Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Further to my excellent downtown adventure...

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It has occurred to me after reading some of the comments here, and those
emailed directly to me, that one of the problems we have here is a dislike
of "downtown lifestyle." People who grew up in larger, more dense cities
have learned to live with/appreciate living in residences with less square
footage, public transit, shopping at smaller stores instead of big boxes,
and co-existing with the grittier issues that come with downtown
(panhandlers, street crime, traffic, noise and lack of greenspace.) When as a
young man living in Toronto was all about public transit, or cycling to and
from work/social engagements, eating and shopping downtown, and craving the
bustling, smelly, sometimes messy, eccentric culture of Toronto's downtown.

In my formative days, Queen Street West was just coming into its own, and
you could still barhop along Queen from University to Spadina and beyond in
the original beverage rooms that occupied what was once a working class
neighborhood. On return visits to Toronto from Ottawa, where I went to
school, or the west, where I worked after school, I would take the Subway to
Bloor and Yonge, and walk down Yonge all the way to Queen just to see all
the trashy storefronts, the colorful locals and the grime. I think the point
here is that if you love downtowns, I mean really love them, then you tend
to crave the grit and Toronto continues to have lots of that.

I'm thinking about Little Brazil along Dundas west of Bathurst, Parkdale,
and the Lakeshore Village west from the 427 are just a few of the ones that
come to mind. And by gritty, I don't mean trashy and unsafe; these are
neighborhoods that haven't been renovated and revitalized into the
gentrified Toronto that the rest of the country images. But these are places
where lower-income housing still rules, where there are way more strip clubs
and massage parlors than Starbucks, and some very colourful local characters
rule the streets.

My mother lived her last days out in a fantastic waterfront condo in the
Lakeshore Village. The building itself was very upscale, yuppie Toronto but
the surrounding neighborhood was wonderfully un-gentrified. In fact, there
isn't a Starbucks on Lakeshore from the South Kingsway exit off the Gardiner
Expressway all the way out to Port Credit (old Mississauga). Can you imagine

The fact is, we've never had a large population of people living "downtown"
and thus we've never really created a generation of people who can
appreciate or at least navigate the good, the bad and the ugly of downtown
lifestyle. No downtown is perfect, and even in those cities where there are
tons of people living downtown; you still have to deal with drunks,
panhandlers and street crime. Toronto must have one of the largest downtown
residential communities of any city in Canada, and yet a quick review of the
pages of Toronto newspapers will tell you that crime does not disappear with
luxury condominiums or student residences.

So, here's the next question for all you downtownfiles - will Winnipeg ever
boast a portion of its population that appreciates downtown for all the good
and bad that it implies? Or will we continue to be a city of suburbanites
who don't crave and don't understand downtown?

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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