Since launching The Gastown Gazette in February, we have attempted to uncover the personalities, organizations and faces behind the recent deluge of protests, demonstrations and bullying gripping our community in Gastown. We were the first to identify the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) as the main organizational body behind the so called “anti-gentrification” protests in Gastown.
We were also the first to call for the funders of the CCAP – Vancity and The Vancouver Foundation – to review how their funds were being used in our neighbourhood and to declare how much financial assistance they are providing to the groups attacking small businesses. We have been consistent in asking the City of Vancouver to evict the CCAP from the Carnegie Community Centre. And we have called for an independent audit of the CCAP and the Carnegie Community Center Association.
The Gazette strongly rejects the belief that the neighbourhood changes in Gastown represent “gentrification.” We believe the use of this word is both imprecise and politically charged and discourages thoughtful discourse on important long-term planning issues. There are no “high-born, noble, landed gentry” in Gastown. This notion and the name-calling is counterproductive.
As we further examined the participants and organizers of the demonstrations, it seemed the same people and organizations have reappeared and disappeared within the swirling political vortex that is Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. There are the “three amigos” at the CCAP – Jean Swanson, Ivan Drury and Wendy Pederson. Mr. Drury and and Ms. Pedersen have apparently resigned from the CCAP but still speak at meetings. There are also the “COPE kids” – COPE executive member Kim Hearty and COPE communications committee member Nicholas Ellan.
Finally, there is, of course, “Homeless Dave” who actually isn’t homeless, but just carries a monicker that makes a mockery of those who are truly struggling. Gastowners are now beginning to recognize this group for what they are and understand that they represent political special interests and not the majority of reasonable Gastown or DTES residents.
After spending months speaking to people on all sides of the issues facing our community, a couple important questions come to mind. Have the recent extremist tactics of the Carnegie Community Association Board, the Carnegie Community Action Project and the Pidgin protestors damaged the future of a diverse, dynamic and integrated community for Gastown? Have these protestors and professional activists done permanent damage to their cause by alienating a large portion of their potential base support?
Social housing within the DTES is a serious issue that requires well-thought out solutions that engage the entire community. The protest leaders appear to want a solution that provides 100% social housing.
Walking along the north side of West Cordova Street between Abbott Street and Carrall Street in Gastown one can see what a future of a 100% social housing zone would look like. There is little foot traffic and a complete lack of meaningful economic activity. (The north side of the block is mostly social housing or derelict.) Any reasonable person walking this block can see that this is not a model for a vibrant community.
Management of affordable housing is difficult because of the necessity to achieve a “double bottom line”. Projects must provide an efficient use of scarce taxpayer resources while still delivering affordability. These two objectives are in open conflict. Experiences and studies in other cities such as Chicago and New York further undermine the CCAP’s belief that an urban utopia would rise out of a community engineered with their outdated and overly simplistic design. Furthermore, their proposals provide no framework for long-term management.
The majority of the working population in Gastown gets up each morning and goes to work as teachers, artists, musicians, technology workers and entrepreneurs. Many might be characterized as urban pioneers for making small investments in the neighbourhood and working to build a viable Downtown Eastside when others had given up on the area.
As we look forward as a community, we need to recognize that the building boom and heightened real estate speculation in the DTES is being followed by a boom in social housing and the rapid growth of non-profit organizations that will manage these new properties. Careful oversight is needed at this stage.
There are no “high-born, noble, landed gentry” in Gastown. The endless childish name-calling of the protestors outside Pidgin with their silly pickles and offensive signs and behavior should end so the serious work on building a viable community that includes social housing can begin.
Photos by A. Patton