Embracing the face of downtown

The downtown attracts a vibrant mix of people to its sidewalks - and should remain that way.
The downtown attracts a vibrant mix of people to its sidewalks – and should remain that way.

By Stefano Grande

I regularly get emails from people giving me suggestions on how we should continue to improve our downtown. Many are thoughtful and considerate in their ideas, supportive of what is happening but wanting more. Others are more direct, pointing out how ill-thought-out they believe some initiatives are.
Sometimes they are right to be critical, but I often realize that revitalization is a process not many understand – luckily, many are eager to learn and talk more.
For example, it’s actually not uncommon for new development in downtowns to be outright subsidized. That’s because urban sprawl is subsidized too, but those subsidies are hidden in the roads and bridges getting people to those far-flung places. They are paid for by all taxpayers, and are tragically killing the real estate market in our inner city. These kinds of conversation are constructive, and helpful messages are exchanged.
But from time to time I get emails from people I really hope are not representative of the people of our city.
Recently I received a suggestion from a well-educated person advising me that the woes of our downtown would only be addressed by getting rid of the “degenerates” walking around our downtown.
Let’s get one thing straight. Not on my watch.
I walk around our downtown a lot, and what do I see? A downtown that is the face of our entire city. Its diversity of people and races and cultures is as rich as any in the world. And perhaps people’s attitudes about our downtown are a reflection of their attitude about our city and how comfortable we are with our own face.
Our city and its future economic and social prosperity will depend on how we embrace our Aboriginal community, a community visible in our downtown.
Our city’s prosperity will depend on whether we embrace immigrants to our city and how we help them succeed as new Winnipeggers.
Our future prosperity as a city depends on how we make youth part of the change, helping them with jobs, opportunity, and allowing them the creative outlets that will shape us into something new and incredible. When you come downtown, these are the faces you see alongside the affluent, educated and entrepreneurial – some of which are the same.
In fact, if you want change and prosperity, bring your children downtown. Show them the richness we have, teach them to embrace it and not be fearful of people experiencing homelessness or poverty. Instead, be respectful, and demand changes that will give these fellow Winnipeggers access to help and opportunity – or help create that change yourself.
Don’t be afraid of that young person with a tattoo on his neck wearing low-hanging jeans – he’s a Winnipegger too, and he has talent and brains you haven’t seen.
And those conversations in other languages you hear – that’s Winnipeg too, home to immigrants. They come from all places and with all colours of skin, and the downtown and inner city is often their first home in their new city.
Two of these people were my parents who immigrated 50 years ago to give me and my sisters a fighting chance at life. They were discriminated against too, but luckily for me, and for Winnipeg, they persevered and stayed to contribute to this incredible city of ours.
The downtown is the face of this kind of opportunity; and Winnipeggers need to pay attention. The solution is to not get rid of its face, but to embrace it and to empower it. It’s ours.

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