WINNIPEG - Call it positive reinforcement. Or maybe bribery.
A business group in downtown Winnipeg is giving free coffee to people spotted disposing of their trash properly — a more-positive approach than traditional efforts to combat littering.
"I think a lot of us have heard those kind of negative ads where, you know, 'You suck because you litter'," Downtown Biz spokesman Jason Syvixay said Wednesday.
"We're not here to strong-arm people. We're here to just positively encourage them and to remind them that we're all in this together and to try to keep our city clean."
The Downtown Biz has a crew of 13 workers who walk the downtown streets and pick up litter. For the next four weeks, the workers will also give out vouchers to people they see exhibiting good trash behaviour — putting litter in garbage cans and cigarette butts in disposal boxes that are found on most street corners.
The vouchers are good for a free large coffee at a local specialty shop.
"Thank You. It's great," said a surprised Matt Taymouri on Wednesday, as he was handed a voucher after finishing a cigarette and putting the remains into a receptacle on Portage Ave.
"Our city is our home. We should take care of our home."
The coffee giveaway is the latest in a series of efforts by the business group to spruce up Winnipeg's downtown and attract more people. The group also sponsors outdoor movies in the summer and an annual festival that includes a wine-and-cheese party and a 10-kilometre race.
The downtown image has traditionally suffered from safety concerns, due in part to a noticeable population of panhandlers and substance abusers.
The point was evident Wednesday as Syvixay and two Downtown Biz workers walked by a dishevelled man lying unconscious on the sidewalk on Portage Ave. Paramedics had just arrived to take care of him.
But overall, downtown Winnipeg appears to be on an upswing. New apartments and condos are popping up. The return last year of the NHL has brought new life to a section of Portage Avenue and to surrounding bars and restaurants. The University of Winnipeg and the downtown campus of Red River College have expanded and a new hotel is being built.
As a result, there are more people on the streets after 5 p.m. That also means more potential litter that the Downtown Biz is trying to prevent before snow blankets the streets in the coming weeks.
"We really want a welcoming environment that's spotless and clean. And something that we always say is that your downtown is the first thing that people see when they come to town," Syvixay said.