Redevelopment project aimed to mix social classes ignites tensions.
from Straight (unfortunate name)
More than 200 people gathered at the corner of Main and Hastings streets today (June 11) to voice their opposition against the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside.
They carried signs and chanted slogans calling for affordable housing. Several speakers placed an emphasis on the rights of aboriginal people, and argued that a lack of affordable housing contributes to high levels of violence against women.
Herb Varley, a resident of the Downtown Eastside who served as an MC for the demonstration, told the Straight that rising rents are forcing many low-income earners out of the area they consider their home.
“Many people who I’ve talked to, they’ve said that in other neighborhoods, they don’t feel welcome and that they don’t have a connection to those neighborhoods,” Varney said just before the protest got underway. “And then they came down here and they found themselves and they found a community… but now they’re being forced to leave.”
Varley, who also goes by the Nisga’a name Gwin Ga’adihl Amma Goot, is a member of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process, which is working with the City of Vancouver to improve the quality of life in the area. But he said he’s dissatisfied with that process.
He claimed that while more than 1,000 condos have been approved for the few blocks immediately surrounding the Carnegie Community Centre, less than three dozen affordable housing units have been made available in that same area.
“We’ve been asked to work in good faith, but every condo unit that comes and gets approved is a show of bad faith,” Varney explained. “So we’ve had a thousand shows of bad faith versus two dozen shows of good faith, with maybe another 12 still up in the air. That’s not a very good ratio and we are understandably upset about that.”
After approximately 20 minutes blocking the intersection of Main and Hastings streets, the group of demonstrators moved one block east, to the BC Housing office at Hastings and Gore streets. There, a number of speakers expressed frustration with what they described as that office’s failure to provide affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside.
As the march moved back west along Hastings Street, Ivan Drury, one of the event’s organizers, told the Straight that he has participated in the city’s Local Area Planning Process for two years and has yet to see the initiative make any difference in the Downtown Eastside.
“People are here today because being included in a planning process is not enough,” Drury said. “People are here today because we need justice, not accommodations for the real estate market.”
“The voices of low income people are being marginalized,” he added.
Addressing a group of Downtown Eastside advocates in April 2013, city manager Penny Ballem said that affordable housing and related issues are a “major focus” of the city.
“The city is working very hard to leverage all the opportunities that we can to improve housing for low-income people, to renovate and rehabilitate housing, and there’s a lot of work still to be done,” she emphasized.
From The Tyee.
If you are among the more than half of Vancouverites who rent their homes, having to fork over a hefty chunk of your income to a landlord every month might elicit groans or even disdain as prices climb.
But a conference this weekend isn’t just bemoaning the high price of being a tenant in Canada’s most unaffordable city. The Rent Assemblyhappening today and tomorrow is also asking deeper questions about tenancy, and most importantly how communities can address leasing problems.
“We’ve all been struggling with these issues,” organizer Anahita Jamali Rad told The Tyee. “It keeps getting blown up more and more.
“Everyone involved has similar experience: we all pay rent, and spend a lot of our time working to pay rent. It becomes such a big part of your life.”
Co-sponsored by The Mainlander, the Vancouver Renters Union, and the Kootenay School of Writing, the weekend assembly is using art, poetry, panel discussions and activism workshops to explore the history of rent as a concept, tenants’ experiences, as well as concrete examples from communities which have successfully fought for tenant rights.
There will also be sessions discussing racism in housing, aboriginal struggles, and gentrification — an urban process which sees lower-income renters displaced from their neighbourhoods by rising costs. The extent to which that geographic phenomenon applies in Vancouver has been at the crux of an increasingly fierce debate recently, which has seen blogs like the Gastown Gazette decrying gentrication’s critics — be they established community organizations or alleged anarchist vandals making headlines.
The conference’s philosophical approach sets it apart from usual industry or activist gatherings.
“Paying rent is not natural,” Jamali Rad argued. “Things are the way they are not because it’s a natural thing, but because it’s part of the structure right now; it doesn’t mean it should be the way it is.
“We’re not really trying to give any broad statement; we just want to open up the conversation, and have people explore these ideas.”
With tensions flaring in recent months over the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside, as well as a string of arts and culture venue evictions or closures due to rent hikes, organizers hope to cast a critical reflection on why Vancouver has become so expensive.
“There’s a weird Vancouver standard we have for the price of rent. If someone pays $1,500 for a one-bedroom in an okay area, we now all think that’s normal. We don’t realize that there are all the sorts of background financial things that go on behind the scenes so that prices are ridiculously high. . . There’s a constant lowering of expectations.”
The rent assembly launches tonight with a panel on ‘Rent in Theory’ featuring Jamali Rad, as well as Mainlander contributor Nathan Crompton, Danielle LaFrance and Maria Wallstam.
