This past Saturday, June 17, Mayor Ken Sim launched “Vancouver Beautification Day,” a new city-wide event dedicated to fighting graffiti and vandalism on public and private property. “Beautification” through graffiti removal may seem like benign neighbourhood improvement, but this government has shown they are willing to scrub away people too.
Beautification Day is ostensibly about encouraging “efforts to combat and remove acts of vandalism” around Vancouver. However, what’s truly ugly is that Mayor Ken Sim and the ABC Party have marshaled civic forces not just against the products of vandalism but against people. Unhoused people, offered no housing, have been repeatedly cleared off Hastings Street by police and city workers in an attempt to “improve” the appearance of the area and make poverty less visible. A promise by former City Chief of Staff Kareem Allam that residents wouldn’t be decamped until housing was available was broken at the beginning of a soaking wet month of April.
Ken Sim made the case for decampment based on public safety and fire risk. However, internal City communications revealed by the Vancouver Sun early this month show that City staff knew there were far fewer shelter beds available than the number of people who were displaced from the encampment. This raises serious questions about whose safety is considered important by our civic leaders.
The City didn’t provide funds or resources, besides some paint, to the business improvement associations (BIAs) and community policing centers involved in Saturday’s clean-up. The same BIAs participating in the day already receive over 100k in City funding to run their own graffiti removal programs, so why make a day of it?
ABC Councillor Mike Klassen, a former small business lobbyist who organized the event, said graffiti “signals that people are sort of losing faith and losing hope in their community.” Creating a day to remove it is a way to “demonstrate community spirit and show love for our city,” Klassen said.
It’s hard to imagine a more empty and ultimately cynical attempt to restore faith and hope within communities, given the funding already provided for this exact purpose and their lack of regard for the well-being of some of the most marginalized people in the city.
Vancouver Beautification Day is a soft power version of City priorities, to make poverty invisible and offer false comfort that a new layer of paint will make things better.