WFP Column: Street Smart
Duets: Street Smart – Issue of public safety takes intricate, and often intimate, approach
From inspired entrepreneurs fullto the brim with ideas for our city to the many pop-up shops that have emerged in our downtown. From the corner coffee shop to the local body shop, design is everywhere. DUETS is an exclusive Winnipeg Free Press series that pairs design experts with local champions and innovators to brainstorm new opportunities for civic building. Duets is written by HTFC Planning & Design, meeting notes by artist and Winnipeg Graffiti Programming cofounder Pat Lazo, and photography by David Moder Photography.
In the weeks following the announcement of additional city funding for community patrols downtown, HTFC Planning & Design sat down with a cross-section of Winnipeggers with varying perspectives on the topics of crime and the perception of safety.
“The thing we have to keep in mind is that all of these problems—crime, safety, security—are really complicated and they have deep roots,” said HTFC landscape architect Glen Manning. “You can’t just design them away. It takes buy-in, and years to get things to the state where it’s transformative.”
Sitting in the Graffiti Gallery on Higgins Avenue, Manning is joined by gallery co-founder Stephen Wilson, James Favel, executive director of Bear Clan Patrol, Andrew McCrea, founder of the Smashed Window Club in River Heights, HTFC landscape architect Heather Cram and HTFC principal Maureen Krauss to talk about the intricate issue of public safety. The group discussed topics from art programming to grassroots movements, from environmental design to the importance of looking up now and then.
“We all know that there are edges or pockets in neighbourhoods that make us feel uncomfortable, and sometimes downright unsafe,” said Krauss, “We want to explore these issues and their intersections, and what’s interesting is that all of us bring different approaches.”
Tell us a little bit about your organizations and community safety projects.
● Wilson: Our grand opening was in April 1999. It was a much different time in Winnipeg, back then. There was a lot of negativity in the media, there was a lot of talk about illegal graffiti and all kinds of crazy stories about business owners keeping their staff late at night so they would catch these kids red-handed, and they would take care of the situation themselves — they wouldn’t be calling the police. There was a lot of anger, and a lot of misunderstanding. It was all about awareness in the early days. But also, it was about people appreciating the skills of these young men —and they were, typically, 99 per cent young men and boys at that time —not to accept the vandalism aspect of graffiti, but to appreciate the skill level and then try to do something with it.
● McCrea: I think the Smashed Window Club in River Heights started around March 2015. It started with the feeling that we were being ignored by police. I was working as a reporter at CJOB at the time, and I was covering what was happening in my neighbourhood, and I didn’t really know that there was such an issue. One day there was a police news conference where they said, “We made an arrest last night. This person was responsible for a hundred smashed windows.” It was very casual. When I started realizing how widespread this problem was, and that there was really no spotlight on it, I turned to what I knew best, and that was Facebook. I started this grassroots campaign to get everyone together. We started off in one place and we’ve ended up somewhere completely different. When we started, we really just wanted more police resources, because the police said, “It’s property crime, you can’t really do anything about it, it’s a crime of opportunity. Unless you have a cop on every corner, you’re not going to solve this.” So we got together to say, “Hey, we need these resources. Strength in numbers.” And then it just took off. We were getting the media coverage, and that brought in more people who were victims.
● Favel: I became a homeowner in 2009 and I got involved with my residents’ association in 2010. I’m a trucker by trade, and before that I was a bouncer for 10 years. I had no idea how to work in community development or anything like that, and so I joined the board and I was with them for the first year. Then they elected me to be the board chair, and we started growing.
We did our community’s first community housing plan for Dufferin. We started doing community clean-ups in spring and fall feasts, things like that. We spawned a youth group that was doing things out of the office. Then were looking at community policing models in early 2014 because we were
sick and tired of what we were seeing and not having any teeth to do anything with our limited resources. So we had a neighbourhood watch program come in, but it had a criminal record component, which disqualified anybody with a criminal record. Given that we are 70 per cent Indigenous in the North End and we are incarcerated at higher rates, we figured those kinds of programs were not going to work for us, myself included. So we were looking at other options.
My wife and I were getting ready for bed one evening, and we both just kind of came to it: “Hey, we need to get the Bear Clan started.” Then on Aug. 17, 2014, Tina Fontaine’s body was found in our Red River, and that was the last straw for me. We needed to do something immediately. We knew it was going to take community investment and it had to start with us. So we called together some of the people that, over the years, I’d been networking with. I called together 12 people that were on the same page as I was, and we started building. It took us 10 months from start to finish to build the infrastructure that became Bear Clan Patrol; policy, procedures, bylaws, financial policy, all of that. We started trying to walk in June 2015, realized that we were making some mistakes because, again, no one was professional at what we were doing, everything was ad hoc. So we stopped and took a look at it, firmed up our policy a little bit better, and came back again in July 2015, and we started walking in earnest.
