Thursday, June 9, 2011

Harbinger for better times - Winnipeg's fork at the river

Far from a tourist's trip of the river, Downtown Winnipeg this week looks bleak and hollowed out. It's a story of one-way streets, homelessness, shuttered storefronts and drunken disorder.

There are bright spots like the Exchange District. And not far away a few other gems…Osborne Village and Forks riverside park on the historic Red River. Harbingers of what the city could be?

Elsewhere, downtown is another story.

A recent Globe and Mail article says "The city’s population in 2006 was 633,451, but of those, only 13,470 lived downtown."

Bicycle lanes are as rare as a prairie ski-hill. In peak hours streets are vacant. Are these vacant streets the same ones in a 1905 museum photo of a crowded downtown?

They are.

What befell this place?

A few years ago I wrote about some exceptional local initiatives by
the Winnipeg Committee for Safety and an award-winning prevention program that cut auto theft.

Sadly, that's not enough. Winnipeg still has the worst robbery rate in Canada.

Frontier Centre is a right-wing think-tank on public policy with views about rehabilitating downtown Winnipeg.

Be warned: Wide-angle views from Frontier can seem Twilight Zone-ish, for example reconsidering justice policies like zero tolerance for domestic abuse - a policy that research shows actually reduces future violence.

Yet zoom in a bit and Frontier's images are less scary. Two papers in particular are worth a read: Turf war between cops and BIZ patrollers about security patrols to reduce disorder, and Fixing Winnipeg's Downtown about subsidies for the poor, removing one-way streets, and new zoning to revitalize shops.

NHL Hockey returns downtown

This week the NHL announced a hockey francise will return to the downtown MTS arena. That might spark good times.

More good news: The city has been spearheading new construction, renovation projects, and a new mixed use zoning bylaw. Says that Globe article "Winnipeg is desperately trying to realign itself, drawing life back to its centre as a way to sustain its economic core."

Says Planetizen "Winnipeg has joined other North American cities in trying to reverse its suburban expansion by targeting its downtown".

Frontier published an article describing how immigration helped Winnipeg: Can the Winnipeg Model save Detroit?

From what I saw, Winnipeg should save itself before it saves others.