Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Central Park shines gloriously

Festival attendees notice huge change

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Ten years ago, Arron Lavis said you couldn't walk through Central Park without "somebody offering you something."

The park was littered with needles and was a hub for drug dealers -- a place Lavis said he would never bring kids.

Lavis and other area families say that's changed since Central Park's overhaul. On Saturday, Central Park was bustling with residents for the third-annual Community Vibes Cookout. The non-profit group runs outreach programs that target inner-city youth and kids played soccer and cooled off at the spray pad, while other residents enjoyed free hot-dogs and live performances from the Aboriginal School of Dance.

"Things have changed over the years. It feels more comfortable to come down here with the kids," Lavis said. "It's a lot safer. I like it."

Community Vibes president Troy Osiname credits the $5.5-million park redevelopment and an increased police presence for improving safety.

Event organizer Shantika Parke said police cadets have had a large presence in the neighbourhood and the park's redevelopment has brought the community together. The formerly rundown park now has a soccer pitch, spray park and wading pool with ground sprays, a restored Waddell Fountain, and slides and a playground on the south end of the green space. The $5.5-million overhaul started with a $1-million pledge from the Gerald Gray family.

"You're not finding needles and violence has gone down quite a bit," Osiname said. "It's been positive."

Earlier this week, police released new statistics that show violent crime dropped city-wide by nine per cent from 2009 to 2010 and by a further eight per cent from 2010 to 2011. Across Winnipeg, the number of assaults with a weapon dropped 10.6 per cent from 2009 to 2010 and a further 8.8 per cent from 2010 to 2011.

Central Park-area residents such as Ella Hudson say they've noticed a marked improvement.

Hudson said she still doesn't walk at night, but routinely takes her 13-month-old granddaughter Summer-Lynn to play at the park. She said the park brings more residents out and has contributed to a greater sense of security.

"There's not a lot of people passed out anymore," Hudson said. "I see a lot of cops around."

Janice Ottarson lives in one of the apartment blocks adjacent to Central Park and said the area has become more social, with kids playing in the park and playing soccer.

"There's been a few incidents, but it's better than it was years ago," she said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2012 A5

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