Get well, Winnipeg Array

In the exhale between when these words are written and when they are printed, the calendar will flip over. It feels momentous, moreso than normal: the 2010s give way to the 2020s.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Opinion

In the exhale between when these words are written and when they are printed, the calendar will flip over. It feels momentous, moreso than normal: the 2010s give way to the 2020s.

A new decade, or maybe a new era. Over time, years blur into an indistinct tangle of memory, but decades are unforgettable. Decades have character.

Or do they? When I try to remember what Winnipeg felt like at the turn of the last decade, the sense settles as more or less the same. There are a few more fancy buildings now. About 100,000 more people. The city sprawls a bit more, but the difference — in a place that was already stretching its legs outward — isn’t particularly palpable.

To be sure, there are bright spots, places where the energy of the 2010s beats a song of the future.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS In the 2010s, The Forks embraced the fullness of its heritage as a meeting place, recreating itself as an easy and welcoming destination for all seasons.

This was the decade that The Forks embraced the fullness of its heritage as a meeting place, recreating itself as an easy and welcoming destination for all seasons, and its transformation will stand as a gift to the 2020s.

Crowds at the Whiteout parties are being reduced for safety reasons. Bad Thursday — the night before Good Friday — and New Year's Eve are two of the busiest nights on the calendar for Winnipeg police. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
And the Jets, maybe, that’s the biggest change. If Winnipeg’s NHL dreams were a twinkle in Mark Chipman’s eye at the dawn of the last decade, they were yet a faded scar on the civic psyche; but at the time, it seemed that life would be fine without them. The announcement that changed that was still more than a year in the making.

Meanwhile, the problems that lingered then linger now. A tired downtown, a struggling and threadbare public transit system. Neighbourhoods that are asked, year after year, to be resilient against the pain of poverty and outbursts of violence. The human and social cost of addiction. The human and social cost of letting barriers languish.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES People attend a vigil for Tina Fontaine and Faron Hall in Winnipeg in 2014.
This was the decade we wrestled with the death of Tina Fontaine, and what it means to lose a young girl to the city. The decade we came face to face with the meth crisis, in some ways no different, except louder and thus harder to ignore, than all the aches of addiction that came before and paved the way for it.

Long after the revelry of this week has fallen silent, those problems will remain. A new year is never a blank slate, however much we may wish it. Not for people, and not for cities. The problems we carried into the decade are the ones with which we will leave it, and that is a song that, in the years to come, will likely be repeated.

On the cusp of a new decade, perhaps it’s worth pausing to imagine what Winnipeg could be, 10 years hence, if we dare dream it.

Imagine what would happen if, in the years between now and then, some enterprising politician stands up to pitch a vision for the city that, while ambitious, gives us measurable targets of which to aspire.

On the cusp of a new decade, perhaps it’s worth pausing to imagine what Winnipeg could be, 10 years hence, if we dare dream it.

So let’s imagine they said, for instance, that Winnipeg will finish this new decade without homelessness. That by the time the 2020s roll over into the 2030s, nobody in the city will spend their nights huddled on the street. Imagine they convened a network of private and community partners to help work towards this new priority.

And let’s imagine that, as the years rolled on, they held fast to this vision. They tracked the city’s progress in annual updates. They celebrated small victories, while focusing on the areas of most stubborn challenge. To tackle them, they invited a range of ideas and opinions — first and foremost, from those who are actually affected.

We might never achieve the goal or, at least, not by the turn of the next decade. There would inevitably be problems, both obvious and unforeseen; funding, red tape, how to pick apart the interlaced web of root causes that makes some people vulnerable to going a night without a safe place to sleep.

A camp under the Maryland Street Bridge in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The fact is, no challenge that has stymied a city for generations is likely to be fixed in just 10 years. But to ask if it would be successful is the wrong question. The right one would be to pause, at the dawn of this new decade and wonder: if we spent it pursuing this kind of vision, where would it take us? And what could we be?

Perhaps, in striving to become a better city by 2030, we would learn something about the city we are today. Perhaps we would come to better recognize the changemakers, the ones who are devoted to building healthier communities. Perhaps we would come to a new admiration for all the folks in Winnipeg who do that work every day.

And maybe we would find, in pursuing this decade’s vision, a new sense of purpose. A direction we could move in together, a city driven by clear goals and a shared sense of meaning. Winnipeg is expected to reach a milestone one million people by 2035; shouldn’t the work of the next decade be to build the best place for them?

The issue of homelessness is just an example. There are all kinds of long-standing issues that Winnipeg could choose to focus on; the point is that we do not have to accept that the city will feel the same at the turn of the next decade, as it did during the era changes of the past. We have options.

Above all, in daring to dream of how Winnipeg could change by 2030, we might also come to a better appreciation of all the things about the city too precious to lose.

There are many: a determined and close-knit community, a creative wellspring of culture, a relaxed pace of life that embraces the gifts of hot summers and crisp winters.

Above all, in daring to dream of how Winnipeg could change by 2030, we might also come to a better appreciation of all the things about the city too precious to lose.

Because if this is the decade we lost Tina Fontaine, then it is also the decade we marched for her, filling the streets with a cry for memory and for reconciliation. That may not have happened in decades before, or at least not in quite the same way. The fact that it did doesn’t fix anything, but it does reveal a community ready for change.

Of course, Winnipeg changes slowly. Its problems tend to linger. But so does the heart of the city, the strengths that — against all odds — warm and sustain it, and have kept it stubbornly moving forward for generations.

All I hope is that as this newborn decade takes its first steps, we can chart out a brighter path to the next.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Report Error Submit a Tip