Winnipeg's inner city reversing decades of decline, report says

After nearly five decades of gradual decline, Winnipeg's inner city is showing signs of a newfound vitality, says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' latest State of the Inner City report.

Exodus from core stemmed and employment rates climbing, says CCPA report

Authors of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' latest State of the Inner City report say sustained community-led development has accounted for a gradual improvement in Winnipeg's inner city. (Courtesy Leif Norman)

After nearly five decades of gradual decline, Winnipeg's inner city is showing signs of a newfound vitality.

The area has reversed a trending decline in population, home ownership is up 10 per cent and income levels are rising faster than non-inner-city earners. These are among the key findings from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' latest State of the Inner City report.

According to one of the main authors of the report, sustained community-led development has accounted for this gradual improvement.

"A lot of increased neighbourhood engagement, people are getting inolved in all kinds of things, in developing housing plans, greening activities, opportunities for youth and so … that seems to be gradually making a difference," said Jim Silver, professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

Members of the North End Ambassador Program walk the streets of the neighbourhood. (Courtesy Leif Norman)

The report notes that sustained government funding is paying off and singles out certain initiatives such as the Selkirk Avenue education hub, dubbed by some as the "North End Community Campus."

In this one-block area exists the University of Manitoba's Inner City Social Work Program, the Urban Circle Training Centre, the University of Winnipeg's Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies and the Makoonsag Intergenerational Childcare Centre.

Silver says although these types of community-led initiatives are improving outcomes, it doesn't mean the issues plaguing the community have disappeared.

"The poverty that exists in the inner city is deep and complex and multi-faceted, and only a multi-faceted approach will work. The things we want to emphasize as being most important is consistent public investment in community initiatives," he said.

Where is Winnipeg's 'inner city?'

The report defines this area as being approximately bordered by Inkster Boulevard and Corydon Avenue/Marion Street and McPhillips Street and Gateway Road.

The definition of "inner city" has also slightly evolved since 1996 to include three additional neighbourhoods: Luxton, Glenelm and Chalmers.

Map of Winnipeg's inner city. (Google Maps)

Surprising numbers

According to the lead statistician for the project, one of the most surprising areas of improvement was in labour force characteristics.

"The improvements in the labour force for [the] inner city were not what I was expecting to see. I was really surprised," said Darren Lezubski, a local data analyst with UltraInsights.

He said although labour force participation is still lower in the inner city, the gap in unemployment between those living in the inner city and in other parts of Winnipeg has closed dramatically.

In just 15 years, the rate of inner-city unemployment fell from 14.9 per cent to 8.1 per cent in 2011. The non-inner-city rate sits at 5.9 per cent, based on the last National Household Survey.

Pedestrians walk in downtown Winnipeg. (Courtesy Leif Norman)

The survey also shows that 31 out of the 39 neighbourhoods experienced population growth, with the Exchange District (+115 per cent) and South Point Douglas (+84 per cent) leading the way.

Lezubski said gentrification in these areas are changing the face of the inner city.

"South Point Douglas stands out as a pocket of affluence, in the middle of continued decline or low income. That has to be attributable to the development of Waterfront Drive and things of that nature," he said.

Gains not equal across the board

Despite the marked improvement suggested by the report, some groups are still lagging behind, Silver said.

"The data shows that the gains being made are quite uneven, and aboriginal men are not making gains to the same extent as aboriginal women," he said.

The bell tower on Selkirk Avenue is a weekly rallying point for residents of the North End working to end violence. (Courtesy Leif Norman)

For example, male unemployment is up while female unemployment has declined, despite an overall combined increase, and there was relatively little improvement in education levels among aboriginal adults, the report notes.

"There's no single magic solution. It's a matter of many, many things happening at the same time and consistently being funded at the same time," said Silver.

Despite the fact the most recent report relies heavily on the less reliable and non-mandatory National Household Survey data brought in by the previous Conservative federal government, Lezubski said he is confident the trends are accurate and hopes it will stimulate more debate over the issue.

"I'm hoping that people look at this data and they might say, 'Yeah, you know what? That sounds all nice and the graphs are pretty, but I'm not sure if that really reflects what I'm seeing on the ground,'" he said. "I hope this generates more interest in this research."


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