Other events include a Swamp interactive theatre piece, and a direct action workshop from several organizers of the controversial Pidgin restaurant picket — which has led to one activist’s arrest and conflict with business owners.
“It’s definitely polarizing the city,” Jamali Rad added. “A lot of people not interested in these issues. . . are becoming more and more interested because it’s actually affecting their daily lives.
“With the explosion of evictions and renovictions of organizations in Vancouver, it seems like everyone either knows someone close to them who’s been renovicted, or who has been themselves. . . More than anything we want people to come together and talk.”
What do you guys think?
From the Huffington Post.
As the renaissance of cities and urban areas in North America continues, more and more neighborhoods are struggling with the challenges of change. Although the market’s rediscovery of inner-city, walkable, mixed-use communities is an excellent thing in many ways, the word “gentrification” inevitably comes up in almost every discussion. But one person’s gentrification is another person’s revitalization, so the debate is always complex and heated.
Can you have revitalization, reinvestment, renewal without some level of gentrification? Probably not, as any perceived improvement in the eyes of the marketplace changes the economics. I do though, continue to believe that in planning for community change, there are reasonable levels of gentrification, that gentrification can be strategically managed, and that we can have “revitalization without displacement.” In fact, this phrase has been the vision for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) for years.
Gentrification that involves sweeping away the past, and the people, is by comparison easy – you often just have to let it happen. On the other hand, revitalization without displacement, protecting the low-income community as well as the built heritage in the context of change toward a more diverse community – that’s much harder, and takes much longer. In every community where it’s tried, and certainly here in Vancouver’s DTES, it creates incredible tensions and struggles, and rightly so – vulnerable people’s homes and lives are often at risk.
It is, however, the right vision. Careful, considered moves to add new and diverse people, reuse and restore vacant buildings, add new stores and services, all while maintaining and hopefully even strengthening the supports and services for the existing and vital low-income community – that’s a hard but responsible path for success.
It’s hard to have a conversation about this though, with all the baggage around the word gentrification. As long as many argue that any level of gentrification is to be absolutely avoided, positive and responsible change remains virtually impossible.
Recently urbanist Richard Florida joined others in suggesting we need a new word to replace gentrification, asking “if all economic development and neighbourhood revitalization is gentrification, how do we grow and improve our urban areas?”
Good question, and as for a new term, I’ve begun to use “shared neighbourhoods.”
Just as the “shared streets” movement has revolutionized (or just reintroduced) thinking around how walking, biking, transit and cars can all be accommodated within street design, a “shared neighborhoods” approach would emphasize adding more diverse population and uses into neighborhoods without displacement of those most vulnerable. This isn’t replacement, – it’s renewal where the whole new neighborhood is welcomed and accommodated.
Some will argue that “shared neighborhoods” is just spin for gentrification – and to be clear, I generally detest spin. I use this term because I think it suggests a different path, rather than a new “brand” for business-as-usual.
Others will argue, as with “revitalization without displacement,” that the concept is an oxymoron – you can’t have revitalization or share a neighborhood without displacing people.
I disagree. It will likely involve new tools and approaches, and a clear vision with the “will & skill” to achieve that vision. But it is possible. Sometimes the hardest tasks, are the most meaningful and worthwhile.
From the Vancounver Sun.
Vancouver police are investigating whether an early morning arson fire at an East Vancouver duplex that was under construction is linked to a series of protests by individuals claiming to be members of an anti-gentrification group.
A group, calling themselves the Anti-Gentrification Front, claimed responsibility for burning down the building at Victoria and E. 1st early Wednesday morning and posted the claim on an anarchist online message board where other claims have also been made about attacks on banks and restaurants.
The incident comes in the wake of increased anti-gentrification activities, including vandalism, thefts and ongoing protests outside the new Pidgin restaurant in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Const. Brian Montague, a police spokesman, said investigators have not been able to verify the latest claim and are also looking at other possibilities, including disgruntled employees and unhappy squatters. But he said the seriousness of the fire, which nearly spread to an adjacent home, has raised the police department’s level of concern.
“Obviously this is a priority. Any time we get a serious incident like this we treat it as a priority when a group sees the need to rely on violence or arson to possibly make a point,” he said.
The fire in the partly built duplex in the 1900-block of E. 1st Ave. was discovered by police around 1:30 a.m. and residents on either side were quickly evacuated. Vancouver firefighters got the fire quickly under control, but adjacent houses suffered minor damage.
Someone claiming to be from the Anti-Gentrification Front posted the claim anonymously on the anarchist message board anarchistnews.org, saying they had set fire to the building because they were “tired of seeing our lives and memories being torn down one development at a time.
“We wish and will create fear for developers in East Vancouver. The class war is heating up. We have no intention on stopping. If we, if you, allow this (to) continue you will be pushed out of East Vancouver due to rising rent and gentrification. If you are the cause of gentrification you should never feel safe.”
