Friday, July 8, 2011

The Changing Faces Of St Johns Houses

The St Johns area of the North End is a very diverse piece of property. It seems each street has its own characteristics. When I first started delivering the summer Newsletters along Redwood Ave, I was surprised with the number of boarded houses I was passing.
Then as I got closer to Mountain Ave the boarded houses were replaced with lock boxes and the occasional "For Sale" sign. That ended on the next street over. By the time I made it to the area surrounding Peanut Park and housing St Johns High School and Ralph Brown Community Center and Elementary School I was in a different area again. It seemed to be predominantly single family bungalows with very few fences. I don't know if you are familiar with the Coen Brothers movie "A Simple Man", but they could almost have filmed the movie on those streets, showing the classic row of bungalows and clean cut lawns with no fences to shut people out.
Then I moved another few streets and was back to two story houses, duplexes and four-plexes. Along with the change in housing structure came a slight increase in "For Sale" signs, and a few more lock boxes.
If I were to analyze the correlation between house design and crime, I would have to say the single family bungalows appear to show lower crime indicators. There are fewer unkempt yards and likely higher proportions of owner occupied homes, providing longer term residents who care for their properties to a better extent.
But, no matter what the predominant architecture of the neighbourhood, each area had both good and bad houses. Mountain Ave, with its boarded houses, still had well maintained great looking houses. The movie set area of single family bungalows had the odd house in need of serious loving care. There were great gardens found all through the neighbourhood, as well as wonderful outdoor sitting areas where residents could relax and enjoy the summer.
As I made my way through the neighbourhood, I talked to folks. I heard stories, both good and bad, from the residents. Some have concerns regarding neighbours, others worked in positive ways to make their streets a better place.
In the end, I am glad I spent the week walking through the neighbourhood, meeting people and talking with them. I hope to do more of that in the future. And I hope to see everyone out at our next meeting on August 17. It will be at the Ralph Brown Community Center, 7pm. Daycare will be provided.
I look forward to seeing you all again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Extra, Extra: Newsletters delivered Amongst Boarded Houses and Lock Boxes

The St Johns Residents Association newsletter summer edition is hot off the press. If you are in the area, keep an eye out, and check your mailbox. I am delivering this batch of newsletters to the fine citizens of St Johns this time around, and stopping to chat with people in the neighbourhood occassionally.
It is interesting walking through the neighbourhood in this way, entering each yard to put the newsletters into the mailboxes. You get a real sense of the resident at each house. Some yards, even in the worst of neighbourhoods, are well tended, fences painted, and gardens blooming. Others, well, it's difficult to step over the refuse to make it to the door.
 But what really struck me was the number of boarded houses. This is mainly in the area between Redwood Ave and Mountain Ave. In the first two blocks of my endevour I passed at least five boarded houses, two appeared only in the last few weeks.
As I went through the area I came across more and more boarded houses. Then, as I made my way North, the boarded houses were replaced by residences with lock boxes. There are a considerable amount of houses on each street sporting lock boxes at their front doors. Some have "For Sale" signs, others quietly sit, empty of contents and empty of inhabitants.
In a City with such a low vacancy rate, one has to wonder what is going on.
If I had to guess, I would say the landlords are giving up. These boarded houses used to contain renters, but no longer do. I watched as the dumpsters were loaded with more and more garbage from the two houses in the photos, and saw boards being installed over windows. Where houses are damaged from past tenants, they seem to get emptied, then boarded. How many times are these landlords expected to repair the damage to their properties by such disrespecting renters?
In other instances, tenants are possibly evicted, houses cleaned and lock boxes installed in hopes of landlords getting out of the game. Or maybe the lock boxes are evidence of home owners fleeing their own residences for safer or cleaner pastures.
What I am seeing are a lot of empty houses. And I am sure they are all emptying for the same reasons. The owners, whether landlord or occupant, are tired of the actions of criminals, drug dealers, drinking parties, and residents who have no respect for themselves, their homes, their streets, or their communities.
This is the sound of a community screaming for help.
Maybe it is time to have a closer look at the legislation in place protecting bad behaviour on the part of the tenants of these houses.
Perhaps the Police need more authority when dealing with known gang houses and criminal actions.
What if the Safer Communities Act was able to do more than just kick a criminal out of a house, to have them take up residence next door or down the street? How is that helping a neighbourhood?
Could you imagine if there were laws in place to protect a community from these people? If there were, St Johns would not be emptying its houses like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
Or at least that's the way I see it, as I deliver these newsletters, in my part of the North End.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fireworks Light Up The Skies On Canada Day

We got out of the hood on Canada Day to watch the fireworks. It's been years since I have gone to the actual location of a fireworks display. I prefer the less populated fringe areas. This year we went into St. Boniface to watch the show from across the river. We parked in the EconoMart lot and walked about two blocked to the strip mall just before the Bridge. Fireworks started right on time at 11:00pm and went on for a full twenty minutes. They were great. I love watching the fireworks, seeing the different colors that can be produced along with the patterns formed in the sky. There is a real art to putting on a great fireworks show.
After it was over, we walked back to the car and went home. All through the night we could hear fireworks going off. I was not able to see any of the color associated with the tradition of Canada Day fireworks, but definitely heard the noise. I didn't really mind it though. After all, it's Canada Day. Fireworks are part of the fun of the day. If families and smaller groups wish to set the fireworks off in their own areas, who am I to say they should not. When I was a kid, living in Brooklands, I remember a family down the street had their own fireworks display. I remember watching them light the sticks, one after another, hearing the bang and watching the show. So, if others want to enjoy that same feeling, I am ok with that. Well, within reasonable hours I am ok with that.
In the North End, we have fireworks going off on a daily basis, not just on Canada Day. We are constantly hearing the loud bangs coming from near and far. Then we think, was that fireworks or a gunshot? I guess it was fireworks. Or .... Fireworks, I heard the whistle sound. I guess that's ok.
A few weeks ago I was listening to the Police scanner. It seems there were three youths around the back of Earl Grey School in Fort Rouge. Someone had called and complained that these youths were at the School causing trouble and lighting fireworks. I found it odd that the Police would consider the fireworks to be an issue worthy of Police investigation. This made me wonder why the North End hears so much of the fireworks. We hear it day in and day out. We hear it all the time. But it has become so commonplace that we just let it go.
Could you imagine if we started calling the Police every time we heard fireworks go off? And what would the Police tell us? Do you think they would sent a cruiser car out to investigate? I don't. I think fireworks are allowed in the North End. I think they are the norm in the North End. Just like everything else that is illegal or unacceptable in other parts of town.
How many issues are there in the North End that are now the norm, now acceptable, and now just part of our daily lives, that would be unacceptable in any other part of the City?
How many neighbourhoods would put up with the fireworks, illegal dumping, unkempt yards, parties to all hours of the night, dogs barking endlessly in just about every yard, feral cats roaming the neighbourhood, open liquour walking down the street, blatant drug deals, people yelling at the top of their lungs in front of their friends house to "let them in" ...... The list goes on and on.
And why are these things allowed to continue here?
These disrespecting people are allowed to continue, allowed to live here, and allowed to thrive at the expense of every other citizen of this City.
When is enough enough? That's what I want to know.