Every place is sinister until you get to know it.
Having spent 19 of the 24 years of my life living in Winnipeg’s West End, it’s hard for me to take people seriously when they tell me how brave I am to stay here. However, for many people, including many students to the U of W, the West End seems like the bogeyman’s headquarters.
I’ve often wondered how to address the issue. I can’t exactly lie to people who ask me if there’s violence in the West End, because there is. And there are the go-to causes for violence too—drugs, prostitution, gangs, poverty, etcetera.
So I’ll admit to it, and then swoop in and try to cover it with the list of all the good things the neighbourhood has to offer—the many amazing people with fascinating, colourful life stories. The eclectic mix of foods and arts and cultures, the numerous reasonably priced restaurants that serve up delicious food regardless of the sometimes lack-luster restaurant décor.
But the “really, the good outweighs the bad!” argument doesn’t usually work on people who hear more about the bodies in the dumpsters than they do about the entirely harmless people who live across the street.
When I interviewed Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner, executive director of the West End Biz, about the recent robbery at Y-Not Foods, she made an excellent point about how to keep crime at bay in an area: keep the good people in it.
Which is ironic, since I just recently moved out of the West End, and, not to brag too much here, but I like to count myself as one of the good people—I’ve never stabbed anyone, not even a little bit.
I moved to the downtown area, and discovered within a day that I’m as afraid of this neighbourhood as everyone else is of the West End.
And am I scared of this area because of violence, the liquor bottles in the grass, or that loud BANG that sounded suspiciously like a gun-shot as I was drifting off to sleep last night? No. I’m scared of it because I don’t know what’s in there yet. I haven’t gotten to know this place yet. There are no familiar places of refuge for me here.
The conclusion I draw from this is that people aren’t actually scared of the West End. They’re scared of the parts of the West End they don’t know. And the best remedy for this isn’t to avoid the area, or to start stockpiling pepper spray. It’s to grab a buddy, or make friends with someone who lives in the area, and go exploring.