Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Is Winnipeg Loveable?

Dear Winnipeg,

I recently read this CBC article on another one of Manitoba’s top bureaucrats “going home” for Christmas. And while the decision to leave the province during a global pandemic is extremely stupid, it begs another question… why do so many of Manitoba’s highest positions live in other provinces? What is it about Winnipeg that makes people refuse to move their family here for $300,000 a year jobs?

It can’t be understated how important love is when it comes to community revitalization and employee attraction. Some places are vibrant, attractive and excite you as soon as you see them, and others you just swipe left.

Far too often cities like ours put all our efforts into the economic side of things, completely ignoring the emotional aspect of choosing a place. Elected officials and public servants seem to think that fostering business and a bit of private investment is all it takes to be a great place to live. Do that, and all our problems will be fixed. But that’s not the case – while it has a role to play, those decisions don’t ever take emotions into account.

We have to foster lovable places first. We need to create a place where people feel an emotional connection. People, ultimately, are irrational. Emotions play a huge role in their decision-making process. Choosing to move your family to a new city is a very emotional decision.

And it isn’t just about high-level bureaucrats not choosing Winnipeg. It’s also important for every business, every organization, everybody. If our universities can’t attract highly respected professors, we all suffer. If our growth start-ups can’t attract developers, we all suffer. If our manufacturing can’t attract engineers and executives, we all suffer. If our city can’t attract tourists (when that starts back up), we all suffer.

Our economy is taking a huge hit because we don’t attract that emotional attention. We are the Tinder profile that people instantly swipe left on.

But even more important is considering how the people who already live here feel. We have to foster love in our neighbourhoods or people won’t have positive relationships with their community. And residents who don’t love their community aren’t going to be engaged. When disengagement crops up you have less volunteerism, less investment, and less cohesiveness. In its place you get citizens counting the days before they can leave for greener pastures.

If people don’t love their community, then they will grow apathetic. And apathy is the community killer.

It settles in slowly over time as we ask less and less of one another to the point where we start to see things deteriorating before our eyes. You can imagine the impact of having the whole community watch the deterioration.

I have seen signs of apathy all over my neighbourhood: vacant properties, run down storefronts, cracked and heaving sidewalks, derelict garages, overgrown lawns, unkempt homes, and trash everywhere.

When I see this, I can’t help but think of the impact these things have on the youth of today. I think about what it means for people to live near it, what it feels like to walk past it every day, and how damaging this can be to how people identify with the neighbourhood. And I’m sure you all feel it too.

This isn’t just about empty and run-down buildings, it’s a visible sign that our community is suffering, and that apathy has set in.

Famed organizer Marshall Ganz calls them restraining forces: fear, inertia, self doubt, isolation and apathy. I feel them all the time when I look at my neighbourhood. Things will never change… and who am I, I don’t know how to fix things… Am I the only one who sees these problem… I’m so disappointed.

But for each restraining force is an opposing driving force: Hope, Urgency, You-can-do-it, Solidarity, and Passion. And after reading Elmwood Guy’s post about his readers I have realized I’m not alone, there is hope for us – but we have to act now – we can do this, together.

Oprah calls apathy the attitude that disappointment is normal. Well, I don’t want to be disappointed anymore.

I love this community. And as I have talked to other people in the community, I haven’t found many who say they don’t love it here either.

But loving a place isn’t the same as fostering a lovable place.

Fostering a lovable place isn’t about waiting for outsiders to come in and fix our problems. It’s about creating the conditions to fix our problems ourselves. It’s about turning the resources we already have into the things we need to achieve the outcomes we want.

This isn’t about huge transformative changes. It’s growing the opportunities locally. It’s being able to invest in the community, it’s about building a second unit on your property for your ageing parents, or growing teenager. It’s about clearing the snow from your elderly neighbours’ footpath or along a river skating trail. It’s about filling up the empty storefronts, or reopening the corner store. It’s being able to invest in local buildings, having a block party, adding a new swing-set to the park, levelling sidewalks, and picking up trash. It’s about eliminating all those visible signs of suffering and returning more pride to the community.

We need to fight the apathy. We have to realize that no one is going to come into our community to fix our problem. Once we accept that the solution won’t come from the outside – that the answer is right here – we will become liberated.

We have the power to change our community, our city. We are the ones we have been waiting for all along.

Love,

West Kildonan Guy