Monday, April 4, 2011

Dirty Downtown

It's the heart of this prairie city; the centre hub with veins leading to all four corners of what is known as urban sprawl. It's a place where beggars stand on street corners holding out their hats, or battered Tim Hortons cups, in the hopes that somebody will spare a little dignity. It's a place where the sidewalks are littered with spit and piss and millions of cigarette butts, and where trendy cafes set up shop next to dilapidated buildings that once-upon-a-time ago used to be glorious and hold so much promise. It's business in the afternoon and fear and paranoia after 6 p.m.

It's downtown Winnipeg.

On Graham Street the busses flow steadily during the afternoon peak hours. The bus stops are crowded with all kinds of people, waiting for the number 16, 18, 33, and so get them safely out of the dirty strip. Most of the people downtown are just passing through anyway, only a handful actually stay.

Nobody makes eye contact. Instead, people literally look off into nothing, just to make sure they don't accidentally catch someone else's eye.

The hierarchy of downtown dwellers is evident as workers with name badges and swipe cards on lanyards walk in pairs and groups with their Starbucks coffees, ignoring the vagrants and avoiding the clusters of teenagers. They make idle chatter as the sound of pebbles crunch under their feet. Everything in downtown is dirty, especially now that the snow is gone and the sidewalks are adorned with soggy cigarette butts and garbage.

At the edge of downtown is the Bay; it stands erect at six glorious stories of classic architecture and boasts childhood memories from all Winnipeggers of all living generations. It is arguably one of Winnipeg's most patriotic symbols, because it has always been there. The Bay is the only place in downtown that represents what used to be and what could have been. While the rest of downtown crumbled in failure, it is still timeless for the throngs of white-haired ladies that gather to shop for high quality wears.

However, even the Bay in all of it's glory isn't enough to breathe life into the sluggish strip.

Yes, during the day there is nothing still about downtown Winnipeg, but it certainly isn't a proud metro gathering spot where people flock. It used to beat with the pulse of life, but now it is weak and old and terminally ill. It seems hopeless to try and fix it, people like their suburban homes and cars too much.



  1. Spring is always such a dirty time of the year. A winter's worth of soggy garbage is suddenly there for all to see. and generally everyone talks about how excited they are about spring, but ignore the decaying splattering of garbage that spring has unvieled, pretending its not there, or that its someone else's problem.

  2. So many bad mistakes have happened downtown;

    - chasing out retailers with a monstrosity like Portage Place

    - closing Portage and Main for pedestrian use

    - no strategic planning for historical property conversions downtown, and no incentives for landholders to keep tennants in properties

    Basically there's no reason for people to be on the streets outside of working hours.. so the "shadow people" fill in the void. Look at any vibrant urban city and you will see places for people to go.. things to make them want to walk on the sidewalks etc.