A portable toilet on the construction site was spray-painted with an anarchist symbol and the warning: “We’ll be back.”
Neighbours say the old house once had two apartments but the building had been abandoned for years.
Montague said police take the threats seriously.
“There’s someone who is claiming responsibility and we will be investigating whether those claims are true or not. But it is too early to tell right now if there is any validity to that right now,” he said. “We will see if there is a link but there is nothing that we can say that links them right now.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement saying he was deeply concerned about the arson.
“The alleged arson of a house under construction is of significant concern to me, especially in light of extremist claims made online,” he said.
“Innocent lives could have been lost. I would like to thank our first responders for their immediate action to evacuate the neighbouring homes. Violence of any kind will not be tolerated in the City of Vancouver, and any criminal acts will be investigated and responded to with every resource at our disposal.”
For several years, predating the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, anti-poverty activists and so-called “Black Block” groups have waged a small and so far ineffective war of vandalism on banks and other groups they see as capitalist symbols.
The Royal Bank, CIBC, HSBC and others have had windows smashed, and in several cases Molotov Cocktails — gasoline-filled bottles — have been thrown.
Heckling demonstrators have held ongoing protests outside Pidgin restaurant to draw attention to gentrification of the area. One woman was recently arrested and charged with a violent protest outside the restaurant after she tried to lock employees inside.
Individuals claiming to be part of an anti-gentrification movement also claimed responsibility for smashing the windows of a Commercial Drive pizzeria at least three times and stealing the sign from in front of Save On Meats on Hastings Street. Anti-poverty activists in the Downtown Eastside have repeatedly distanced themselves from the Anti-Gentrification Front.
This latest online claim has drawn comments from people — including some who call themselves anarchists — who said the arson fire wasn’t an anarchist action, especially considering it put people in neighbouring homes at risk.
At the height of the blaze, firefighters went door to door urging nearby residents to evacuate. Leslie MacDonald, who lives four doors away, had to flee with her cat and three dogs.
She “and the rest of the neighbourhood” waited on the corner for an hour until they were told it was safe to return home.
Despite the scare, MacDonald said she has “mixed feelings” about the stunt. “This is not the way to approach societal problems. It’s disturbing to think of that level of destruction, and the houses right next door with families and kids sleeping in them.”
Still, she “understands the frustration with how expensive it is to live in Vancouver … when there’s a divide like that there’s the potential for more action.”
According to property records, the site had the same owner from 1996 to 2012, when it was sold for $671,000 to two property development companies.
The title is my own. Look at the original article on CBC and watch the video cause I can’t figure out how to embed.
Vancouver police had to ramp up their presence on the Downtown Eastside this week, amid ongoing anti-gentrification protests and an anti-capitalist May Day march.
A strongly-worded editorial on a local blog called The Gastown Gazette detailed the May 1 event and warned the public that soon “there will be blood” in the neighbourhood.
The editorial showed photos of a masked mob carrying lit gas torches outside the Pidgin restaurant, on the boundary between Gastown and the Downtown Eastside.
The high-end restaurant has been a target of anti-gentrification protesters since it opened opposite notorious drug-dealing hotspot Pigeon Park.
- Pidgin protesters face arrest, Vancouver police warn
- Pidgin owner defends controversial new Vancouver restaurant
Const. Brian Montague said the May Day incident was part of an International Workers’ Day protest.
“There was a group within the march and the protest that wore masks and covered their faces and carried torches,” said. Montague.
“We did have to increase some of police presence there as we were concerned that things may escalate. We didn’t have to do anything. The march eventually moved on and then up into Thornton Park.”
Protester facing mischief charge
Police are also asking for the public’s assistance in locating a Vancouver woman wanted for an alleged incident related to the ongoing anti-gentrification protests at Pidgin restaurant.
Robyn Claire Pickell, 25, is wanted for mischief after police saw a woman trying to chain and lock the restaurant’s front doors while staff worked inside during the early morning of March 15.
The editorial in the Gastown Gazette urged Vancouver’s mayor to take action to quell the anti-gentrification protests, which have been condemning high-end local restaurants as contributing to the gentrification of the local area.
Protesters say the restaurants are too expensive for residents of the low-income neighbourhood to enjoy. Many would prefer to see the location used for housing.
Mayor condemns ‘counterproductive’ demonstration
On Friday, Mayor Gregor Robertson released a statement, saying violent demonstrations were counterproductive.
“Aggressively targeting a restaurant is unacceptable, and a significant distraction from urgent issues such as homelessness, affordable housing and chronic poverty receiving full attention in the ongoing provincial election campaign,” Robertson said.
“I also hope that input on these issues will continue to be directed through the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process, which the community pushed hard for and is actively engaged in.”
Robertson also said he was pleased the Crown had approved charges against Pickell, the protestor who is alleged to have tried to chain and lock Pidgin’s front doors.