Tag Archives: infrastructure

Interview: My mom, on moving back to Winnipeg after 20 years away

I spoke with my mother about her recent move back to Winnipeg, Manitoba after having moved to Quebec City (and then Toronto) over 20 years ago. What’s it like to return to one’s hometown? Is Winnipeg a nice city? A crime-ridden cesspool? Find out!

How long has it been since you last lived in Winnipeg?

I moved away when I was 31. I’ve been away for 21 years.

What brought you back?

I found myself with an opportunity to be back with my family: my mom, and my sister and cousins. I was living alone in Toronto and figured I would move back to Winnipeg because I had family here and also because the cost of living was I would say maybe a third of that of Toronto.

Even though you grew up in Winnipeg, did you experience any culture shock when you came back?

I had culture shock from where I was used to living, but I knew what I was getting into. I knew there’d be no walk-friendly places. Mind you, I was only three years in Toronto and I was 18 years in Quebec City. In Quebec City, I needed a car where I lived as well. Quebec City is a much cleaner and more historic city; Toronto is more happening. The [driving] lifestyle in Quebec City and the cold winters were things I was used to. But as far as [comparing] Toronto goes, [in] Winnipeg there’s no walking at night, there’s no feeling of security. So in that sense, yes, there was culture shock.

Do you like Winnipeg?

I’m growing to like it. I don’t dislike it: I just think they could do so many things different[ly] to make it more people-friendly. But I haven’t had a bad time here. Of course, there’s certain things you miss about the different places you’ve lived, but there’s such a sense of familiarity here for me.

Has Winnipeg changed a lot?

It’s more city-like. They’re starting to build big condos and they’re starting to do things that other cities are doing – however, I would say that it’s remained the same more than it has changed.

Do you think that’s a bad thing?

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just think that I’ve seen the way a couple of other cities are and I see where there needs to be improvement. To me it seems like such a simple thing and yet it hasn’t happened.

What do you think could be done to improve Winnipeg?

I think they could improve people’s ability to go out at night by having things [stay] open. It’s a city that shuts down because people are afraid of crime. Everything is closed down. If everybody stayed open at the same time – bang! our hours are changed, we’re staying open, we’re not going to be afraid – you would have more people out on the street, more people shopping, witnesses. The criminals would go someplace else or go into hiding.

What else could be changed?

I think they could change the lighting. Again, it points back to crime. Everything is just open for criminals: “It’s dark here. Let’s hover. Let’s steal. Let’s rob. Let’s kill.”

Do you think that Winnipeg’s primary problem is crime?

Yes. Absolutely. Take away that crime, and I think this is a great city. People would be out and about and there would be more things to do. People wouldn’t be afraid.

You seem to think that crime deterrence is strongly connected to improving infrastructure.

For sure. Things are spaced out, things are dark. But even the crime downtown is because everybody just goes home. The stores close at five or six. Everything closes, and so out come the people who are just hanging around doing nothing but bad things. There are a lot of gang things going on here. However: I did hear on the news today that crime has dropped significantly this past year – by a lot. I don’t know why. Maybe there are more police officers out on the streets, maybe more officers patrolling.

Do you feel unsafe in Winnipeg?

I’m not afraid, [but] I’m also careful. When I was in Toronto, if I came home at 10 o’clock at night on the bus, I might look over my shoulder now and again if I heard something, but you know, I wasn’t afraid to walk. Here, at dusk, you don’t go walking the streets. It’s just not heard of. Now, I know there are better places [in Winnipeg] than where I’m living where I probably would feel okay doing that.

Which neighbourhood do you live in?

Point Douglas. I’ve always known it as “West,” though. Between the North End and the West End. It’s at the crux of everything. You go over the bridge and things get better quickly.

What do you like about Winnipeg?

I like the cost of living, although it is going up. I like the fact that everything feels familiar. I guess that’s the thing I like most about Winnipeg, that I can go down the street and say, “Oh yeah, I walked that street when I was 15.” I have a memory. So maybe it’s the memory that I like more than the city.

Do you regret ever leaving in the first place?

No, I don’t. I probably wouldn’t be the same person had I not left. You get caught up in things. I’ve learned a lot by being away.

Do you think you’ll stay in Winnipeg forever?

I can’t say that. I know that I’m here for a couple of years, anyway. A few years. I’ve got a good job. I don’t see myself moving in the near future. I’d like to move to a different location in the city, though. Right now my dilemma is, do I move to the outskirts where there’s less crime and I could have a little garden, or do I move where things are starting to pick up and things have started happening? But then the cost of living goes up and I’m not in a financial situation — you know, one of the reasons I came here is because the cost of living is lower. If I end up making a huge mortgage payment, I’ve defeated the purpose of ever moving here, as far as financial reasons are concerned.

