He’s only been in Winnipeg for three years, but if you’re looking for the inside scoop on everything West End, Fernando Velarde Trejo might be the best source of information.
For the last year, the 27-year-old city planning student has been helping the West End BIZ audit and research every nook and cranny in the community — murals, bike racks, derelict buildings, housing and business developments, street hazards, bulky waste, and property values.
"It’s been a good opportunity to learn about the neighbourhood, how diverse it is," Trejo said.
"Talking to business owners, there are a lot of different backgrounds, some who were new to the country, many who are committed to making the neighbourhood better."
Trejo, who is from Chihuahua, Mexico, is in Winnipeg working towards his master’s degree in city planning at the University of Manitoba.
The BIZ hired him as an intern last summer to conduct a series of projects to help the organization understand the changing face of the West End. The BIZ kept him on part-time as he completes his thesis.
"He’s done such a wonderful job for us," said executive director Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner. "Every day I think of something else I can use his talents for."
Trejo’s hard work and hard data is helping the BIZ develop new strategies, from how it approaches city bylaw enforcement to dealing with derelict properties, how to quickly remove bulky waste dumped in back lanes, to how to develop grant funding to assist with housing development and attracting businesses to locate in the area.
"We need to know where we came from and where we are now to know how to develop a road map to where we want to be," Cardwell-Hoeppner said.
"You can’t really plan without knowing," Trejo added, noting his thesis focuses on how inner-city organizations and community programs improve neighbourhoods.
Hitting the streets and knocking on doors has been a refreshing experience, said Trejo, who lives in Osborne Village.
"(The community) doesn’t feel multicultural because it wasn’t designed to be that way. It just is," he said, noting he’s been able to use his native tongue, Spanish, during his work day.
"I don’t have the chance to speak the language often, so it’s really refreshing to have that opportunity."
Many of the organization’s summer students end up coming from diverse backgrounds (aboriginal, Somalian, Portuguese and Colombian), Cardwell-Hoeppner noted.
Students are important to the BIZ, she added.
"They’re our future leaders and planners. We want to make sure we support that," she said.
"While doing that, we benefit from their talents."
The BIZ plans to hire Trejo full-time when he completes his studies.
When he’s not helping local businesses navigate tax bills or communicating the city’s new garbage and recycling plan, Trejo is counting traffic on Ellice and Sargent avenues. It’s a study that will help the BIZ develop a new street parking strategy to respond to the concerns of some area business owners.
"There are thousands of businesses. Each has a different concern," he said.
"We’re here to help."