In the past few days a couple of profiles about the West End - and I mean that West End, the one east of Arlington - were rolled out and it's not all bad news !
In the Saturday FreeP a few pages of the FYI section were dedicated to Summer in The Hood. When I saw the byline of crime reporter Mike McIntyre I thought hmmm ... is this gonna be a Winnipeg Sun-esque "we're all going to hell, we're all going to die" piece ? I was happy to see that it wasn't.
Yes, the problems of the area were outlined: the shootings this summer on Toronto and Victor, the street prostitution that abuts residential streets and problems stemming from slumlord-owned houses. They also talked to some of the new immigrants excited to be in the area and to some of the business people and residents who were doing their little part to keep the West End an interesting and vibrant place.
It is a walk I have done before on a few occasions for a local monthly paper called West Central Streets (which unfortunately isn't on line). I was asked to pair up with a resident of the street in question to take pictures of the sights and do some historic research on some of the more interesting buildings, (you can see some of my background shots for Home and Simcoe Streets here).
On Friday, CBC Information Radio hosted a discussion about the area. The panelists were a local business owner, a third generation West-Ender (who told me that Arlington Street dividing the area into a 'this' and a 'that' West End goes back to her parents' days !), someone who just moved here from Montréal and yours truly. (It will be broadcast this week in three segments - the first aired this morning).
We, too, talked about problems in the area. The street-crime, the decay of the sidewalks and back lanes, the lack of youth-rec opportunities. We also focused on the positives and what kept us in the West End.
A favourite point of mine that I brought up: the West End's two main streets, Ellice and Sargent, I would put toe-to-toe with Osborne or Corydon. The variety of restaurants, shops and services is staggering. As a matter of fact we taped the forum in a place called O Tacho, a cozy Portuguese restaurant whose decor and street setting wouldn't be out of place on either of those 'fancier' streets.
For every house you see run down and dangerous looking there are four in good shape and two more that are immaculate little places with lovingly maintained gardens. For every empty store front there are six places like O Tacho, Viva, X-Cues, a neighbourhood Ethiopian food mart or Portuguese bakery.
We all agreed that the area is certainly not a 'basket case' and still has a lot of potential but perhaps has been forgotten, slipping quietly between much meaner neighbourhoods to the north and the nicer residential neighbourhoods to the south.
Things like getting back lanes cleaned up when suites of furniture are emptied into them is difficult. Prostitution, even within sight of an elementary school, isn't a police priority anymore. Unsightly houses and storefronts sit for months before being ordered cleaned up or boarded up.
It wasn't a blame the government show. We knew that it was us - the business owners, homeowners, residents that have let the area become forgotten. Not reporting crime, not calling the city for every garbage infraction or house with broken widows. Not demanding what the area deserves.