Unity in the middle of Portage and Main

Vote Open brings performers and poets to heart of Winnipeg’s downtown

Photo by Quincy Houdayer

To reopen or not to reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians is inarguably one of the most prevalent debates in the upcoming Winnipeg mayoral elections, and voters are making their voices heard in creative ways.

Over the weekend, Open Fest took place at 201 Portage Avenue.

Open Fest was the collaboration of many Winnipeggers and featured musical entertainment on several stages from a variety of local bands and artists including JD and the Sunshine Band, JP Hoe, Julie Penner, Smoky Tiger and Royal Canoe.

The event also had several key speakers and poets in attendance, including Winnipeg’s poet laureate Di Brandt, Brent Bellamy, Joe Kornelson from Functional Transit and city councillor Jenny Gerbasi. All performers played for free.

“It’s part of the natural progression of our city and for the last 15 years, we’ve made incredible strides to make a more livable, walkable city and just continue to keep up with the other cities around the world,” Hoe said.

Anders Swanson, the concert co-organizer, said Open Fest was as much about enjoying local artists as it was about the intersection.

“You know, the nice thing about music is it’s undefined and tends to connect people in ways they don’t understand,” he said.

“I think coming downtown and [seeing] what it’s like to look at people face to face, to see their bodies move, definitely reminds you of how important it is that we connect.”

He said Open Fest’s intention was to send a different message to attendees and those in traffic, beside voting yes or no.

“The real message that we’re trying to send to everybody is that we actually have everyone’s interest at heart.”

Swanson said opening the intersection would also help the environment.

“Transportation is already a third of greenhouse gases in Manitoba and [a] big percentage of those come from people driving alone,” he said.

“The interesting thing, first of all, is that most people don’t want to be doing that. They would rather not. The vast majority of people [would] rather ride a bicycle in a bike lane if they had one.”

He also argued against the idea that opening the intersection could cause a traffic problem, stating that “this is a traffic solution.”

“In 20 years from now, if we open Portage and Main, we’ll have a lot more businesses and apartment buildings right near this intersection.

And because it’s so close to the intersection, it generates taxes and ends up giving us money to be put into all different kinds of things — whether it be changing all our lights out to LED, whether it’s doing our buildings so they’re not just wasting heat into the atmosphere.”