Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the downtown area in the last few years, but a new poll says most Winnipeggers still do not believe the area is safe after dark.

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This article was published 6/10/2014 (2783 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the downtown area in the last few years, but a new poll says most Winnipeggers still do not believe the area is safe after dark.

When asked if they would feel safe walking downtown after dark, nearly six in 10 of those surveyed (58 per cent) in the Winnipeg Free Press/CTV Winnipeg Probe Research poll said they disagreed with the statement: "I feel safe walking downtown after dark."  Thirty-eight per cent said they strongly disagreed and 20 per cent said they moderately disagreed.

"It’s startling, startling – the level to which people are concerned about being downtown," Scott MacKay, president of Probe, said. "Most people say they’re not feeling safe downtown after dark."

MacKay said he was surprised, given the number of varied activities in the area – the NHL Jets, theatre, concerts -- by the level of unease among Winnipeggers to venture downtown after sunset.

"There’s such a scene down there but I guess we’re just not there yet."

MacKay said those who felt most vulnerable walking downtown after dark included:

  • 49 per cent of women.
  • 47 per cent of people aged 55 years and older.
  • Half of people with low household income.

The survey found people living in Winnipeg's suburbs felt the most unsafe when downtown.

"I think some of the fear is, really, lack of familiarity with the place – they never have cause to come down," MacKay said of suburban residents. "Maybe if they were to come down for the first time, they would find this anxiety is not warranted."

However, unease with downtown was felt even by those who live there: 55 per cent of residents living in the core area said they didn’t feel safe walking after dark.

Probe Research conducted a random and representative telephone survey of 602 adults between Sept. 18 and Oct. 1. The margin of error is plus-or-minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error is higher within each of the survey’s sub-groups.

Perception improved over last decade

Jino Distasio has made his living studying downtowns and how they work; he too is surprised at how many Winnipeggers feel unsafe there after dark.

Distasio, director of the University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies, said the public’s perception of downtown as unsafe is not unique to Winnipeg but it has proven to be a difficult to issue to reconcile.

"I’m certainly surprised, given all the effort to enhance the downtown and to create more of an educational, entertainment and hospitality district," Distasio said. "Other cities face the same challenge of coming to the downtown but I’m surprised it’s as high as it is.

"We’ve got to find a strategy to undo that because, for the most part, downtown is a safe place," Distasio said.

MacKay said that despite the gloom about downtown, more people do feel safe there after dark than they did 10 years ago.

MacKay said this poll found that 37 per cent of Winnipeggers said they did feel safe downtown after dark. When this question was asked 10 years ago, those feeling safe after dark was 23 per cent, he said.

Among the supporters of the major mayoral candidates, the largest number of those who said they did not feel safe were Gord Steeves supporters (70 per cent) — but a majority of the supporters of the other candidates also felt the same.

When asked if the presence of panhandlers was a contributing factor to their fear of downtown, 50 per cent said fewer panhandlers would have no impact on their decision to go downtown; while 43 per cent said they’d go downtown if there were fewer panhandlers.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca