Regina’s inner city! Maclean’s Magazine writer Jonathon Gatehouse recently exposed the North Central and Core communities of this small prairie city as national hotbeds of crime, drugs, gangs, racism and poverty. His article (headlined with the inflammatory question, “How did the province where medicare was born end up with a city this frightening?”) has the city and its leadership up in arms in defense of Regina’s safety and honour.

I Love Regina LogoI hadn’t read the article myself until this morning, when I was rudely awakened by a local radio personality raking a speechless Maclean’s editor over the coals. Though in principle I could understand her righteous indignation, it left me cold. I turned her off, grabbed my laptop and Googled the offending article so that I could formulate an opinion for myself.

As an article, “Canada’s Worst Neighbourhood” is a decent example of why I don’t read Maclean’s, or much other mainstream media. I’d categorize it as status quo cultural criticism – focusing on uncovering facts versus capturing truth, a tendency of “just the facts ma’am” news reporting that generally fails to capture the subtlety or magic of what is (or at least could be) at the heart of every story.

Even as a new citizen of Regina I have an appreciation for the unique charm of the place, a quality the article certainly doesn’t capture. But I also feel fortunate to be spared the desire to shake my fist alongside my indignant fellow residents. I get why Reginans are pissed (it’s annoying to have to constantly defend something you love to someone who doesn’t share your appreciation), but I’ve also lived in enough Canadian cities to know that the problems facing Regina are real, and that they won’t go away by getting angry when they’re pointed out, or by sporting a goofy “I Love Regina” logo on a coffee mug. Repeating your love of your city like a mantra won’t adequately address the alienation and systemic inequalities that are the actual root causes of poverty and crime.

I speak as someone who has a great appreciation for cities. But I also believe that the same thing that makes a city great is what can make it wretched: coping with city living requires that the whole be fractured into smaller, manageable parts. I’m thinking of Little Italy in Toronto, Mile End in Montreal, practically any community in New York City, or Cathedral in Regina. Self-sufficient communities evolve to become something like small towns in an urban sea. The upside of this is that vibrant, walkable, livable communities can flourish even within an ocean of suburbs, freeways and big box stores. The disadvantage of the splintered nature of urban life is that it becomes very easy to separate ourselves from what surrounds us. Though we may proclaim our love for the whole city, we generally stick to our own neighbourhoods, neighbours and comfort zones—and stay on own side of the tracks.

Regina City HallIf we’re not careful, this can make it pretty easy to ignore the problems that divide us from our fellow citizens. We can stay out of the “bad” neighbourhoods, drive to suburbs with invisible gates, and avoid eye contact with the guy that is asking us to spare some money. By closing our eyes and hearts to something, it’s almost like it’s not actually happening at all.

So what happens when something like a Maclean’s article comes along and shakes our complacency up a little? A balanced piece of journalism or not, it’s touched a nerve in this city, which often points to something needing attention. Though it’s tempting to isolate ourselves in the safety of disempowerment and detachment, perhaps it’s time that we (both individually and collectively, and certainly not only in Regina!) start looking for ways to take steps in a different direction: towards connecting with the pain around us and taking action to build bridges between the most disparate parts of the places we love.

xox n

P.S. Check out the second Maclean’s article that responds to the first one (Regina: ‘It’s not the worst neighbourhood’ by Colin Campbell).