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Keep Your Fancy Food Out of Our Neighbourhood!
February 21, 2013 6:10 PM   Subscribe

PiDGiN Restaurant is a lovely new restaurant in Vancouver. Located across the street one of the most challenged parks (Pigeon Park) in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside. For some, it's a welcome addtion to the local dining scene. To others, it's a poke in the eye of the poor and disadvantaged living in possibly the worst neighbourhood in Canada and they want to put a stop to it. .

Nightly protests now accompany your meal. Local media weighs in and the restaurant pushes back against charges of gentrification and displacing the poor
posted by helmutdog (82 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I've joined the picket on several days now, and the local support has been overwhelmingly positive. I have met three people who were renovicted from the housing in the restaurant's building, which used to be social housing but was converted into market condos several years ago.

I'm surprised just how much press this has gotten, but Pidgin rather tactlessy waded into the trenches of gentrification, apparently oblivious to the near-simultanous launch of a province-wide campaign to make social housing an issue in the upcoming election.

Vancouver has long pursued a strategy of unfettered real estate development, hoping that supply increases will solve all. But for every market condo its estimated we lose 5 units of social housing, due to increases in property value and attendant renovictions. At the current rate of loss, in a little over 10 years we will have no social housing stock left.
posted by mek at 6:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


That is pretty gauche. I'm not so bothered by the gentrification of the Downtown East Side as by the image of these hipsters & yuppies slumming it in junkieville as if they're going on safari.
If only they'd put their restaurant across from Dude Chilling Park...
posted by Flashman at 6:40 PM on February 21, 2013


Me and lots of other folks living here don't think this is the "worst neighbourhood in Canada," thanks.
posted by docgonzo at 6:41 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


So, when's the meet-up?

i mean, if the new yorkers can go to Guy Fieri's place
posted by percor at 6:46 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Carnegie Community Action Project just published their annual report on housing in the area and the increasing moves to displace low-income and otherwise marginalized DTES'ers from the area, available here.
posted by docgonzo at 6:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get the idea of gentrification, I do. But is the idea to just let neighborhoods keep sliding into further decay?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:51 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Does Vancouver have any sort of laws requiring renovations to create a certain amount of low income units? That and making a floor for number of occupants in renovated buildings might help. I'm just curious about this because Vancouver seems generally liberal enough to me to maybe come up with decent social solutions on a larger scale than some of the other places that have had the same problem.
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 PM on February 21, 2013


Okay, I totally understand the downside of gentrification and how it sucks when people get pushed out of their own neighborhoods because they can no longer afford to live there, due to a bunch of insufferable yuppies/hipsters moving in BUT your typical non-gentrified neighborhood is missing most of the amenities and pleasant things that makes it nice to live somewhere. Is there a middle ground? What kind of restaurant would have been more welcome in this location? The last thing they probably need is another fast food restaurant or chain donut shop, right?
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:57 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised just how much press this has gotten, but Pidgin rather tactlessy waded into the trenches of gentrification, apparently oblivious to the near-simultanous launch of a province-wide campaign to make social housing an issue in the upcoming election.

I think people might be surprised that you're protesting a restaurant whose involvement in the housing problem seems... not innocent really, but kind of indirect. Could you maybe explain the political environment in the neighborhood and in Vancouver/BC generally? I feel like I must be missing something.
posted by zennie at 6:59 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


But is the idea to just let neighborhoods keep sliding into further decay?

I don't live in Vancouver and can't pretend to understand the issues, but Vancouver seems to have put a lot of work on ending homelessness with a housing strategy, and the nearby Woodward's building was a major accomplishment.

Homelessness itself is "holding steady" (in other words, after declining slightly, homelessness went back up again).

I suppose the issue is that affordable housing was eliminated to make way for gentrification. I don't know much about whether or not there were other accommodation the evicted folks could move into, but it doesn't seem like it.

Despite its beauty, Vancouver can be a harsh, callous, brutal town, so it's no wonder there is such polarization. I would tend to think there would be more vocal protests, a la Oakland or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:05 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article from the Tyee has a pretty good overview.
posted by chapps at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm casual friends with one of the protestors -- one who's there every night -- and don't have the heart to ask her why she's never picketed any of the other local businesses. Indigents surely can't afford to shop at Scratch Records, across the corner.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm not so bothered by the gentrification of the Downtown East Side as by the image of these hipsters & yuppies slumming it in junkieville as if they're going on safari.

If this was happening where I live, I'm pretty sure that the local junkies would welcome the influx of well-padded wallets and nice, expensive cars. Pickings from the local poor are currently pretty thin and it's getting harder to make your nut every day.

A bunch of well-fed, carelessly drunken yuppies showing up has got to be a win/win situation, it seems to me. Yuppies will get to reminisce like people do about Times Square in the 1970's and the panhandling trade will see a big rise in profitability.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Vancouver has long pursued a strategy of unfettered real estate development

I vehemently disagree. There are insane restrictions on real estate development in Vancouver, they're just concentrated in neighbourhoods with political capital.

