I wrote an article that I'd love to share with you. Finally, a wonderful current event to cover in Vancouver! Tongue firmly planted in cheek. ;)
APRIL 25, 2011
Mayor Frobertson held a press conference this afternoon during which he announced a new low-income housing project slated for construction in the heart of Yaletown, part of the city's attempts to revitalize the neighbourhood.
“We have a lot of hope pinned on this new development. As you know, council has been concerned about Yaletown for quite some time. Consumption runs rampant from Homer all the way to Beatty. It's a breeding ground for the most dangerous kind of capitalists. It's hard to say whether we can even call it a community anymore – one recent study found that 97% of Yaletown residents cannot name anyone else who lives in their condo building. To leave Yaletown to its own devices at this point would be unconscionable.”
Councillor Kerry Flang added, “Something has to be done in Yaletown – luxury has become an end in itself. Upward mobility has gotten so out of control that most of these unfortunate penthouse dwellers have no time or motivation to reach out and connect with other people. Even the yoga classes have failed to bring them fulfilment and inner peace. The little dogs aren't helping. Sadly, some have turned to anti-depressants.”
Frobertson reported that one city councillor had suggested bulldozing Yaletown and starting over. But after talking about some more creative solutions, council is now confident that by seeding Yaletown with a low-income population, revitalization will be swift.
The strategy, which has been dubbed “reverse gentrification” by council, has been met with some skepticism by the DTES residents who will be invited to fill the new low-income Yaletown housing. “I guess Yaletown is nice, with the seawall and False Creek and everything, but how will we afford to live there?” asked one shelter dweller who attended the press conference.
The mayor reassured him, announcing that tax breaks would be provided to stores and shops catering to the new low-income Yaletown residents. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “an 'Army & Navy' will be opening right on the seawall in 2013, and I've also heard that the owners of the old 'Save on Meats' are eyeing a Yaletown location beside the Cactus Club.”
DTES resident Fraser Stuart admitted that it would be difficult to leave the DTES. Like 90% of those who call the DTES home, he would prefer to stay. “I have found such a family, such a network of support in the DTES. I don't know if I would survive in a neighbourhood where no one stops and talks to you on the street. Where are the people in Yaletown who work for social justice? Where are those who volunteer? Where is the empathy, the community spirit? Then again, I guess that's why the mayor want us to move in.”
Councillor Raymond Flouie also spoke at the conference, focusing on a different angle: preserving the heritage of Yaletown. “Yaletown used to be where all the rail workers lived; it was full of warehouses and factories,” remarked Flouie. “How do all of these rich young professionals honour the industrial heritage of Yaletown? We can't afford to see this history die. We simply must bring back some folks who know what it means to work hard and get dirty for practically no pay. I can't think of anyone better than the minimum-wage-workers and binners of the DTES.”
At one point in the afternoon, Mayor Frobertson told a heart-warming anecdote about the early stages of the project. “I was discussing the plans with my favourite real estate developer, Bob Rennie, and I'll be honest, he was less than thrilled about it, worrying about what it would do to the real estate market in Yaletown. But then I quoted something he himself said: 'We need to have the less fortunate walking down the street next to the fortunate.' And the scales fell off Bob's eyes, in a sense, as he saw how it applied to Yaletown. We both sat there, marvelling at this beautiful vision of an inclusive Yaletown, enshrined in this wonderful new social housing. He now agrees that it is imperative to restore a social and income balance to Yaletown.”
Even though many residents of Yaletown have expressed their opposition to this reverse gentrification plan, council seems poised to go full-steam ahead with the project. “Frankly, we don't want to stop with Yaletown,” confessed Flang at the close of the press conference. “We're hoping the entire middle- and upper-class will soon reap the benefits of this reverse gentrification strategy. We have some very interesting ideas for Shaughnessy.”
Post Scriptus (this is a real quote:)
“One of the driving logics of gentrification in the Downtown Eastside is 'social mix'. Yet every single time 'social mix' is proposed in a middle-class or rich neighbourhood, it is rejected. No one wants a social housing project, a detox centre, a methadone clinic, a food bank in their backyard. So why should a low-income neighbourhood accept this logic? SFU professor Nicholas Blomley explains that 'the language of social mix serves to justify giving the right to space and property to those with wealth, and taking it away from those who are poor. Social mix is a strategy used to expand hierarchical structures and mask asymmetrical power… It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing.'” - Harsha Walia, “Vancouver Approves Chinatown Towers, Prices Out the Poor,” Vancouver Sun.