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DTES Local Area Plan pleases, and enrages, everyone

This mural graced the front of an empty store along West Hastings Street for a number of years. An allegory perhaps, regarding fears of investment, redevelopment, and displacement in the area. Photo by Wes Regan. 

Two years ago over two dozen of us began to meet regularly as a community led Local Area Planning Committee for the Downtown Eastside. As a resident, and as a representative of a local organization that was asked to participate with other community stakeholders on the committee, I was glad to have the opportunity to contribute. A local area plan had been badly needed for decades and it was clear that the City intended this to be a unique process.

In the end it is staff that write the plan however, and like many plans it gives everyone something they wanted and something they didn't. Sometimes compromise is a hard pill to swallow. Based on the perspectives we've seen shared in the discourse leading up to the plan's approval this past Saturday, and the views shared in Council Chambers by the nearly 200 speakers who showed up to speak, it would seem the 60-40 inclusionary zoning laid out in the Community Based Development Area (DEOD-Oppenheimer) is that pill this time.  

In regards to this compromise I’d like to start by responding to a line of thinking that had been promoted in response to it recently by ex-City Councilor and housing bureaucrat Michael Geller in his October 2 2013 Vancouver Sun op-ed entitled “City plan for DTES ill conceived. Proposal to allow only social housing and rental units will keep area crime-ridden and impoverished”

Geller spoke against this element of the plan at City Council this past week in person too. 

Geller’s central premise is that by not allowing local residents to buy condos in the DTES we will be impoverishing the community and sentencing it to remain a crime ridden ghetto. Geller states that A zoning bylaw prohibiting home ownership would be a contradiction of everything planners know about creating healthy neighbourhoods. Geller’s position taken in that piece, that scattered social housing throughout the rest of the City is a much more attractive option than concentrating it in the DTES, is made all the more ironic by the fact that he said the opposite when it came to moving DTES residents into the proposed social housing units at Athletes Village four years ago. They were the “wrong people” for that particular social housing. Granted, there were extenuating circumstances that prompted his seemingly insensitive display of pragmatism.

I would argue that planners are actually still figuring out how to plan healthy neighbourhoods, and one of the greatest questions facing planners right now may be how to create plans that support healthy low-income neighbourhoods. As Vancouver’s numerous gated mega-mansions and dark empty condos attest, home ownership does not a healthy community make, particularly in a global real estate market where Vancouver is one of the most attractive cities in the world in which to invest, or live.  Great examples of this fallacy are present in other global cities, like London, where multimillion dollar flats and similar “ghost mansions” sit empty, parked capital, like pieces on a Monopoly board. In New York and San Francisco and elsewhere in our increasingly urbanized world housing affordability has become a global crisis. Some say a global scandal.

The inclusionary zoning in the DEOD-Oppenheimer speaks to this. It is ensuring that the housing built here is in fact for people who live here. 

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