Saskatchewan·Special Report

North Central improving since critical 2007 magazine article

CBC's iTeam has compiled a report card on North Central Regina almost eight years after a controversial article about the community was published. The neighbourhood seems to have modestly improved, though experts and residents say it has a long way to go.

A report card on North Central Regina

Unemployment is down and the average household income has increased by 40 per cent in North Central since Maclean's Magazine dubbed the community 'Canada's Worst Neighbourhood' in 2007. (CBC)

Almost eight years after a controversial article about North Central Regina, the neighbourhood seems to have modestly improved, though experts and residents say it has a long way to go.

“There’s still lots of problems,” said Doug Elliott of Sask Trends Monitor, which tracks social and economic trends in the province.

“It’s just they’re not as bad as they used to be.”

After examining a wide range of statistics about the neighbourhood gathered by CBC’s iTeam, Elliott concluded “the fact that we’ve got 25 indicators here and 20 of them are better is enough to say, ‘Yeah. Things are better.’”

Magazine article rocked North Central

During a ride along, CBC's iTeam took with Regina Police in the North Central Neighbourhood, police responded to a call from a mother reporting her children missing. They were later found unharmed. (CBC)
On January 15, 2007, the Maclean’s Magazine cover story called North Central ‘Canada’s Worst Neighbourhood’ and cited a litany of statistics and anecdotes that painted the neighbourhood in an unflattering light.

A community leader was quoted as saying “We’re living in a third world country here.”

The story prompted angry reaction from many people including Regina’s former mayor, Pat Fiacco.

"It tore the heart right out of [North Central residents] like it tore the heart out of me,” he said.

Since that time, there has been a flurry of new programs and a renewed focus on the community and there are signs that all the attention may be paying off.

North Central report card

For 30 years, Elliott has been tracking trends in Saskatchewan and he said the progress in the neighbourhood caught him off guard.

“It wasn’t just a couple of numbers that got better. Almost all of them did,” Elliott said.

Violent and property crime have dropped, in some cases significantly.

For example, between 2007 and 2013 arrests for threats of violence dropped by 28 per cent and residential break and enter offences have plummeted by 63 per cent.

Despite the improvement, Regina still had the highest crime rate in the country in 2013 because crime in all major metropolitan areas has also been declining.

Over the same period of time there were 15 per cent fewer people relying on social assistance.

The Housing Standards Enforcement Team that monitors the condition of inner-city rental housing said the number of complaints it receives has plummeted from a high of 130 in 2009 down to 55 in 2013.

Unemployment down, income up

Doug Elliot is a statistician who monitors trends in the province. He said it appears things are getting better in North Central and he points to improved employment rates. (CBC)
Elliott attributes many of these changes to an improving employment picture.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 the unemployment rate in North Central was 13 per cent, but by 2011 that had dropped to eight per cent.

During that same period, the average household income in North Central grew from $34,957 to $48,986.

“If you’ve got a job, your income is going to go up,” Elliott said. “You’re less inclined to be in trouble, less inclined to go on social assistance.”

He said the improvements are even more impressive when compared with the city of Regina as a whole over that period of time.

Over that five year stretch, North Central’s average household income grew by 40 per cent while the city of Regina’s grew by 28 per cent.

“The gap between North Central and the rest of Regina is closing. But that isn’t to say that things are all rosy there,” Elliott said.

Education is the key

Elliot is concerned about the neighbourhood’s educational trend.

In 2006, just 68 per cent of 25 to 64-year-olds had achieved a minimum of grade 12. By 2011 that number had gone up just one point, to 69 percent.

Elliott points out that’s well behind the city of Regina as a whole where 89 per cent of residents 25 to 64-years-old have graduated.

Elliott said ultimately things don’t improve in a neighbourhood if educational achievement doesn’t change. He worries this recent improvement may be short lived if it’s not supported by better educational outcomes.

“Whenever there’s low levels of education you have problems,” Elliott said. “Whenever education levels increase all of these other problems seem to go away.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001.

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