Any last thoughts about Winnipeg?

I have hope for Winnipeg. I see them building skyscrapers, I see them building, and I really think [things are] on the up. I would like to stick around a few years and watch the city grow.

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Light rail for Ottawa!

Good news, everyone! Ottawa is about to move from the awkward adolescence of a transitway bus system to the sleek maturity of light rail.

I am told (but have not looked into the facts) that Winnipeg was once considering light rail (in 2010?) but decided to go for an Ottawa-style rapid transit bus system. TERRIBLE IDEA, WINNIPEG.

But back to Ottawa!

When I first moved here, I'd lived in Montreal and Toronto for six and two years each, and to be perfectly honest I thought of Ottawa as more of a town than a city, mostly because everyone seemed so darn proud of their stupid bus system. I, meanwhile, had come of age (ha!) with the STM and TTC (imperfect systems, yes, but I loved them!). Indeed, I've never bothered to learn how to drive, so adequate were the metro and subway systems for me. So I was a little… disdainful… of Ottawa when I first arrived. I am no longer disdainful (though seriously: would it kill H&M to set up shop here?!), but am quite pleased to live in a city where I can watch things get done and see changes being made for the better (for example: a new footbridge across the canal). It is the first time I've lived in a city where things are rapidly growing and changing for the better with relatively little contention. Montreal, the first city I loved, is quite literally falling apart. Toronto, where I felt the most at home, is dynamic and changing, yes, but it is in the midst of a civil war being fought between the Etobicokian Fordians and the Downtown Atwoodians (to greatly oversimplify everything). It was a civil war I felt welcome to participate in, but it was already underway when I arrived and continues on now that I've left. And really, as great as Toronto is, it is depressing and discouraging to live in a city that removes bike lanes. Here, I've had no trouble getting in touch with the mayor or my city councillor, which amuses me to no end.

Did you know that the Ottawa area is Canada's fourth largest city by population? I've lived here for over a year and I just learned that the other day. It is larger, say, than Calgary, a city that does an excellent job of promoting itself. Ottawa, dominated by parliament as it is, doesn't always feel like a cohesive whole–not helped, I'd imagine, by all those who come here to work for the government in some way and (maybe) don't expect to stay. Plus there is the issue of muddled jurisdiction. Ottawa is a city, but it shares the name National Capital Region with our neighbours across the water (and provincial border), Gatineau, Quebec. It gets a little confusing, sometimes, trying to figure out what is Ottawa and what is the National Capital Commission and what is just… “The Government.” But Ottawa is about to come into its own, and the first step is a grown-up public transit system; and that is how I come back around to light rail.

It would be easy for me to be a curmudgeon about the whole thing–the line will run east-west, for example, and so will not do much to help people like me who are oriented north-south in the city. Or I could complain that it isn't going to go out to the airport. I shall not do that thing, however tempting it is to berate the universe for not aligning things just so for me, because there are times when being a critic just to be a critic doesn't make anything better. Yes, I do hope that everything will be a roaring success and that a second line south down Bank Street and to the airport will be built; but I am just as happy, for now, that there will be easy access to the train station. I love taking the train! If you buy a ticket on sale, you can easily go business class and VIA Rail will wine and dine you all the way to your destination. They will even serve after-dinner drinks and chocolates.

I remember when I told people that I was moving here, 90% of them expressed the opinion that I would now have to learn to drive. Well! No. I do not. Getting around by bike here is relatively safe (though there are always tragedies) and part of the city's plan for light rail includes building additional bike lanes, all without Fordian strife. Plus there seem to be more and more interesting things happening on the food front; even the most basic grocery stores offer local, organic meat; and people are so active and joggy their gazelle-like leaping through all sorts of weather makes me feel grumpy and frumpy. It's not all good, of course, and I've vented my share of complaints about certain Ottawa behaviours (people standing around visiting and taking up the whole sidewalk, anyone?)… but I really do feel like these next few years are going to treat Ottawa well, and that the city will finally, at last, for real, feel like the nation's capital.

Before I forget, I should also mention that I'm quite pleased at the potential for Sparks Street, at present a sad pedestrian mall that shuts down around 5 p.m.: someone came up with the fun idea of building a 3 Brasseurs pub there (but you don't need to wait for it in order to have a nice time on Sparks… I've never had a bad experience at the Centretown Tavern, for example). And of course, this area will be easily accessible via light rail.

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Filed under Ottawa, Philosophizing