August 11, 2013, 11:00 PM

The City of Vancouver recently released it’s Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Program for public feedback and consultation. The Local Area Plan will provide guidance and direction for city policies on neighbourhood development well into the foreseeable future. Although the proposed planning policies contain some important directives for protecting parkland, architecture and artistic and cultural spaces and housing, the plan has one serious flaw.

For the area known as Japantown or the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District the city proposes creating “regulatory strategies to prioritize social housing and secured market rental housing.” What this translates into in real terms is a proposal to create a modern designated ghetto in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. For one of the most desolate, impoverished, crime and drug-ridden areas of the city the new plan calls for regulations and policies that keep it that way. This is wrong and reeks of flawed social engineering

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City plans for a modern designated ghetto in the heart of the Downtown Eastside?

Reading through the planning materials warning of “gentrification” and calling for more “non-profit” housing projects one begins to wonder if city planners have spent any time in the neighbourhood at all. Has the city simply listened to the misguided special interests led by Jean Swanson, Wendy Pederson and their sorry little band of restaurant protestors? Is this an effort to appease them? Did the “gentrification” bogey man scare the planners? At what point do the municipal taxpayers and residents say enough of this silly farce?

The new small business people and market housing residents in Gastown are a young generation of urban pioneers who saw opportunities and recognized the need to step in where decades of government policies have failed. Together they have toiled, cooperated, and spent hard earned private dollars to find a new direction for Gastown and the surrounding areas. The government did not instill the new spirit in Gastown – private citizens did. This is not the time for “big government” to micro-regulate the area.

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Hastings Street today within the proposed “Ghetto Zone”.

Today’s pioneers know there is a need for social housing that works and improved government services. But they also know that a community without a mixed housing plan is doomed to fail and eventually decline.

History tells us a future recession is inevitable and with it will come cuts to government services. If most of the funding for an entire neighbourhood is dependent on government handouts, what will happen when that funding is cut? How are services and a local economy maintained if an entire neighbourhood is on some form of income assistance? Can the city planners show us a modern community anywhere in the world where similar policies have worked successfully over time? Why are there no references and international models for this concept within the planning documentation?

60 Minutes on Chicago’s Cabrini–Green. Cabrini–Green is a public housing project located on Chicago’s Near North Side. It is geographically similar to the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District in its proximity to the central business district. The buildings of Cabrini–Green are now being replaced by mixed income housing.

Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri was devised as part of the massive urban renewal projects of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In twenty years Pruitt-Igoe crumbled into terrible decrepitude.
The residents of Japantown and Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District deserve a plan that provides a real roadmap to diversified, self-sustained local economic development. For the residents who see the area as a vibrant community of hard working people struggling to build homes and grow businesses the city’s plan is almost incomprehensible.

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Children playing in Japantown, Vancouver (Before 1941)

Movement, security and residential and commercial property valuations will suffer from the policy proposed. Furthermore, a renewed commitment to concentrating persons with drug addictions and mental illness in the center of the community is terribly destructive and misguided. The Downtown Eastside needs a comprehensive plan for urban renewal and social development that encourages entrepreneurship and economic development for small business servicing a variety of demographic markets.

The current proposal is a neighbourhood killer for Japantown and Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District. It is shortsighted and ignores local knowledge that can be gleaned simply by taking a long walk though our streets and speaking with local residents.

We look forward to seeing a revised plan for the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District that doesn’t play politics with our future.

The Editors

*Please take a few moments to submit your views to the City of Vancouver Planning Department here.

Photos by Jeff Topham and Vancouver Archives

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