Monday, June 11, 2007

How slums are made

An interesting article was found in the July 11, 1959 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune, about the condition of the neighborhood I call home, north Point Douglas, which in 1959 was faced with the same looming threat that hundreds of North American neighborhoods were facing at the time--the threat of Modern urban renewal.

"Here, most houses show signs of poverty--they could do with paint or a new gate, but they are neatly kept.
The reason these homes are going in need of attention, said Mrs. Olga Fedink of Stephen St., is that people don't know whether their houses will be torn down for slum clearance next week or next year.
'Up to a few years ago people 'round here took pride in their homes,' she said. 'Then there was all this talk of it being a slum, and this sort of thing happened...'
As dusk softened the ruggedly industrial Point Douglas skyline, ragged children ran shouting down a street. Their voices faded, and the only sound was the regular whirr of a man mowing his lawn.
Another day was passed. The people of Point Douglas did not know whether they were 24 hours further down the road to slumdom--or a day nearer rejuvination."

Point Douglas was thankfully not razed for modernist housing projects (though a portion of the neighborhood, including much of the city's small black neighborhood dissapeared from space and memory with the construction of the Disraeli "freeway"), but the threat of them certainly put a freeze on investment from property owners in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. The consequences of this are obvious, and today North Point Douglas is still gradually working at "unslumming" itself.

A Mr. Greg Petzold of Winnipeg sums up succinctly in a letter to the editor, the disconnection local self-important columnists and dress-up preservationists seem to have to actually preserving something that's still here. Could it be that this disconnection they have is brought on by their being golfing chums with the (thankfully shrinking) number of backwards-thinking, unnappreciative derilict property owners in the Exchange District like the Reiss family?

"Recent Free Press coverage has detailed concerns ad nauseum about development adjacent to the Upper Fort Garry Gate. We are assured that people are lined up to give millions for an interpretive centre for a structure which sadly is long gone. Meanwhile, existing heritage buildings are in danger; buildings that are still standing but perhaps not for long.

The turn-of-the-century red brick King Building at Bannatyne Avenue and King Street anchors one corner of Old Market Square. Its owners have let it rot, apparently neither willing to restore it or sell it. I get angry every time I walk past it. This building is part of an important public space and deserves just as much concern as the Fort Garry Gate. Need I remind you Upper Fort Garry was demolished in the 1880s?

Why is it that people are always offering to throw up new monuments but can't be bothered to work to maintain existing ones?"


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