You’ve all made a difference in your community through grassroots efforts to improve public safety. Could you speak a bit about your strategies and successes?
● Wilson: This was a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood, especially on the other side of the tracks in North Point Douglas. It was so tough that as an employer, as someone who was sending staff to teach students after school between the hours of 4 and 9 p.m., I had to mitigate certain risks. A number of threats happened, including an attempted assault. Now, fast-forward to today: half of my staff lives in North Point Douglas. The transformation has been enormous, and that began with the work of a dedicated, small North Point Douglas Residents Committee in the early 2000s.
Then, in 2007, the kids from Norquay School were so concerned for their safety in the neighbourhood that they got together with a teacher and the principal, Cathy Smith, and put a letter together to list their concerns. They sent the letter to the mayor, the police chief, some councillors and other politicians, and no one responded.
Then the governor general at the time, Michaëlle Jean, announced she was coming to the Graffiti Gallery, and it made the newspaper. The next day I got a call fromCathy, and she said, “How about we get the kids to come and read the letter to the governor general?” That was the beginning of some beautiful work that the residents’ committee did in North Point Douglas. In June 2007, this place was packed with young artists, and young activists and youth from all across the city. But even better, because it was the governor general, we were able to invite provincial cabinet ministers and city councillors and policy shapers and decision makers. And, gosh, when I called on Eric Robinson, the minister of culture, heritage, tourism and sport at the time, to respond to the kids, he was magic.
The other politicians stood up and talked about what they were doing already and blah, blah, blah. Well, clearly, you’re not doing enough. Now Robinson, he stood up, and said, “I heard what you kids have to say. I’m going to help you.”
Three weeks later he convened a meeting at Norquay School, and he took six cabinet ministers, the deputy mayor and the deputy police chief. Together, they told the residents’ committee, “Our doors are open. Call with whatever you need.” Through the children’s efforts to bring awareness, and the governor general shining her spotlight on the community, and the work of the residents’ committee—these people went nose-to-nose with the toughest gangsters in this city and said, “You’re not welcome here, anymore. You have to leave.” Six months later, 75 per cent of the crack houses were closed, with the help of the province and the police. The momentum just carried on. There’s still some crime in and around the neighbourhood, and the odd serious incident. But if you look at the crime stats, there’s less crime in North Point Douglas now than there is in River Heights. And I know that’s where Andrew is working!
● McCrea: I think you said earlier that there was this vigilante mentality, where they wanted to set people up in businesses and catch them in the act, and we’ve really tried to calm tempers about that. Yes, this sucks. We all know what you’re going through. I’m a two-time member of the Smashed Window Club, and that’s like a badge of honour you don’t want. But we really wanted Manitoba Public Insurance to waive deductibles, because we figured if they were a stakeholder in the problem, they would be motivated to reduce these issues. Then we wanted to get police resources, so that they could actually have people in our neighbourhood. The police are stretched fairly thin, and we really learned by working with them and developing that relationship, that it really does involve our community. But not by attacking these people. We need to share information. We need to look at it rationally and not emotionally. And by helping the police do their jobs, they’re able to do more with the limited resources that they have.
● Favel: The Bear Clan builds relationships. We tend to the addicted and the injured. That’s our function. We’re ambassadors in the community. Last year, we brought 20 tonnes of produce and baked goods into the community. And I know my community very well. Flora, Pritchard, Manitoba and Magnus are some of the hardest hit streets in our community with respect to poverty and things like that, so we would take the produce and baked goods and go up and down the street with the van and just drop it off door to door. I was using my own truck at the time. At Christmas time this year, we had 51 turkeys donated from Costco and we went door to door, dropped those things off on Christmas Eve. It’s about community building. It’s about being engaged in the community. Seeing somebody walk past someone else in crisis without flinching really got to me.
● Krauss: How do you build trust? Trust takes time, and it takes demonstration.
● Favel: We had to demonstrate that we were committed to what we were doing. Consistency was the key for us. Even when it’s raining, when it’s snowing, when it’s cold… the only time we don’t go out is when there’s lightning. Any other time, the community can count on us being there.
