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.”