In photographs, Centre Village doesn’t look like the generic image of social housing. A playful cluster of stucco buildings surround a serene inner courtyard. Bold, orange-framed windows punctuate the white walls. Located as it is on a street in Winnipeg, Canada – and sandwiched on either side by that city’s typical modest, gable-roof houses – Centre Village has an almost surreal quality.
In person, however, the image quickly changes. The window blinds, for example, are closed on the windows that face into the courtyard. Litter is scattered across the ground. Speak to residents, and a new picture emerges: of apartments poorly suited to family life, and a building structure that seems to act as a magnet for drinking and drug-taking at all hours.
In May last year, I travelled with my colleague, Andrea Lacalamita, to this bustling city in the Canadian prairies. We arrived expecting to make a documentary about the positive social impacts of this award-winning housing project, designed by one of Canada’s most celebrated young architecture firms.
Instead, we found a building project badly affected by crime, with families living in cramped and unsuitable conditions. We also discovered that it was no longer a co-operative, that the community group who initiated the project had become disenchanted and that the development was up for sale. What happened? […]