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Author Topic: The Two Winnipeg's (Must Read, this is a pultizer winning presentation.)  (Read 1282 times)


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[DIV id=headline][H2]'Urban decay is not a negative'[/H2][/DIV][DIV id=author][P class=byline]JULIUS STRAUSS

[P class=source]From Saturday's Globe and Mail

[UL class=columnistInfo][/UL][/DIV][DIV id=article style="FONT-SIZE: 100%"][!----------------------------------------------------------------------------][!--Globe And Mail Pagination - Jan 2006                                    --][!--pageCount.html                                                          --][!----------------------------------------------------------------------------][!-- dateline --]Winnipeg[!-- /dateline --] — If there is such a thing as the Canadian dream, then perhaps Sasa Radulovic embodies it.

Thirteen years ago, when he was 20, Mr. Radulovic was living under siege in war-torn Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, as the big guns, dug into the hill above the city, rained shells and death on its denizens.

Today, he works as an architect at a smart Canadian firm and lives with his wife, Dejana, in a beautiful condominium, worth possibly half a million dollars, with magnificent views of Winnipeg's downtown.

[DIV class="bigbox ad" id=boxR][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript ads="1"]aPs="boxR";[/SCRIPT][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript]var boxRAC = fnTdo('a'+'ai',300,250,ai,'j',nc);[/SCRIPT][/DIV]Mr. Radulovic dresses all in black, gels his hair stylishly upward and arranges every small detail in his home with aesthetic rigour. On the weekends, he and his wife like to throw parties.

Friends such as their next-door neighbour, Johanna Hurme, a Finnish-born colleague of Mr. Radulovic who moved to Canada after falling in love with a local man, come around to drink wine or dance.

“When you come from the downtown, that's just where you want to live,” said Mr. Radulovic, who lived in central Sarajevo before the war.

If theirs is a middle-class utopia — good company, good wine, beautiful homes — a five-minute walk away, another facet of this sprawling prairie city is also on view.

Mike Wishnowski, 45, a Winnipeg native who has straddled the poverty line for 20 years, sat at the bar of the run-down Vandome Hotel. “I haven't been middle class since 1984,” he said. “I'm just a surviving human being.”

Mr. Wishnowski makes a living doing odd jobs and casual work, usually picking up about $12 an hour.

One of his neighbours at the Vandome Hotel is a 66-year-old retired meatpacker, Gordie Houston. His home for the past seven years has been a small, shabby room two floors above the bar.

On Mr. Houston's bed there is a cheap synthetic blanket depicting a wolf and a woman with flowing black hair. Nearby is an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. He has a cassette player and a small collection of mostly jazz recordings, including ones by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.

“I don't need a picket fence, I don't even need a wife,” he said, a little bitterly, by way of explaining his modest possessions.

While most large cities have jarring contrasts between their haves and have-nots, there is something brutal and depressing about a maiden visit to downtown Winnipeg that sets it apart.

The central streets of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto buzz with a life force that emanates confidence and purposefulness. In Winnipeg, there is only a feeling of listlessness and displacement.

Several storefronts are boarded over, pedestrians stay underground to avoid heavy traffic and biting winds, and during the evenings and weekends the streets are often dominated by haggard and desperate faces.

Part of the city's problem is almost certainly geography.

Built in the middle of the prairie at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the region has an extremely harsh climate and little in the way of obvious natural beauty.

In the summer, the streets are hot and teeming with mosquitoes; in the winter, the temperatures (this year is exceptionally mild) plummet to minus 20 or 30, making it the coldest large city in the country.

Many of Winnipeg's residents are here primarily because of the low cost of living. Others initially plan to move on, but end up staying because of the financial sacrifices required by a more expensive city.

What keeps the prices down, doubtless, are the laws of supply and demand. Each year, there is a net outflow of people from Manitoba, mostly to Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia.

Vague plans to beautify, upgrade and gentrify Winnipeg's downtown have been around almost as long as anyone can remember.

Now, however, a vigorous new effort is under way to turn the city centre's fortunes around. City authorities and local companies and businessmen are pulling together to try to reverse the decay.

The framework of the thrust to rejuvenate the city hangs on several large prestige projects.

One is an arena, the MTS Centre, which has been operating for a little more than a year and hosts everything from curling competitions to travelling magicians.

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The ambitious headquarters for Manitoba Hydro, which will house 2,500 employees and be one of the city's more innovative buildings, is due to open within a year or two.

David Asper, of the media group CanWest Global, whose headquarters is in the city, has even talked of turning Portage Avenue and Main Street, the traditional centre of the city, into a new Times Square, with huge electronic screens.

A human-rights museum, also championed by the Asper family, is to be built at the Forks, a small enclave of riverside parks, restaurants, bars and food markets behind the central railway station.

[DIV class="bigbox ad" id=boxR][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript ads="1"]aPs="boxR";[/SCRIPT][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript]var boxRAC = fnTdo('a'+'ai',300,250,ai,'j',nc);[/SCRIPT][/DIV]If evidence were needed of the growing confidence in Winnipeg's downtown, Waterfront Drive, a development a few minutes away, provides it.

