Inside Winnipeg's Inner City.
Article Type: Editorial
Author: Silver, Jim
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1
Accession Number: 243797908
Full Text: The articles in this Special Issue of the CJUR arise from research conducted by members of the Manitoba Research Alliance (MRA) as part of a project titled "Transforming Inner-City and Aboriginal Communities." The project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant administered through the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-MB). The MRA is a genuine and mutually beneficial partnership between inner-city community-based organizations (CBOs) and their leaders, and university and other researchers. Out of this close collaboration has arisen a diversity of research projects organized into four streams: justice, safety, and security; housing and neighbourhood revitalization; education, training, and capacity building; and community economic development. This Special Issue of the CJUR features just some of the work that has been produced so far (see also: manitoba and

Because a central aim of the MRA project has been to gain an appreciation of day-to-day life in Winnipeg's inner city from the perspective of those who live there, much of our work has taken a participatory action research and/or ethnographic form. Spending time in the inner city, and working to earn the trust of those who live and work there, has enabled an understanding of Winnipeg's inner-city communities that is deeper and more nuanced, we believe, than the dominant views in which the inner city and its residents are stereotyped and stigmatized. In doing this kind of research we have sought to move beyond the outsider's gaze, in a way consistent with the vast literature on the problems associated with attempts to see and understand the "Other" from the outside (Said 1978; Clifford & Marcus 1986, for example), and consistent with at least some of the recent American work on inner-city issues (Venkatesh 2000; Wacquant 2008, for example).

Our aim in this collection is to provide the perspectives and, where possible the voices, of inner-city residents themselves in order to convey something of the 'flavour' of Winnipeg inner-city life. The authors set their work in the context of the relevant literature and, where appropriate, relevant theoretical constructs, in order to build connections between our work and that of the broader intellectual community, and also reflect on the policy implications of their findings, since a central purpose of the MRA is to contribute to policy discourse on matters related to urban poverty.

Maya Seshia, for example, has worked closely for several years with an innercity health, outreach, and resource centre for women working in the street sex trade, developing the trust needed to conduct in-depth interviews with street sex workers in order to learn--from the standpoint of the women themselves--about the violence in their lives. Maya describes the abuse, dehumanization, and often-brutal racism experienced by street sex workers in Winnipeg's inner city, most of them Aboriginal and engaged in some form or other of "survival sex." She concludes by citing some policy recommendations advanced by street sex workers themselves, but offers the interesting observation that those "whose lives are constrained by oppressive conditions"--as is very much the case for these women--are likely to identify solutions that are immediate and practical, when what is needed, based on her analysis, are solutions that will "disrupt systems of domination--such as white power and privilege, patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism." Maya's conclusions echo the findings of other work conducted as part of the MRA: despite the fact that excellent grassroots work is being done in the inner city, and however creative and effective that work may be, real solutions lie beyond the neighbourhood level.

Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, Owen Toews, and Jim Silver interviewed 48 people in four inner-city neighbourhoods to develop a sense of the character--and of the strengths and limits--of local responses to "crime." What they discovered was a philosophically sophisticated and multi-layered approach to what outsiders call "crime." Inner-city community-based organizations tend not to see safety and security problems through a crime lens, but rather acknowledge the complexity of issues called "crime" and respond to them as complex problems. Similar to Seshia, they conclude that as effective as inner-city people themselves are in combating these problems, most cannot be solved at the local level alone. In particular, they found--consistent with Comack et al. (2009)--that the problems of street gangs, illegal drugs, and violence, identified repeatedly as the main safety issues of concern to inner-city residents, have their roots in poverty and racism and the related constriction of opportunities. Moreover, because the causes of these problems lie beyond inner-city neighbourhoods, they cannot be solved by inner-city neighbourhoods alone, no matter how creative those efforts may be.

