Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oshawa & Whitby Part 1: The Jekyll & Hyde story

Good news! While crime rates in some large urban places have turned upwards, it is not so for smaller cities. Case in point: The region of Durham near Toronto, Canada where crime rates have declined for the past few years.

Bad news! Crime and disorder is not distributed evenly. Two similar sized cities in Durham - Whitby and Oshawa - border each other along Lake Ontario. I've spent the past few weeks working here and driving them. You would barely know they are in the same country, much less region. They look completely different!

Downtown Whitby is charming, has a wide range of shoppers, stores, and landscaped streets. It looks appealing, well used and historic at the same time.

Downtown Whitby

Oshawa storefronts look unsightly, some are vacant. Strip malls blight blocks. Other blocks host drug addicts and the indigent. One recent newspaper account describes it as "little more than a hollowed-out downtown surrounded by sprawl."

Downtown Oshawa

It is not pretty.

Last summer, at the start of the Recession, Oshawa downtown was in a state of transition - a new courthouse, a restored historic theatre, and a new university satellite. It seemed things were finally on the mend. Today, not so much. With hard times falling on employers, it's difficult to know if that recovery is dead. Local youth told me they don't go downtown for fear of druggies and crime.

Jane Jacobs once told us we ignore streets at our peril. Someone has been ignoring downtown Oshawa for a long time.

Rehabilitating such areas is a monumental job. But seeing these two very different downtowns...I wonder? How is it that Oshawa and Whitby share the same regional government, the same regional police agency and a similar geography, yet live such a Jekyll and Hyde life?

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