threatened within the neighbourhood.

 

The most dangerous spot was the century-old park, with its network of crossing paths and its Victorian fountain, a remnant of a  time that  bore little resemblance to the current state of the neighbourhood.

 

The group at Knox Church, along with other local leaders decided it was time for a change. In the words of Pastor Bill Millar, they came together around a vision to "create a space in-between -- [one] that allows music and art and expressions and cultural forms to develop."

 

It was through this ambition that the Central Park revitalization project took form.

"We have very little programming in the sense that we have an agenda in the community that we're trying to achieve," says Millar. "People come to us and we say, how can we find ways of facilitating and structure and making things happen?"

 

Millar's first action was to play loud music outside of the church. Selecting songs from places around the world, he  hoped to draw new immigrants  down from their apartments and into the park. Not long after, his group organized a community garden and African-style market to bring fresh, affordable produce into the community, one that allowed refugees and immigrants the opportunity to grow and sell food within days after arriving in Winnipeg.

 

These were first steps towards the community's  reclamation of the park, which eventually led to a full-scale park revitalization project. The project was funded by all levels of government, and included a few private donors, who saw the potential of the small but significant multi-cultural neighbourhood to draw better development through the design of better public spaces. Pulling together, the community leaders hired local landscape architects Scatliff + Miller + Murray to lead the design. Almost immediately, the group initiated an in-depth consultation process with the community.

 

Putting aside their assumptions of what they thought the park should be, the landscape architects set about facilitating the vision of the park from the eyes of the local residents. What found was that new immigrants were looking for a Canadian experience, an opportunity to toboggan and ice skate, and to learn about Canadian culture and traditions.

 

“I think the greatest challenge in design, is designing for that client but you’re also trying to see how that client might evolve and who that client might become,”  said Bob Somers, partner at SMM. “Designing a canvas for people to put their own personality into things is probably the right approach.”

 

The outdoor market and a large soccer pitch quickly became the top two priorities. The soccer pitch, made from high-quality artificial turf, was deliberately left free of painted lines. The idea was that the unassigned space would encourage many different groups to take part in a number of activities at the same.  At one end of the field is a climbing wall and a number of large slides; at the other end is a state-of-art water park, with a variety of splash pads and water features.

 

The park is widely seen as a huge success, proven by the crowds of children playing in the water-park and running through the field. The transformation has elevated the status of the neighbourhood, and provided a space for people in  the community to gather, meet friends and feel safe.

 

“It was going through that consultation that changed everyone’s perception of this place and of the greater community,” said Somers.

 

The momentum gained through the Central Park revitalization project has continued. In July 2013, the Knox Community Kitchen opened, with the aim of supporting local food businesses.  Located in the church's basement, the space can be rented by local groups in need of a commercial kitchen space  for catering, cooking classes, and events.  It is a signifier of the resourcefulness and creativity at work within the Central Park community.

 

 

 

IN-CONTEXT WOULD LIKE TO THANK OUR LEADING SPONSORS.   SEE OUR FULL LIST OF SUPPORTERS HERE