Jason Syvixay, also known by his twitter handle @DowntownJason, has been boosting the arts and culture scene of downtown Winnipeg long before he defended his thesis and received his degree in city planning from the U of M earlier this year. His extensive résumé is filled with initiatives and campaigns that have long-lasting and continuing impacts on the communities he serves. There seems to be no end to the commitment that Syvixay pours into his city, with upcoming and reoccurring planning and volunteer projects that strive to make Winnipeg a more lively, vibrant, and sustainable place.
Syvixay’s efforts to build a safer, more resilient, and inclusive Downtown have not gone unnoticed. Six years as managing director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, along with his education at the U of M, have enhanced and fostered his skills in placemaking, place branding, community consultation, and public engagement. His public relations skills were recognized in 2014, when he was selected as the Canadian Public Relations Society Communicator of the Year, and in 2015 he was listed in “CBC’s Future 40.”
Syvixay spearheaded the first CEO Sleepout in Canada, a yearly event where CEOs spend a night sleeping outside in downtown Winnipeg to raise awareness and funds in order to help end homelessness in Winnipeg. Since the first sleepout in 2011, the event has raised over $800,000 from the private sector. The funds raised have helped employ 137 people experiencing homelessness for a total of 51,000 hours of work.
His education in the department of city planning instilled values of patience, diplomacy, and research skills that are an essential skill set for a planner. Syvixay has applied these skills to the many things he does to enhance the cultural aspects of downtown for tourists and visitors, as well as the people that inhabit that community. Syvixay’s thesis, guided by his advisor Dr. Rae Bridgman and committee members Dr. Jino Distasio and Jeff Palmer, was “focused on Indigenous activism in public spaces, and defines the role of a planner when protest erupts.”
“I am guided by the notion that good communication and sound planning should always involve the community. The city planning department’s partnerships with Indigenous communities, neighbourhood development corporations, and planning professionals provided me with a unique opportunity to work with a diverse set of publics,” said Syvixay.
“In our studios, we got a chance to put ourselves in the shoes of others. When you can start to think about [how] your role will benefit others, you will start to speak with integrity.”
Syvixay contributes a monthly column to the Winnipeg Free Press called Duets, which pairs a design professional with local advocates and innovators. The pieces touch on how everyone contributes to the design and use of public space, and that changes and differences in the livelihood and success of cities are everyone’s responsibility.
“Everyone designs, and design is everywhere. That is, entrepreneurs, artists, and people who engage in everyday street life, are equally important in the design and use of public space” said Syvixay of his column.
“Duets has encouraged readers to explore how they contribute to the fabric of the city by sharing different ways we all design, occupy space, and tackle civic issues.”
For the recent Churchill edition of the international Sea Walls Festival, Syvixay contributed his skills in logistics, event planning, marketing, and communications.
“Sea Walls Churchill was a way to build hope and support in Churchill in the face of serious challenges, transforming 18 vacant buildings into pieces of artwork, providing a colourful and aesthetically beautiful reprieve for residents,” said Syvixay.
“By tapping into my planning sensibilities, I was able to interact and involve the community in a five-page [feature] about the experience and impact of the initiative” which was published in the Winnipeg Free Press.
Syvixay currently works as a planner at HTFC Planning & Design, one of Manitoba’s foremost design firms, working on community planning projects for towns across Manitoba. This includes conceptual designs for Main Streets in Ile-des-Chenes, St. Adolphe, and Ste. Agathe, a secondary plan and vision for Pinawa’s waterfront, and a community plan for Woodlands, as well as working on the Arlington Bridge Preliminary Design Project.
Some of his recent volunteer work has included working with the Winnipeg Arts Council, Winnipeg Architecture Foundation, Art in Bloom, and North End Arts Centre.