Several years ago, I participated in a meeting about urban renewal with then mayor Glen Murray and a representative from Centre Venture. Artists, Murray said to us, were the key to a vibrant downtown. Look at any other city with a flourishing urban centre and you would see artists at its core. New York, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal. Artists work and live in their chosen area, creating communities and attracting restaurants and bars, retail and foot traffic and housing. Artists, he insisted, were vital.
I was reminded of this the other day when a manifesto showed up in my inbox. The art community was reacting swiftly to the news that Manitoba Hydro was considering purchasing and gutting three historic buildings on McDermot east of Princess to expand a nearby substation.
Hydro has since taken a step back to review the situation, reports CBC. But the quoted Hydro spokesman, Glenn Schneider, indicates that developments like condos and stores means more power is needed and the location of the McDermot buildings makes them the logical and only spot.
An excerpt from the CBC story:
"I think there has to be a place in society for the infrastructure that is required to make society work," said Schneider.
Last Friday, I visited that logical and only spot. My friends and I went to the opening of two new exhibits at aceart, which is one of three galleries situated right smack in the middle of buildings Hydro wants to purchase. I looked up to see a massive image being projected from one of the buildings, echoing the circulated manifesto, punctuated by a thunderbolt.
An excerpt from the manifesto:
We are a reason to come downtown! Unlike the emptiness of an unmanned substation, we fill the streets with life. Art is the real power of urban renewal.
There's no question that there will be more action on this. The smartest engineers and city planners are no doubt poking at plans. Hydro says it will take the concerns of community groups into consideration. The community groups are mobilizing. Artists, the same ones Murray talked about in my meeting all those years ago, are mobilizing.
I'm left to ponder how we encourage and power the urban development this city needs without compromising its community.
And with that, I turn off my lights and my computer to save an inch of energy.