Over the summer, I asked my daughter what one of her high school friends was doing. Her response has raised all sorts of questions for me about our community. Apparently her friend is worried that she will be the last person from their high school friendship group left in Winnipeg after all the others have moved to more interesting lives in other cities.
There are many benefits for Winnipeg’s young people in seeking education and work opportunities in other locations around the globe. We all benefit when the skills, education, and world view of our young people is enhanced through life and work experience in other communities. However, there is something tragic for a community when its youth feel that there is no future for them in their home town.
While this is only one person’s expression of anxiety at remaining stuck in her home town for life (and I do think there should be one multi-syllabic word to describe that sentiment), the underlying concern is one that I have certainly heard before. Some consideration of building Winnipeg’s capacity to become a city of choice for young adults is warranted. As a community, we tend to become overly concerned with some of the maintenance items that can completely absorb every available resource within Manitoba. It is not wrong to worry about road maintenance or health care, but as a society, we have to realize that we have to balance that with enhancing the elements of our community that can result in longer term gains overall.
Manitoba has good university and college options, but they could become even better tools for recruiting young people to our community and for providing attractive reasons to stay in Manitoba for post-secondary training. An emphasis on certain specialty areas that build on current strengths in our community and build a professional hub connected to those areas. We have a capacity to increase our presence in medical and virology training and increase the bio-medical industries in our area. With the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, it seems we could build our capacity in conflict resolution, human rights, peace and justice studies and programs. The strength of the artistic and creative communities in Winnipeg could make training in these areas an educational hub in the universities and colleges. Given the strength and creativity of Manitoba’s Indigenous community, development of a First Nations College of Art and Design could build on the prodigious artistic talents within the First Nations community and draw talented young Indigenous people to our community. There are more educational areas that could be used as youth magnets, but I list these as examples.
There are geographical hubs in our community that are very attractive to young adults. We can ensure that these areas get attention and development. The Exchange District is a jewel of urban potential for youth, creative industries, the arts, and entertainment sectors. Careful investment and care for this special historical area would have the capacity to result in big wins for Winnipeg. In our very gritty and pragmatic way, we often consider these items “frills” in our community. But when we do not invest in good downtown and neighborhood planning, the arts, entertainment and sporting areas can languish and feel unsafe to community members of all ages.
The relatively reasonable cost of home ownership in Winnipeg could be exploited to attract young people to settle in our community. There could be particular benefits in developing programs to assist first-time home owners to purchase some of our older, inner-city housing stock. There are some potentially lovely neighborhoods that could make excellent targeted housing opportunities for young people.
One of our greatest assets as a community is our connectedness. People can easily become involved in many wonderful projects, community groups, arts organizations, and sporting groups. This level of engagement is a benefit to people who live here, and very attractive to visitors. It is this feeling that we can make a difference in Winnipeg and that our participation in community life is valued and appreciated that binds us with a thousand friendships to the fate of this prairie town.
Families also play a vital role in keeping young people happily living in Winnipeg. Part of this is in the ways we talk about our city to our children and the future we believe is possible here. We all play a role in introducing our children to the variety and richness of community life in our city. If we model voluntarism and the genuine pleasure that is part of community engagement to children in our own families, we increase the possibilities that our children will become positively connected to our community as well. Employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are also important draws in keeping young people in our community. All of us can play a role in ensuring that young people see this as a community well worth consideration for a lifetime home.
By Trudy Schroeder