Think about it; given the choice, would developers choose to build in Kits or in the DTES? You can sell a unit for much more on the West Side, and the marginal cost of building an additional unit is the same.

Unfortunately that usually doesn't work in the real world - it's much easier to get rezoning permission on Main Street or the DTES because there are far fewer politically connected and wealthy NIMBYs there.

I'm one of the young professionals driving up prices on the East Side. Hell, I'll probably visit Pidgin one of these days. I'd much rather live in Kits, but can you imagine City Hall ever allowing enough development there to bring housing prices near the marginal cost of construction? I can't, and it makes me genuinely depressed.
posted by ripley_ at 7:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fundamentally, though, I don't think the issue should really be about low-income housing. Who wants to live on welfare (what assistance there is) in a Skid Row single-room apartment? I sure don't.

The issue ought be the fact that there is no well-funded, global mental health strategy, particularly for folks living with dual-diagnosis. The reason why many of these folks live in the DTES is because they are living with drug addiction and mental health issues. They can't work, they get assistance, they live in cheap housing.

Why is welfare/social assistance so low? Why isn't there more housing? Why aren't there more safe injection sites?

I don't think anyone is happy with the DTES the way it is, certainly not the people accused of being "the problem."
posted by KokuRyu at 7:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not so bothered by the gentrification of the Downtown East Side as by the image of these hipsters & yuppies slumming it in junkieville as if they're going on safari.

Sure, but it's worth remembering that the hipsters have been going there forever, because places like the Astoria and Pat's Pub are some of the few venues for cheap shows in the city. As for the yuppies, they've always been a block away in Gastown, so I doubt they really think it's that exotic.
posted by Beardman at 7:20 PM on February 21, 2013


Protest the real cause of your poverty, whatever it is. I'm pretty sure that guys that are working hard to pull off a successful restaurant are not the problem.

I just don't buy the whole "Our neighborhood should remain a shithole" argument.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


On being the worst neighbourhood:
It's all relative of course. I live in the "bad" part of my town (16th most dangerous city in Canada!) which isn't scary at all. I mean not in the slightest. The people who think that have no idea what a bad neighbourhood is. It's like talking about the mountainous part of Florida. The DTES gets a lot of press though in part because of lazy journalism. There could be some complete hellholes in Osoyoss (the town looks like a Romulan Bird of Prey so you know there is potential there) or something but that's an awful long way to send a reporter/film crew.

I'm trying to think of what would categorically be the worse neighbourhood in Canada. The DTES probably isn't it because it is after all just poor and street drug ridden. Maybe some place that is poor, polluted, and in the middle of a protracted turf war between a couple motorcycle gangs. I'm not sure such a place exists in BC though I've got this unfounded perception that Prince George might have some areas like that.
posted by Mitheral at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2013


There is a 3 block radius of downtown Vancouver that is widely identified as one of the worst neighbourhoods in North America. People openly shoot heroin and smoke crack and congregate en masse on the streets, peddling whatever they've stolen openly, completely disregarding traffic laws and any sense of personal responsibility, wandering out into the street high out of their minds, regardless of whether children or anyone else see them. Picture Dawn of the Dead, with the slow zombies.

There are dozens of NGOs and funds and social programs dedicated to improving their quality of life. More pop up every day. Some of the people associated also populate grass roots politics, in the vein of ultra left wing liberal political correctness; These poor souls are entitled to live the way they choose unless they want help, Vancouver is their home (since they moved here 8 months ago from Sudbury anyway), and they should be allowed to live here, no matter what. All in all, they are largely ineffective and rarely influence policy, but frequently demonstrate. Occasionally they'll manage to start a new social program, barely distinguishable from any number that provide essentially the same service, aimed at getting drug addicts off of drugs (if they want to), and back to work, maybe doing something in construction...

This 3 block radius is in stark contrast to the rest of Vancouver, which is a sparkling, new looking city, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The city is steadily diversifying culturally, thanks to its draw as livable, world class city. We have large ethnic minorities (which are getting pretty close to being majorities in some burbs). These immigrants don't understand what the hell the caucasians are thinking letting drug addicts and their affiliates have a say in anything.

Ultimately, development gets what it wants; we're a city that builds and sells condos. Immigrants help us drive up the price. The poor stay poor, until they somehow get involved building condos.
posted by dobie at 7:26 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


But is the idea to just let neighborhoods keep sliding into further decay?

No, the idea is that the city should build more social housing, rather than selling off the rest of its housing stock to its development corporation paymasters and start helping the homeless instead of waging war on them.

Why is welfare/social assistance so low? Why isn't there more housing? Why aren't there more safe injection sites?

