During the last weeks of August, many Vancouverites spent time checking out the city’s first annual Mural Festival – an exhibition of 35 murals by over 40 local street, graffiti and mural artists mostly clustered around the lower Main Street corridor. The event was sponsored by a $200,000 grant from the City of Vancouver, with additional support from Mount Pleasant BIA and Burrard Arts Foundation
Last spring, an Economist article declared Vienna, Geneva, and Vancouver to be “mind-numbingly boring” cities. The concept is well worn. The author of the article doesn’t claim to be making some grand statement on Vancouver. Nonetheless, Vancouverites responded explosively. A lot rests on our city being desirable. There’s a looming sense that somehow this matters. Even in local artistic communities, defined by a sort of rejection of the placid kind of fun that Vancouver offers, musicians and artists and label-heads are quick to reject the title “No Fun City.”
A small media storm emerged last week after a profile of Socially Responsible Vancouver tours appeared in Travel section of the Toronto Star. Since 2014 the tours have charged tourists $185 per person ($195 for two people, and $275 for a group of 10) to view the Downtown Eastside.
Today we took to the streets and reversed the narrative by leading a “yuppie gazing tour.” Our message was that we’re not okay with poverty tourism. We flipped the script and made rich people into the subjects of our gaze, marching through Chinatown while chanting, “Downtown Eastside is not a safari, drive away in your Ferrari”
On November 13th, the City of Vancouver announced that it would launch a crackdown on illegal street vendors in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). The City’s director of Social Policy, Mary Clare Zak, informed DTES community groups that “starting next week you will begin to see a larger City presence in the DTES, including VPD officers, as we continue our efforts in the area to ensure it is a safe place for everyone.” According to Zak the objective is to “support and facilitate the movement of street vendors from the [0-300] block of E. Hastings Street and surrounding area.”
Chinatown might soon be the site of yet another high-end condominium development. The Beedie Group wants to build a 13-storey condo tower at 105 Keefer Street, at the intersection of Columbia and Keefer. If approved, community organizers fear that the tower’s 127 market rate units will add to the displacement pressures currently facing Chinatown.
This Sunday an unusual Affordable Housing Rally will be held at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The stated goal of the rally is to attract Vancouver’s middle class residents, “young professionals,” and “well educated people” who #DontHave1Million. In the words of the organizers, the rally seeks to amplify the voices of those “increasingly incensed population of Vancouverites who by comparison live pretty privileged lives.” In a city with deepening poverty and a long history of working class housing movements, the event has been interpreted as a bold shift towards highlighting the housing aspirations of Vancouver’s relatively affluent.
What better place to start than with the development’s aggravating name? The Independent. An adjective made noun with a definite article, it stands alone not just in light of the word’s meaning but in its semantic structure. It embodies a built space at the same time it embodies a lifestyle. Tossing all subtlety out the window, it condescends to you in equating a space with some whitewashed version of bohemianism. It is a name that digs its heels into cultural anxieties over distinguishing oneself from the masses, and slaps you in the face with its promise to make you stick out.