Elizabeth Comack and Evan Bowness take a different approach to understanding inner-city problems relating to justice, safety, and security. Analyzing posts to a CBC website in response to news stories about the 2008 police shooting of a young Aboriginal man, they reveal the deeply entrenched racism found in the public discourse on life in Winnipeg's inner-city communities--a discourse that constitutes a significant barrier to the social and economic change so desperately needed in Winnipeg's inner city. While most of the posts to the CBC website de-historicize and individualize what are in fact complex social and historical phenomena, Comack and Bowness argue that one small part of the solution is to take on these hateful interpretations by promoting a "counter discourse" that challenges the broader public to grapple more fully with complex phenomena related to the kind of racialized poverty so prevalent in urban settings today.

Lawrie Deane and Eladia Smoke have used participatory research methods to elicit the views of North End Aboriginal residents about forms of housing that would, by moving beyond a Eurocentric model, better fit their needs. Their method, like so much of the work of the MRA, involves reaching deeply into the community to learn directly from inner-city residents about what their housing needs are, and what they themselves see as solutions. Deane and Smoke conclude that "cultural identity can be supported and respected by appropriate housing design," and that this is especially important given Aboriginal peoples' determination to promote cultural survival even when marginalized from most decision-making, including decisions about forms of housing. As the authors note, "collaborative design of housing in cooperation with potential resident groups, led by Aboriginal Elders, is a powerful and efficient way to define physical spaces that allow people to thrive." This finding is consistent with the community economic development philosophy that is so widespread in Winnipeg's inner city (Loxley 2007), and is built upon the assumption that those who live in the inner city have a practical knowledge, the mobilization of which is a major part of any anti-poverty effort.

Lauren Lange and Ian Skelton have worked closely with and at the invitation of the Aboriginal Seniors' Resource Centre (ASRC)--of which Thelma Meade is the Executive Director--to gain access to an understanding of the housing issues for the rapidly growing numbers of Aboriginal seniors in Winnipeg's inner city. They describe the many policy complexities associated with housing for Aboriginal seniors, and the particular difficulties that arise in a neoliberal policy climate and the related absence in Canada of a national housing strategy. We hear the voices of Aboriginal elders and community workers describing their experiences with substandard and unaffordable housing in the private rental market, the many barriers they face in gaining access to safe and affordable housing, the racism, isolation and social marginalization that they experience in urban settings, and on the other hand, their satisfaction with the facilities and supports at Kekinan and the ASRC in Winnipeg's North End. Identifying Kekinan and ASRC as successful models of culturally appropriate, safe, and affordable housing for Aboriginal seniors, the authors call for the production of more such facilities to meet the obvious need. Realizing this goal requires that Aboriginal organizations be autonomous in promoting these developments, which in turn requires not only a national housing strategy but also new relationships between Aboriginal organizations and the state. Their findings are fully consistent with those of Deane and Smoke.

Parvin Ghorayshi has employed newcomers living in the inner city and students to conduct 94 interviews with newcomers to Winnipeg aimed at developing an understanding--through their own eyes--of their experiences. This method has enabled Ghorayshi to produce a richly detailed account of the often-difficult realities of day-to-day life in Winnipeg's inner city, to identify emergent tensions between newcomers and inner-city Aboriginal residents, and to advance the notion of "interculturalism" as a means of moving beyond the limits of multiculturalism. This issue becomes increasingly important as large numbers of newcomers, many from war-affected countries, arrive in Manitoba and settle, at least initially, in Winnipeg's inner city where they confront a wide range of challenges.

The articles in this issue make clear that poverty and associated problems--inadequate housing, racism and colonization, growing levels of street gang- and illegal drug-related violence, for example--now permeate the inner city, which is, in many important ways, a troubled space.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that all is negative about Winnipeg's inner city. It is true that for some, the depth and duration of poverty and racism and related problems have produced a sense of despair and even hopelessness that is debilitating. Yet, some of the most creative and effective grassroots anti-poverty work in all of Canada is being done in Winnipeg's inner city, led by CBOs--including a remarkable array of Aboriginal organizations--and by a cadre of community leaders, many of whom have grown up poor in Winnipeg's inner city (Silver 2009; 2006). Much of the work done by the MRA has deepened our understanding of these positive initiatives (MacKinnon & Stephens 2010; CCPA-Mb 2009; Silver, McCracken, and Sjoberg 2009, for example).

