The new (affordable housing) market

The market lands dream for the Exchange District revealed

Quebec-based architecture firm Daoust Lestage’s “New Market Square” was announced as the winning design of the Market Lands Design Competition on Dec. 31, 2018.

Richard Milgrom, the head of and associate professor in the University of Manitoba’s city planning department, says the project is emblematic of a city planning trend to try to “capture the potential of the area.”

“The Exchange District has been a funny district over the years,” he says. “Everyone understands that it’s a remarkable asset, like it’s just on the cusp of becoming a really interesting and vibrant place, and then it sort of goes downhill again. So I think for the first time in a long time, we’re seeing sustained positive trends.”

The Market Lands Design Competition was held by CentreVenture, a development corporation owned by the City but which functions as a separate entity.

Angela Mathieson, the CEO of CentreVenture, says the competition was held to ensure high-quality design.

Mathieson says the standards for the building, which designers had to follow, were based on CentreVenture public engagement findings in the area and the building standards and budget a design would have to accommodate.

Twenty-three design teams applied for the competition, and it was whittled down to five by the competition jury. The final submissions from the five competitors were presented publicly at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, so members of the public could ask questions.

Mathieson says part of why the Daoust Lestage design was selected was because “the jury was quite enamoured with the market space itself. We felt that the market in this project was very clearly defined and was very responsive to the program.”

“The orientation of the market in this case, we think, is particularly clever in the sense that it really provides those plaza spaces in the market, 100 per cent daylight throughout the year, which is important in our climate,” she says.

Mathieson says the project fits into an existing pattern growth in residential space in the neighbourhood. She says the affordable housing component will meet a high demand in the area and “adds to the vibrancy”of the neighbourhood.

Milgrom is skeptical of the decision to have a building with such a high concentration of affordable housing, rather than integrating affordability into a greater strategy for the area.

He also has some worries that the boom in development investment in the neighbourhood may come at the expense of other areas of the city.

“One of my concerns is that the things that get attracted into those (newer public) spaces (in the Exchange) are things that are coming from other spaces in the city, and those places are going to get more vacant,” he says. “You might make a vibrant place in the Exchange, but you want to make sure that that’s not at the expense of the other neighbourhoods.”

Mathieson also said the very contemporarily designed building will fit in with the recent additions to the turn-of-the-century-style buildings in the area, such as the additions to Red River College’s Exchange District campus.

Published in Volume 73, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 17, 2019)

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