The new condos going up are nothing if not lavish. Perhaps to reflect the aspirations of their future tenants, one of the developments has the luxurious-sounding name Excelsior.

Near the Red River, where, until recently, drug dealers plied their trade and Winnipeggers feared to tread even during the day, there are now ornate faux 19th-century lampposts with five glass orbs each.

The condos themselves are about 1,250 square feet and larger, have 10-foot ceilings, multicoloured, Mediterranean-style fa็ades and small trees planted on their roofs.

When the yellow excavators, diggers and cranes have finished their business and the glass and steel fittings are all in place, each will go to market at $350,000 and upward.

By Winnipeg standards, where a pleasant three-bedroom, detached house can be had for less than $200,000, such a sum is a king's ransom.

If developers can achieve the same level of success as the Exchange District, they could be in for some handsome profits.

Nestled just to the north of Portage Avenue and bordered on three sides by some of the city's roughest streets, the Exchange is probably the city's most remarkable success story.

Until a few years ago, it was run-down and crime-infested and many of its grand, old buildings lay empty.

Now, trendy caf้s and pubs and upmarket niche shops have moved in, lending the enclave an artsy, cosmopolitan, almost European air.

Several beautiful turn-of-the-century brick warehouses have been converted into living space for the city's young, fashionable professionals.

The Travelers' Building is one example. Gerald Butler, a local man, bought the building in the 1990s. A former financial adviser and self-avowed wine aficionado, he has recently opened a spacious and well-appointed restaurant called Decanters and an adjacent wine bar.

“The idea was to combine fine food, fine people and art,” he said. “I'm a big believer that champagne lowers stress levels. People don't fight after champagne. They become lovers.”

Above the restaurant and the wine bar, Mr. Butler has built two floors of condos. Sasa Radulovic and his wife live in one. Johanna Hurme and her lawyer-husband live in another.

Ms. Hurme said many of their friends who live in the suburbs are also considering making the jump to downtown.

But she acknowledged that some are reluctant to give up their gardens, especially if they have family. “People say to us you'll move if you have kids, but I don't think we will,” she said. “I don't need green grass and a barbecue to feel at home.”

One of the great deterrents stopping Winnipeggers from moving downtown is crime.

Although the city's West End, which borders on some of the most exclusive parts of town, is statistically more dangerous, the downtown has a large transient and homeless population.

They come to central Winnipeg because it is simply one of the cheapest parts of the country to live, home to several dingy hotels and homeless shelters.

For Ric McMillan, a 49-year-old M้tis man, home is a shelter on Main Street, a five-minute walk from the heart of the Exchange District.

A former trailer-loader, chemical-mixer and firefighter in British Columbia, he came to Winnipeg in 1997 after a failed marriage and has been struggling to get by ever since.

“I survive on soup kitchens,” he said. “Friends sometimes help me out. Once in a while, I get a day's work or deal a little drugs, make necklaces, headdresses, native craft, that sort of thing.”


The rules of the shelter are that would-be residents must be free of drugs and alcohol. They are given a space on a plastic mattress on the floor — their own small room if they are lucky — and must be out by 10:30 a.m.

Mr. McMillan starts his day early, cleaning and tidying up the shelter. In exchange, he gets coffee and bannock. At 10:30, he heads to another charity for the homeless called Shalom, where he is given breakfast.

After that, on cold winter days, he and some of his friends often go to the new city library, a place where they can keep warm.

[DIV class="bigbox ad" id=boxR][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript ads="1"]aPs="boxR";[/SCRIPT][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript]var boxRAC = fnTdo('a'+'ai',300,250,ai,'j',nc);[/SCRIPT][/DIV]If he is short of cash, he might panhandle a little on Portage Avenue.

“I don't like it, but this is what I've got,” Mr. McMillan said with a soft, resigned smile. “I wish I had a nice home, a secure job, a family. I feel like one of the little people in the city: Whichever way you turn, somebody is stepping on you, trying to push you down.

“All that wealth I see will just stay where it is. It will never trickle down to me. The rich just get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Mr. Radulovic acknowledges the social disparities, but he believes that the downtown's reputation for lawlessness is unjustified.

“I had friends who came downtown, parked one block away and asked to be driven to their car when they left,” he said. “But I see very few people on the street that scare me. Even the panhandlers are super-nice. They even say thank you.”

If Mr. Radulovic is sanguine, street crime in Winnipeg is nevertheless a statistical fact. For the past two years, the city has had the highest homicide rate among Canadian cities with a population above 500,000. (In 2003, it was 2.3 homicides per 100,000 people and rose to 4.9 in 2004, according to Statistics Canada.)

For those who live on the street, the threat of violence is something they must contend with every day.

One of Mr. McMillan's homeless friends is Rob Deschamps, a 21-year-old from Alberta. On and off the streets since he was 12, he said he was adopted by a man who promised to take him to Toronto and then dumped him in Winnipeg en route.