But the articles in this issue make it clear that neighbourhood-level efforts, no matter how creative, cannot by themselves combat the complex problems created by large and growing levels of income inequality (Wilkinson & Pickette 2009; Yalnitzan 2007; Fernandez & Hudson 2010), and in urban centres like Winnipeg (MacKinnon 2010; Silver 2010) and elsewhere (Galabuzi 2006), deep, spatially concentrated and racialized poverty. To address these issues requires a reversal of the neoliberal state abandonment that has been a major cause of the problems, and its replacement by large and consistent public investment over decades, not years. The immediate prospect of such a reversal of state policy is not likely. But, as the papers in this issue show, conducting collaborative research that deepens our understanding of Winnipeg's inner city from the "inside" enables us to see that the limits to positive change in Winnipeg's inner city lie less with inner-city residents and CBOs, who are more than meeting their responsibilities to respond to the challenges they face, than with the now-dominant neoliberal approach to governing. When that approach changes, as it inevitably will, the kind of understanding of the inner city "from the inside" that our research is attempting to develop will make it more likely that the public investment so desperately needed to transform inner-city and Aboriginal communities in ways of residents' choosing can be made most intelligently and effectively.


Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba (CCPA-Mb). 2009. It Takes All Day to be Poor: The State of the Inner City Report 2009. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba.

Clifford, James & George E. Marcus. 1986. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Comack, Elizabeth, Lawrence Deane, Larry Morrissette & Jim Silver. 2009. If You Want to Change Violence in the 'Hood, You Have to Change the 'Hood. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba.

Fernandez, Lynne & Ian Hudson. 2010. Income Inequality in Manitoba. In The Social Determinants of Health in Manitoba, ed. Lynne Fernandez, Shauna MacKinnon & Jim Silver. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba.

Galabuzi, Grace-Edward. 2006. Canada's Economic Apartheid: The Social Exclusion of Racialized Groups in the New Century. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press.

Loxley, John. 2007. The State of Community Economic Development in Winnipeg. In Doing Community Economic Development, ed. John Loxley, Jim Silver and Katherine Sexsmith. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

MacKinnon, Shauna. 2010. "Poverty in Manitoba," in Lynne Fernandez, Shauna MacKinnon & Jim Silver (eds.). The Social Determinants of Health in Manitoba. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba.

MacKinnon, Shauna and Sara Stevens. 2010. Is Participation Having an Impact? Measuring Progress in Winnipeg's Inner City Through the Voices of Community-Based Program Participants. Journal of Social Work.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientialism. New York: Pantheon Books.

Silver, Jim. 2010. Segregated City: 100 Years of Poverty in Winnipeg. In Government and Politics in Manitoba, ed. Paul Thomas & Curtis Brown. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Silver, Jim. 2009. Complex Poverty and Home-Grown Solutions in Two Prairie Cities. In Passion for Action in Child and Family Services: Voices From the Prairies, ed. S. McKay, D. Fuchs & I. Brown. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.

Silver, Jim. 2006. In Their Own Voices: Building Urban Aboriginal Communities. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Silver, Jim, Molly McCracken & Kate Sjoberg. 2009. Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations in Winnipeg's Inner City: Practical Activism in a Complex Environment. Winnipeg: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba.

Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2000. American Project." The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Wacquant, Loic. 2008. Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Wilkinson, Richard & K. Pickett. 2009. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better. London: Penguin Books.

Yalnitzan, Armine. 2007. The Rich and the Rest of Us: The Changing Face of Canada's Growing Gap. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
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