Historical Context

A dozen years ago, the University of Winnipeg faced a series of daunting and converging challenges.

  • An ongoing structural deficit had wiped out the University’s few unrestricted reserves;

  • The physical plant was deteriorating and inadequate. Space density (at 148 sq. ft. per student) was one of the worst among Canadian Universities.

  • Student enrollment was increasing rapidly, from 6000 to 10,000 students

  • A number of programs were scattered across the city, robbing students of the benefits of on-campus amenities, and adding costly lease expenses to the University’s operating budget.

  • Student demographics were changing with marked increases in Aboriginal and New Canadian students; many of these students were older, non-sequential students with very different housing and support needs.

  • The University had a very inward looking physical design and orientation.

Students came for classes and left. So while the University was on the edge of downtown, it was not a part of the downtown and neither the downtown nor the University received much benefit from the campus location.

The University had two very distinct choices at that point – shrink to fit the existing infrastructure and funding base, or grow out of it, through the creation of a more welcoming and open campus and the careful cultivation of third party revenue streams. The University chose growth.

With the strong support of the Board of Regents, the University took three critical steps.   Its focus was to raise funds for scholarships, bursaries and capital development. They set ambitious goals and quickly surpassed them. Their work was the catalyst for the more than $200 million in development which the University has undertaken in the past ten years. 

The second was the hiring of Lloyd Axworthy, as President and Vice-Chancellor. Dr. Axworthy articulated a strong commitment to academic excellence, community access (particularly for the Aboriginal and New Canadian community), and sustainability.

Creation of UWCRC

In order to achieve its sustainability objective, in 2005, the University took the third critical step by creating another special purpose entity – the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation. UWCRC is a non-profit, charitable organization whose mission is to create a sustainable University community.

Innovative Structure

UWCRC is a unique model among Canadian Universities. Most universities look for leadership competencies associated with development on their Boards. However, Board appointments are influenced by many factors – development experience is not often at the top of the list. This structure allows the development corporation to select for its Board those with the specialized experience necessary to advance its mission. Similarly while many universities seek to break down barriers with the community and provide greater accessibility, they are challenged to identify regular communication forums with community leaders, and even when communication occurs, they are often criticized for providing too little, too late. This model brings the community to the table with formal input through the Board governance process, throughout the planning and implementation stages of all University development and creates opportunities for joint University/community initiatives.

Half of UWCRC’s 16 member Board is drawn from the University, including the President, who serves as chair. The balance is drawn from the community, including neighbourhood development organizations, anti-poverty organizations, developers, and other development professionals.

Sustainable Development

The initial notion of sustainable development was focused on the environment. The University committed itself to becoming Kyoto compliant, and has proudly achieved that objective, reducing greenhouse gases at the same time that it dramatically increased the overall University footprint.

However, sustainability is really a much broader concept than green buildings. In developing our framework for sustainability, we drew upon a concept first developed by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, which viewed sustainability as a multi-pillared concept. In our work at UWCRC, we focus on four distinct sustainability pillars – environmental, social, economic and cultural.

Development Principles Drawn from Community Consultations

UWCRC began its development work with broad community consultations over 18 months between 2005 and 2007. Those consultations identified ten development principles:

  1. University as a Centre for Excellence

  2. University as an Urban Village in the City

  3. University as a New Downtown Community

  4. University as an Accessible Place

  5. University as an Aboriginal Home

  6. University as a Living Model of Sustainability

  7. University as Community Development

  8. University as a Pedestrian Precinct

  9. University as Fiscally Sustainable

  10. University as a Model of Good Urban Design

These ten principles, along with the four pillared sustainability concept became the template for the University’s capital development agenda. The overall vision is to build a sustainable campus which reflects all four pillars. Individual projects will reflect some, but generally not all, of the pillars, but in the aggregate they advance the four-pillared vision.