Civic officials & politicians wax eloquent about urban revitalization by mega-projects, while seeming oblivious to the negative community impacts of many of their daily “planning” decisions. Capital spending on our downtown can help, but it will not negate the damage done by poor zoning and licensing.

As a pastor of an inner-city church, I see the daily impact of these sort-sighted zoning and licensing decisions. When I pray the part of the Lord's Prayer that reads "...lead us not into temptation," I get mad at decisions which have entrenched & clustered temptation in inner-city communities.

City planners and politicians confine themselves to a sanitized fiction regarding certain land uses, while ignoring the common-sense on-the-street realities associated with those zoning and licence uses.

New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Str,
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
Phone: 204-775-4929
Rev. Harry Lehotsky

Spending for Revitalization
While Planning for Deterioration?
City planners and councillors exponentially multiply temptation and trouble for a community when they cluster land uses which prey on the problems or vices of people. A social and investment threshold is then crossed, where a community starts to attract more people with problems (capitalized upon by these establishments) while it begins to repel the people with familial strength and financial resources which help to revitalize communities.

PAWN SHOPS – Bold signs tempt people with “fast cash” (not mentioning that interest and “other charges” can amount to over 300% a year). Pawn shops provide a quick place to sell goods stolen from strangers or “borrowed” from family members. They enable (and entrench by usurious interest rates) the destructive spending habits prevalent in depressed communities. The excessive locations and density of pawn shops in our area feeds subconscious impressions of desperation and theft that exceed the reality. This discourages revitalization.

PRIVATE (AND SEMI-PRIVATE) CLUBS – It is common knowledge that clubs around here are segregated by ethnicity and class within ethnic groups, inviting a variety of tensions. The positive impulse to come together around a common heritage devolves into safe exclusion for the purpose of illegal gambling and unlicensed drinking (after-hours, or otherwise). It becomes plain that these are not “family” places – often by the behavior and language of the men, and the complaints of some of their own families about the abuse of familial income and time.

MASSAGE & ESCORT – When licensed prostitution attracts more sexually incontinent people into the community, the addicted, younger & sicker street prostitutes (often in partnership with drug dealers), undercut the prices of the "inside" girls. Street prostitution becomes part of the problem image of the community, which leads to innocent women and children being propositioned by "johns." The notion of prostitution as a money-making option is then nurtured in minds of observant children (often poor and sometimes already abused).

ARCADES & POOL HALLS - Seeing places where people seem to have plenty of time to "play" all day begs the subconscious question for many people driving through our area - "What, no school, no work, no family??" Don't get me wrong, I play pool and have taken my boys to an arcade on weekends, but how many gaming establishments, pool tables & arcade machines does one need in a community before the image of indolence predominates the mind of passersby? Too many neighborhood arcades provide inadequately supervised hangouts for youth to mix with criminal opportunists such as drug dealers.

BARS - Add to this mix a variety of bars, some replete with over-serving, video lottery terminals, strippers and on-premises prostitution. Some of the more desperate watch the beer vendor door to see if they can score a few drinks by overpowering the vulnerable person walking home with a case of beer. Nearby residents have to endure the nightly verbal and physical contests of alcohol-fuelled machismo, squealing tires of drunk drivers, and get their lawns and flower beds sprinkled by patrons for whom getting another drink was more important that finding a washroom before closing time. Communities such as Montreal and Vancouver have been attempting to limit the number and size of bars in neighbourhoods below a safe threshold. What is that threshold? Clearly, more than two problem bars in a neighbourhood will make it difficult for police and residents to regain control of the places they work and live.

Under-resourced community policing, small-scale housing and business "revitalization" programs, and multi-million dollar mega-projects are no match for such systemic attitudinal and “planned” abuse (by professional planners and politicians) of urban neighbourhoods.

The formal designation of the above land uses or licenses as "legal," does not negate the anti-social and abusive effects of clustering such uses in a community. 

City planners, license inspectors and suburban politicians must begin to treat our inner-city communities with at least the same “common-sense” respect they accord their own communities. It is also consistent with good planning, as world-renowned urban commentator Jane Jacobs reminds us in her work.

This is not an anti-business rant! It is a plea for planned diversification of retail businesses rather than a clustering of businesses which stigmatize and victimize the folks doing their best to improve their communities. Show us the legislative courage and integrity to acknowledge and correct the collective effects of your planning decisions.