● Manning: The alternative to community building is fortifying. When I was in Africa, we visited Johannesburg often. Their answer to making it safe is to have razor wire everywhere and walls around everyone’s house. So they have armoured compound after armoured compound, and crime rates are still astronomical. It doesn’t work, and the quality of life coming out of something like that, as opposed to building connections, is pretty obvious. One of the things that really stuck withme when I did a Bear Clan walk last fall was how positive that experience was. One of the instructions they gave to the volunteers was, “Eyes down and eyes up.” You’re keeping an eye out for needles and other hazards, but like James said, you are also an ambassador, so you’re greeting people, you’re communicating, and it’s super positive and uplifting.”
CPTED is a term we use in design that stands for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Glen, how does this relate to the changes we’re seeing today?
● Manning: That term showed up around the ’70s, and dealt mostly with things like good views into spaces, controlling access, and territorial cues, which raise questions like: Is this place looked after? Is there a sense of proprietorship? It’s the idea that if a place looks a little bit shabby, it invites more crime and gives permission for people to break things further. This type of CPTED really was about pushing crime to new locations. All you’re doing is protecting your situation, it’s not actually reducing the amount of crime, or reducing the threat, or making the situation fundamentally better so crime doesn’t take root.
Newer ideas around CPTED also consider the kinds of things that I’m hearing are happening in all of your communities, where you’re looking to connect people, you’re looking to give people excuses to learn from each other and get to know each other. Some of that has to do with public spaces. If you create a public space that is inviting and has the support of the community, and if community stakeholders are involved in its creation, it becomes a valuable place to help break down barriers.
● Favel: A stakeholder mentality. That’s very important.
● Cram: That’s how one of my projects, Powers Plaza, got started in the beginning. It was the community. They wanted to do something about it and we listened to them. Powers Plaza is where Powers Street goes through Selkirk Avenue. Many years ago they cut it off at the lanes on the north and south sides and turned it into a plaza. At that time, Selkirk Avenue was a largely Ukrainian community, so the plaza was designed with the onion-shaped bell tower. It keeps evolving, so people that lived there started around 15 years ago to try to improve Powers Plaza and make it their own. There was a lot of community consultation with local organizations, businesses and residents. And it’s still not finished, there’s still more to do!
● Favel: Better than it was!
● Cram: Yes! There were elders who wanted to keep the garden there, because they grow their ceremonial and medicinal herbs, so that stayed, but we want to do a public art program around that. We want to have a community table where people can go and sit. People can stop and talk to each other and have a coffee and come together. The “Meet Me at the Bell Tower” weekly rallies are another positive thing that’s happening, and the people want to use Powers now for market days right on Selkirk Avenue.
So infrastructure improvements can make a big difference in people’s lives and livelihoods. What else?
● Manning: Arlington Bridge is another project we’re working on right now that is doing a lot of creative things around safety. There is a very strong youth focus in the conversations with the community, including a video production from students at Tec Voc, and fun stuff like a spaghetti bridge contest with younger students at four local schools. Krista Tellier from the Bear Clan was at one of the events and said, “Come out for a walk.” So a bunch of us designers, engineers and planners did that, and it was very eye-opening. While we were walking, Krista told us about a nearby playground that had poor lighting, and there was a lot of lobbying for better lights. The city responded with a well-intentioned renewal plan, but it seemed to be all about new playground equipment. The neighbours didn’t want the new playground, they just wanted lights to discourage the drug transactions at night. And finally, after more meetings, more time, they got their lights and it changed everything. The wisdom of the community transformed that place.
A lot of the time our safety is all about dispelling myths that may be perceived. Could you speak to any myths that add to the conception of a place being unsafe?
● Wilson: My girlfriend lives in River Heights and when all the break-ins started, I just wouldn’t lock my car door.
● McCrea: And that’s one of the tactics we’ve used, because we talk to police, we try to relay what they’re telling us. There was this idea that if you left your vehicle unlocked, you were at fault for anything that happened to it, and it’s just not true.
● Favel: When we first started out there was a real reluctance for community members to come out and participate for fear that they would have a negative interaction with a community member while in the company of the group and then have to face them the next day, be a victim of some kind of retaliation. But we’ve largely dispelled that myth, that doesn’t happen. Again, that’s one of the reasons why we don’t go after gang members and drug dealers, because we don’t want to create animosity where none exists now. We’re out there tending to the sociological issues of our community members. We don’t judge, we just say ‘hi,’ hand apples and oranges to people as we pass. We also take care of the youth drop-in centre, we take care of Urban Circle Day Care, Native Clan Organization Halfway House. We share all that kind of stuff with those people as well.
Do you think neighbourhoods can be safe without community participation?
● Wilson: The bad guys want to keep you isolated. They don’t want you organizing.
● Favel: You have to have your community involved. Abso-freaking-lutely!
Want to duet with us? Email HTFC Planning & Design at email@example.com.