“My mom was an alcoholic,” he said. “When I was 6, I was rolling smokes for her. When I was 8, I was opening her beer. At 12, I told her to stop drinking or I'd leave.”

Mr. Deschamps, who is white, arrived in Winnipeg two years ago. Since then, he has been living in shelters after, he said, welfare officials told him that they couldn't help him.

The area where Mr. McMillan and Mr. Deschamps live is probably one of the roughest in Canada.

Mr. Deschamps said he has seen two killings since he arrived, one when a man was stabbed and died in front of him. “I don't trust anybody any more,” he said. “Normal people just want us out of the way. They look at us as if we were lepers.”

Middle-class Winnipeggers began fleeing the downtown after the war. In the 1970s, the pace accelerated rapidly as a rash of new suburban malls were built.

According to Eduard Epp, a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of Manitoba, 74 per cent of all retail activities in the 1970s took place downtown, but by the 1980s it was 24 per cent.

In the following decade, many property prices around Portage and Main hit rock bottom and much of the downtown was taken over by cheap hotels and drinking holes.

Many Winnipeggers say the reason they try to avoid the downtown is the preponderance of panhandlers.

On a freezing day last month, one of the men looking for quarters on Portage Avenue was Wilfred Moose, a 58-year-old native who moves with the help of a metal walker.


Mr. Moose lives with a relative in the city's North End, one of the poorest parts of the country. Smelling of urine and sitting on a pack of old newspapers to protect him from the frozen stone, he said he has been begging money from passersby for the past two years. On an average day, he said, he can expect to make five to six dollars.

“I've been cut off from welfare — that's why I panhandle,” he said. “In summer, it's okay, but now it's really cold. All I want is to live in a care home where I can be comfortable.”

The plight of poor native families is one of Winnipeg's enduring social problems. With a median household income of $27,349, the electoral riding of Winnipeg Centre, where many aboriginal people and recent immigrants live, is the poorest constituency in the country, according to Statscan.

[DIV class="bigbox ad" id=boxR][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript ads="1"]aPs="boxR";[/SCRIPT][SCRIPT type=text/XXXXscript]var boxRAC = fnTdo('a'+'ai',300,250,ai,'j',nc);[/SCRIPT][/DIV]Winnipeg has the highest proportion of aboriginal people in Canada. (The 2001 census showed that 8.6 per cent of the population reported aboriginal origins.) Many of them have moved into the city during the past 20 years to escape searing poverty on the reserves.

While some natives are doing well in the city, others find it hard to get work. Many complain of discrimination.

Roy Sennie's experience is typical. A 44-year-old car mechanic who was born on the Roseau River reserve in southern Manitoba, he recently returned to the province from British Columbia, where he had spent many years.

With him were his wife, Joanne Phillips, 44, and four children, Kelsey, 13, Caitlyn, 8, Roxanne, 7, and Kenneth, 4. For $495 a month, he rented a dirty, rat-infested house, which was once condemned, off Higgins Avenue, a few streets north of Portage and Main.

When he began to apply for work, he did fine on the phone only to find that the jobs were mysteriously taken when he showed up in person.

He told of one place where the boss virtually promised him a job. “I turned up and said I was Roy,” he said. “When he saw I was aboriginal, he went all red and said the job was gone.”

With endemic social problems in the city and the population spread out across hundreds of square kilometres, some believe that the whole project to beautify the downtown should be dropped, or at least scaled back.

They argue that resources are scant enough as it is and pouring prestige projects into the core does not reflect the needs of most residents.

For Prof. Epp, Winnipeg is essentially a city with suburban values informed by its rural origins, and attempts to graft on an urban identity are doomed to fail.

“The mindset was introduced in the 1980s that if we could fix the downtown, then we could fix the city,” he said. “But in my view the future well-being of the downtown is contingent on the future well-being of Winnipeg as a whole. We have to co-ordinate growth.”

Such a holistic approach sits well with some suburb-dwellers who have little use for the downtown, where they complain that parking is difficult and expensive and exposure to the weather makes winter shopping a chore.

Prof. Epp said: “We are polycentric as a city and we should work accordingly. Urban decay is not a negative. We should just let some things go.”

But others like Gerald Butler, who has put all his effort into turning his little patch of the downtown into a model of rejuvenation, believe that the battle for Winnipeg's downtown can yet be won.

“I'm very positive about the area. There are no miracles. We've learned patience. But I have a sense that weeds grow in an empty garden. If you fill it with flowers, those weeds will be choked out.”

Julius Strauss is a Globe and Mail writer.

[A onclick="return _open_popup_window('800', '600', this.href, 'wwinnipeg0225', 'Seen and heard: Marianne Helm ');" href=""][FONT color=#003399]Seen and heard: Marianne Helm [/FONT][/A] [img height=11 alt=Interactive src="" width=12]  chilling presentation.



My thoughts: Wow Winnipeg sound familiar yep its Saint Louis in a nutshell. Sad. Winnipeg and Saint Louis have a lot of in common. to much.

"We can't stop here. This is bat country."


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