The Georgia Straight recently published a cover story titled “Sullivanism versus Jane Jacobs”, detailing former NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan’s continuing efforts to push high-rise densification onto the city. In the article, Sullivan praises former Mayor Tom “Terrific” Campbell’s reign of free market ideology.

The issues are clear. Do we let capitalism run roughshod over democratic processes and the sovereignty of neighborhoods, or will citizens determine their own destiny? Will corporate forces continue to undo the careful central planning and human-focused building which has been a priority of COPE elected officials since the party was established in 1968, or will grassroots forces take power back from the corporate firms? Will more neighborhoods become resorts for the rich, or will we protect and promote affordable housing across the city?

Sam Sullivan wants to dump neighbourhood plans that have taken more than a decade to develop. He wants to allow spot zoning that will force neighborhoods to fight constant battles. He wants to allow developers to keep windfall profits from upzonings. He wants to rush through development proposals without looking at community impacts. He has been bringing apologists for global capitalism from Manhattan and Harvard to support him. He somehow believes that concrete manufacturing, which is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases in the region, is good for the environment.


It’s nice that people are rising to the defence of the CBC, which has genuinely been in the Harper government’s crosshairs from day one. But I find the rhetoric of this Reimagine CBC project perplexing and more than a little problematic. Its primary mission is clearly to rally Canadians behind the CBC as the Conservatives proceed to slash the much-loved Crown Corporation’s budget. The campaign has undertaken a “crowdsourcing” effort to address some of CBC’s deficiencies and channel the institution into the 21st century. But the overall tone of the project is much more laudatory than critical, and this prismatic “reimagining” actually amounts to little more than a tepid request that the government reverse the cuts and the CBC tweak its programming strategy.


EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION | Since publishing Part I of this three-part series, other publications have followed suit, with similar columns appearing in the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Courier. The articles signal a recognition that the phenomenon of affordability-scapegoating is quickly losing ground in Vancouver. There is a growing realization that, to quote Pete McMartin, “race is the unspoken issue surrounding real estate prices.” At the same time, those short articles fit into a mode of commentary increasingly associated with Vancouver: oblique and evasive, identified by an ability to ask questions rather than provide answers. Either by the practice of method journalism, faux-naïveté, or the constraints of journalistic neutrality tinged with what Am Johal calls “the epidemic of politeness,” such writing cannot help but come up short of its target. Here in Part II, Crompton shows that while racialized scapegoating relies on unsubstantiated anecdotes, the economic facts clearly show that Asian buyers are not responsible for Vancouver’s housing crisis. Crompton argues that the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Vancouver’s local ruling-class and its neo-liberal policies.


EDITORAL INTRODUCTION | From the start, Vancouver has been marked by a history of racism against Chinese and Asian immigrants, a fact which few commentators can overlook (although not few enough, as this article demonstrates in its sharp critique of Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk). Part I of this three-part essay by Nathan Crompton reaches into contemporary Vancouver to find that despite the passage of time, original assumptions and archetypes of race and class have proven indispensable for an ongoing history of scapegoating – a history that has, according to Crompton, reached a peak in today’s discussion of housing in Vancouver. Far from signaling the simple break away from the city’s colonial past, the mystical real-estate economy proves fertile grounds for the re-capitulation of the time-tested logic of political scapegoating. This three-part essay is sure to have an impact not only for its use of historical and empirical research to blow the lid off assumptions that Vancouver’s housing crisis can be explained by Asian capital, but for its direct critique of household politicians and commentators. From Sandy Garossino to Gregor Robertson, few are spared in this militant clarion-call to move beyond the present by clearing out the skeletons of history.

Introduction

At different points throughout the 125 years of its history, colonial Vancouver has blamed its problems on others. The relation between “citizens” and “foreigners” underlying the identity of Vancouver has been at times explosive – as when anti-Asian riots attacked Chinatown and Japantown in 1907. Flashpoints occurred again in the 1880s, the 1900s, the 1930s, the 1970s and 1990s, always with the same result: to draw up new lines of exclusion and discrimination while deepening the political disorientation of the times. At other moments the relationship has been segregated but passive, embedded in the habits and rituals of the city. Today, when it is assumed that xenophobic movements could not gain the same momentum as 100 years ago, the penchant to blame “foreigners” for local problems continues. In an assessment of contemporary Vancouver, Henry Yu once asked presciently, “is Vancouver the future or the past”?[1] If the question reads like a riddle, it is because the answer is equally uncertain. As extreme-right movements today pick up momentum in Europe and elsewhere in the context of financial crisis and long-term economic stagnation, it is now more than ever that we should examine global and local histories of racism and xenophobia.

Fin de siècle Vancouver

There was recently a telling moment when Vancouver Courier columnist Mark Hasiuk used his column to target Vancouver school board trustee, Allan Wong. Hasiuk attacked Wong for a motion put forward at the school board calling on the province to incorporate the history of British Columbians of Chinese descent into the regular provincial curriculum. Curriculum changes were not needed, according to Hasiuk, since there is already too much Chinese Canadian history taught in the secondary curriculum. Hasiuk moreover mocks the Head Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Canadian Pacific Railway as a “holy trinity” in both the curriculum and cultural memory of Vancouver.



This Tuesday, the Vision-controlled City Council struck a developer-run “affordable housing” task force. The public debate surrounding the affordability crisis has begun in earnest – and that is a great thing. Unfortunately, the discussion has been largely limited to pundits in the corporate media and rich people who work in the development industry — none of whom have have direct experience dealing with the affordability crisis. The vast majority of their professional and friendship networks are totally disconnected from the front lines of eviction and tenure insecurity.

As a result, much public commentary has been out-of-touch and condescending. The quality of recommendations has been substandard, the argumentation lazy, all this grounded in a position of apathy. For example, Gary Mason published a piece in the Globe and Mail this morning entitled “Living in Vancouver comes at a price,” which begins by recognizing that we are in the midst of an affordability crisis:

“Most of the world’s major cities are trying to solve this problem – in the most politically palatable way possible. In Canada, the issue is particularly acute in markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, where real-estate prices long ago made home ownership a dream for everyone except the wealthy.”

First we should note that Mason’s main, though concealed, argument here is that Vancouver’s housing problem is no different from that of any other major city. This is decidedly false. The disparity between median income and median market housing price is larger in Vancouver than every other city on the planet except for Hong Kong. But then Hong Kong has 1.2 million units of public housing, which house 40% of the population. Just this week, a report came out showing that Vancouver has the highest rent in Canada. While most readers will know all this intuitively — many of us adapt to the crisis by multiple-subletting and by sleeping in attics, basements, on couches, floors – it’s necessary to cite these figures to remind out-of-touch elites that the crisis is systemic. The situation in Vancouver is not healthy and normal. It is pathological and exploitative.

Mason then addresses some policy approaches he has heard circulating in elite circles: 1) “subsidized” housing on city land, 2) rezone certain areas for more townhouses, and 3) co-op housing.