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Downtown safety —The two solitudes

Blog of the Week: I'm on my way — Destination: Hell

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A good friend of mine tipped me off to this article on the Spectator Tribune website regarding downtown safety which is a topic a) close to my heart as someone that lives and works downtown and b) something that is frequently discussed among my friends and colleagues.

Rather than summarize the whole article I suggest you just go ahead and read it -- http://www.spectatortribune.com/article/winnipegs-most-perpetuated-myth-downtown-is-dangerous/ -- and then come back here for my little rant on the subject.

Are you back? OK.

I think there are two attitudes that pretty much guarantee we will never have a frank discussion about safety in downtown Winnipeg. The first is the suburban mentality that downtown is a hopeless pit of despair, a lawless land where you can't walk anywhere without running the risk of being mugged, or getting stabbed or sexually assaulted. There are thousands of people that commute into downtown Winnipeg every day and can't wait to get home to the safety of the 'burbs because downtown is just SO SCARY.

I work with tons of people like this. I've asked them if they've been a victim and the answer is always no. But they HEAR things that happen to other people. They read about it in the news. The worst thing that happens to them downtown is being hassled by panhandlers that are drunk, stinky and aggressive (which can be quite scary, let's be honest). None of them have been mugged, assaulted or stabbed. Just bothered. But they are running scared for that bus every night and don't spend an extra second downtown if they don't have to.

This attitude definitely does not help downtown win any PR points because these people have their minds made up on the subject. There can't be any real dialogue on the subject if people aren't willing to listen to reason.

The second attitude that doesn't help anything is the ever-present, "I spend time downtown and nothing bad has ever happened to me, therefore there's no problem," attitude. People with this attitude are much like the first group in the sense that they have no direct experience with downtown crime, but have the idea that means crime just isn't there. Surely the numbers must be greatly exaggerated. You'll hear the tired argument that it's crime that happens between people that know each other, blah blah blah. It didn't happen to me so it's not happening to anyone, or at the very least, anyone that matters.

This is almost exclusively a male attitude, and the reasoning behind this is simple. Men don't have the same fear complex as women because in a purely physical sense, it is MUCH EASIER to physically intimidate a woman.

As a woman, I know we're a much easier target than the average male. We carry giant purses and vaginas everywhere we go. We have much more to lose on very, very extreme levels.

I got into a heated argument with a man with this attitude a while back, and he basically told me that a scary, violent incident has never happened to him so downtown is perfectly safe, to which I disagreed. He then called me out, telling me I was a BSer. His basis for this was that I live and work downtown and if I was so scared of it... I simply wouldn't.

Well, moron. This is my home. I have proudly lived downtown for four years in a row and had previously spent another year down here before that. I've been with the same company for seven years and have spent six of them working downtown.

My whole life is in this area and you know what? I love being here. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I'm close to work, I virtually never have to drive and believe it or not, it's pretty quiet around here at night. There are lots of good places to eat within walking distance, and there's a grocery store close by too. Everything I need in life is down here. This is my home.

But just because I love it doesn't mean I am under the false pretense that this place is Disneyland, nor do I feel it's like Chicago-style deep dish murder-y out there. You have to take the good with the bad here.

There is crime downtown and there is violence too. I saw a pretty intense tranny fight outside Club 200 last week. I also saw a really pathetic bum fight in the skywalk last week. Now sure, I may have not been involved in either of those incidents, but I still have to witness it. I still have to sidestep it. It's very real down here.

I've been in Portage Place and watched drug deals, or witnessed violent shoplifters being tossed out, punching and kicking at security guards and mall staff. I went for lunch there about an hour before someone got shot on the street outside. I've called the police for people I see wandering around bleeding from the head (for reasons unknown). Stuff happens here. It hasn't happened to me, but again, I'm around it.

Is downtown more vibrant? Absolutely it is. There are new apartment and condo developments. The NHL being back has lots of people downtown not only on game nights, but I think it's contributed to people being willing to stay downtown a little longer, even if it's only for a drink after work. The NHL crowd has realized there are places to be down here and I think they are willing to make downtown a destination on non game nights. I see a lot more people around than I used to.

But the NHL hasn't eradicated crime or the threat of it. People still need to know there are issues here and need to be smart about how they conduct themselves when they are downtown. People need to be aware of their surroundings. I see so many people wandering around here, faces firmly planted down at their cellphones, completely oblivious to the rest of the world. You're a walking target. Keep your head up. Pay attention. That is one of the easiest ways to avoid being a victim.

Anyway, back to my original point. We can't have a real dialogue about safety in our city until we are willing to shed the attitudes and acknowledge downtown for what it is, negative and positive. The discussion has to fall somewhere between Downtown Biz and Centre Venture's sugar coating and the suburban "everybody panic" level of hysteria.

Here is the discussion. It's so simple. Downtown Winnipeg has a crime problem, but it's also a great place with a lot to offer. How do we reconcile the two? How do we make people feel safe to be here, and how do we deal with what makes people afraid to come down here?

That is the reality we are dealing with. Let's talk.

 

L.L. is a Winnipeg blogger who loves and loathes downtown in the same breath. Follow her blog at shiftlessandlazy.blogspot.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2013 A8

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