City, province must act to stop ruin of Point Douglas

Black clouds drifting over the Point Douglas neighbourhood lately should be warning Mayor Scott Gillingham and Premier Heather Stefanson where that innermost part of the city is headed: up in smoke.

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Black clouds drifting over the Point Douglas neighbourhood lately should be warning Mayor Scott Gillingham and Premier Heather Stefanson where that innermost part of the city is headed: up in smoke.

Winnipeg firefighters had to extinguish fires: Monday, Jan. 30, in a previously burned vacant house on Stella Avenue; Saturday, Feb. 11, in retail businesses at 847, 843 and 835 Main St.; Saturday, Feb. 18, in a two-storey hotel in the 600 block of Main Street; Wednesday, Feb. 22, in a Dufferin Avenue house where a man was conducting a long standoff with police; and Saturday, March 4, in an apartment building at 813 Main St.

The causes vary from one fire to another. The cumulative effect is to leave smouldering ruins where homes and businesses used to stand. This flashing light signals a neighbourhood in deep distress where businesses will struggle to survive and many residents will get out as soon as they can.

These fires may seem safely distant from the suburban homes of Mayor Gillingham and Premier Stefanson, but they are not. Winnipeg is one city and one destination for migrants, visitors and employers. The city and the province cannot thrive while turning their backs on devastation in a central district.

The mayor and the premier should take an interest. They should seek advice from their departments about the reasons the Point Douglas district is burning. They should find out what services are already provided to businesses, residents and properties in the district.

They should consider what additional services might be provided to improve fire safety. They should seek ways to support building owners, businesses and residents who intend to stick around and make Point Douglas a steadily improving place to live and work.

The municipal departments probably have the best knowledge of physical and economic conditions that underlie this rash of structure fires. But the city is mainly in the business of caring for infrastructure and suppressing crime. The provincial government and its departments run the schools, family supports, health services and income-support programs that can perhaps make Point Douglas a stable, thriving neighbourhood.

Neither the city nor the province alone can bring Point Douglas the help it needs. A pooling of effort and resources will be required. The mayor and the premier should start the conversation that can lead to that joint approach.

The mayor might usefully invite the premier for a walking tour of Point Douglas, where she can smell the ruined buildings and see the ruination. They could meet community leaders and local residents who have been watching their district go up in flames.

The two leaders might review the achievements of the tripartite federal-provincial-civic Core Area Initiative of the 1980s. That project brought improvements in the Exchange District. It also brought about Portage Place Mall, which still stands, though no one quite knows what to do with it; True North Real Estate Development’s potential purchase and redevelopment of the mall, announced Monday, might be a positive step.

The first step is to notice that Winnipeg has a problem. The recent rash of fires is a signal of that problem, but putting out the fires does not solve it. We should not simply wait for the natural processes of urban decay to reduce all of Point Douglas to a smouldering ruin. The mayor and the premier should make it their problem.

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