Gentrification is alive and well in Vancouver Chinatown. This article gives an update on the current situation in Chinatown, how city planners are pursuing an ethnic tourism gentrification strategy, and what we can learn from the recent tenant organizing victory at Solheim Place.
The various iterations of the “Escaping Vancouver” narrative share a core unexamined underpinning: the idea that I, a hard-working, usually white, middle class person, did everything right, became successful, and yet am still unable to afford to live in the city of my choice. We must challenge the embedded privilege that characterizes what might be termed “middle class self-help advocacy”—the tendency to rely on individualized solutions to collective social problems.
For years, an empty lot at 58 West Hastings has been at the centre of a fight for social housing in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). The present article covers the years from 2016 to 2018, detailing the City’s efforts to defer and ultimately dismantle the promise of 100% welfare- and pension-rate housing at 58 West Hastings.
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
We previously reported that on Jan 20 2011, Vancouver City Council will consider a proposal to build seven condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, and that there is significant community opposition to the plan. The City calls the plan the “Historic Area/Precinct Height Review/Study,” while critics call it a “gentrification package” for the Downtown Eastside.
This week, Ray Spaxman spoke out about the plan. On Dec 13, he told The Mainlander that he was more amenable “to getting an area plan going before we do this rezoning.”
Then on Dec 15 Spaxman was interviewed by CKNW’s Phillip Till about the Height Study, where he reiterated the problems of developing a rezoning plan without a community plan: “there seems to be a lack of attention to the impact of that density on all the facilities and services that are needed in the city as a consequence of those extra heights.”
The comments are significant because not only was Spaxman Vancouver’s Director of Planning from 1973 to 1989, but he was also hired by the City in 2007/8 as main researcher and author of the original Sept 2008 Historic Precinct Height Study.
Spaxman told The Mainlander that his contract with the city “was defined to focus on the question of height.” However, he noted his team’s concern that “by talking only about height instead of density and people, the City risks overlooking the social implications of development.”
In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.
Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]
More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.
There is a new massive condominium development planned for the South-East corner of Broadway at Kingsway. The building that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood.” It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street on 12th. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos. While there have been quite a few developments in Mount Pleasant over the past few years, all have been on a much smaller scale. In fact, June of this year saw three nights of council meetings discussing a project about half the size on Broadway and Fraser. Residents said they didn’t like the scale and volume of that project, which was only 11 stories.
In an attempt to win over the Mount Pleasant community, Rize Alliance Properties has set up a small park and Christmas tree on the south-west corner of Broadway and Kingsway. Early on Friday night there was a tree lighting ceremony, which featured local children singing Christmas carols and members of the Mount Pleasant Community Police handing out hot-chocolate. The president of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association was out talking to members about the future project, even describing it as a reassuring “mid-rise” tower.
The lot where the park sits was cleared by a fire on Christmas Day of last year. Many low-income artists lost their studio space and there was a very sympathetic reaction in the community.
The development that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood” . It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos.