Problem of perception

Last night the Mayoral Candidates Forum on Downtown took place at Manitoba Hydro in front of a packed house. It was very encouraging to see how many people came out to hear about the future of downtown. While there were a few sparks flying between the moderators; Sam and Judy; and the audience, the discussion was respectful and definitely interesting.

Dan Lett and Richard Cloutier were fantastic moderators who weren’t letting the mayor or his opponent get away with anything.

One of my favourite comments came from the Free Press’s Lett who pointed out that while both candidates kept talking about the problems of downtown, neither of them acknowledged that downtown is actually a pretty good place to visit today despite those problems.

Another great question came from the floor. A man spoke about homeless people sleeping on benches in Tel Aviv where he had just visited and yet, no one seemed to feel threatened there because of all the people walking around. He then talked about Winnipeg and how all the bus benches had been switched out so people couldn’t sleep on them anymore and yet, people are still afraid. He asked why.

I was disappointed that neither Sam or Judy answered this question with what I think was the correct response. Perception.

Neither candidate acknowledged that downtown isn’t actually any more dangerous than many parts of the city. That the crime rate in downtown is actually rather low and that a lot of people’s opinions on downtown are actually about perception and don’t reflect the current reality of downtown.

Yes, we need more development. Yes, we need policing. Yes, we need more people. Yes, we need a housing plan, a parking plan, and an active transportation plan, but we also need to stop talking about downtown as a big scary place.

We need our leaders to stand up and say, downtown may have problems, but it is getting better every day and people need to embrace their downtown.

In the words of Dan Lett: “You’ve got to love your downtown before it loves you back.”

Well said.

8 thoughts on “Problem of perception

  1. Downtown will never, ever, ever see its true potential until there’s our very own NHL franchise at the MTS Centre playing 45 nights a year in downtown Winnipeg.

    THEN (and only then) you’ll see results. THEN (and only then) downtown will be a fun, exciting place to be. THEN (and only then) 16,000 people will come early and leave late at 45 wonderful nights a year.

    Trust me on this one.

  2. I think the answer to the question about Tel Aviv can be found in the question itself: “all the people walking around”. It is easy to feel safe if there are lots of people around; so the real issue here is density. Getting people to live and shop downtown.

    A few of us are getting together for a drink next week, and I have reason to believe the guy who asked that question will be there. Email me if you want the details.

  3. Hi – I was the one who asked the question. While I agree with you that the problem likely has to do with perception, that still does not answer the question of where the perception lies, and what causes the perception.

    For example: Perhaps the problem lies in our perception of homeless people. Maybe people in Tel Aviv are less afraid of homeless people than Winnipeggers.

    Or maybe it is a perception of money: People who buy large houses in the suburbs seems to have enough disposable income, but they are turned off by the lack of free parking downtown. In some cities, people buy parking passes that allow them to park in any city parking space all year. Maybe this displaces the immediate perception of having to pay money every time for parking.

    Or maybe it is, as you suggest, the perception of crime. Anyhow, it is important to locate exactly which perceptions affect the decision to avoid downtown, and identify the sources of these perceptions. The candidates did not do this, but said something about reducing poverty (a worthy goal, but it didn’t answer my question.)

    Sometimes we mythologise the reasons for downtown decline rather than identifying provable causes.

    1. Some worthy statements ghurley. I think we are more scared of homeless people here than in other parts of the world. People are just a little too attached to their “safe” suburban neighbourhoods here.

      The question of parking is moot though. People believe free parking is a panacea to revitalizing downtown when in fact, it has been proven over and over again that free parking doesn’t bring people to downtowns. Great shopping and restaurants bring people downtown, regardless of what they must pay for parking. Look at Vancouver or Toronto–people pay $20/day for parking and they have no problem attracting people from other parts of the city.

      But yes, finding the source of those negative perceptions is very important and I was disappointed that neither of our potential future mayors seemed to understand that.

  4. Another big problem is leadership. We need leaders willing to think outside the box. Can current ones do it? Sure, if they sincerely make the effort.

    Here is the problem. Urban planning for downtown has been largely based on cookie cutter approaches from big U.S. cities, paying big bucks for such consultants.

    There is no reason for this. First, we have many great things going for us & downtown and cookie cutter approaches do not factor those in. Second, we have great talent here in our own backyard that has largely been ignored.

    An example, I have a contact who is an internationally renowned urban and commercial developer/consultant that has worked in multiple countries around the world, including national leaders and royalty. He lives right here in Winnipeg and offered his services for FREE to develop plans for downtown.

    He was turned down in favor of paying some American consultant.

    I am not saying this to lay blame against anyone, but to illustrate a point that we have wonderful people and resources here in our own backyards that are willing to help if we would only let them help.

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