Because the real estate speculators are driving the policy here. You can't sell $750,000 condos with visible poor nearby.

What kind of restaurant would have been more welcome in this location?

People who live on $610 / month probably aren't eating at any kind of restaurant.

I just don't buy the whole "Our neighborhood should remain a shithole" argument.

The municipal, provincial, and federal governments have made it clear they're not going to help the desperately poor. Better for it to remain a "shithole" that's the only place that people who've got nowhere else to go can survive, than another machine for extracting money from anyone stupid enough to buy a condo in Vancouver. (But look! All these great new restaurants...)

Scratch Records, across the corner.
Scratch Records is gone.
posted by junco at 7:30 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why is welfare/social assistance so low? Why isn't there more housing? Why aren't there more safe injection sites?

This. A thousand times this.

Vancouver (and Victoria to a lesser extent) real estate prices are insane, and gentrification is the inevitable result. I agree

...but I do think the worst imaginable situation is to have so few resources,many with additional health issues, little chance of employment, welfare of just $610 a month in expensive Vancouver - estimated to leave $26.week for food and groceries ... to live on the very edge of survival... and then to lose even the imperfect housing you have to be bumped out onto the street by a place serving $5 pickles. It is an indignity piled on top of years of indignities.

So, myself I think I will pardon the lack of a perfect target to protest. Who is the right target to protest? Honestly, the situation is so bad, so long standing, so complicated for poor people in BC, and especially those for whom poverty is made even worse by health problems ... You can't point at any one of the governments as they have all had a hand in cutting services and funding.
posted by chapps at 7:41 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh please. I see it everyday as I walk to work. I've been all over the world. Vancouver is as good as it gets, at least in North America. I'd choose Amsterdam world wide though, because everything just makes sense there, including their social programs.
posted by dobie at 7:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, is the food any good?
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


dobie: "widely identified as one of the worst neighbourhoods in North America"

Which is just loony. The DTES doesn't have raw sewage running down the street. It doesn't have a massive drug war being waged on it's corners (lots of street drugs sure but no one is driving around in armour plated highway tractors). It doesn't have the urban decay that has plagued places like Detroit.
posted by Mitheral at 7:55 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vancouver is as good as it gets, at least in North America.

Well, yeah, if you can actually afford to live in downtown Vancouver west of Burrard Street.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:59 PM on February 21, 2013


Whatever, I stand by it.

Take anybody from another country on sunny day in Vancouver. Take them to Stanley Park. To English Bay. Take them up to the top of Grouse mountain. They will tell you it is amazing. They will be awestruck. They will literally lose their shit.

Take them to the downtown east side and they will say. "It doesn't make any sense."
posted by dobie at 8:01 PM on February 21, 2013


chapps: "Who is the right target to protest?"

City Hall?
posted by schmod at 8:03 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


widely identified as one of the worst neighbourhoods in North America

DTES isn't the garden district, but it wouldn't even be the worst neighborhood in Schenectady.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:12 PM on February 21, 2013


Take anybody from another country on sunny day in Vancouver. Take them to Stanley Park. To English Bay. Take them up to the top of Grouse mountain. They will tell you it is amazing. They will be awestruck. They will literally lose their shit.

Look, I like Vancouver. I'm not saying it isn't a nice city. I'm lucky to be able to afford to live where I do.

That doesn't mean it doesn't have problems. Poverty and inequality are two huge ones. Tearing shit down just for the sake of building more condos won't help solve those -- it'll make them worse, although it might make them less immediately visible in one particular part of town. The only people it will benefit are the ones who build the condos. Discussing the problems using their language, like you did, short-circuits rational thinking about the problem. Would a "world-class city' really be so neurotic about making sure it's always labelled thus? It's a marketing phrase pushed by hucksters who want to convince their marks its true (in order to sell them condos). The rhetoric equating the people who are getting in their way (i.e. the homeless) to zombies, of all things, is disgusting.
posted by junco at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


"There is a 3 block radius of downtown Vancouver that is widely identified as one of the worst neighbourhoods in North America.

By people who have been out of Vancouver? And not just to Surrey?

"People openly shoot heroin and smoke crack and congregate en masse on the streets, peddling whatever they've stolen openly, completely disregarding traffic laws and any sense of personal responsibility, wandering out into the street high out of their minds, regardless of whether children or anyone else see them. Picture Dawn of the Dead, with the slow zombies. "

Dude, I walked through that neighborhood in the afternoon and after 3am and saw none of those things when I visited Vancouver. Like, have you ever been to a dangerous city? Like, Detroit? Or Gary?
posted by klangklangston at 8:17 PM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The rhetoric equating the people who are getting in their way (i.e. the homeless) to zombies, of all things, is disgusting.

No fucking kidding. The lack of empathy (replaced with an apparent antipathy) is what helped cause the current mess in the DTES.

On the other hand, I think it's perfectly understandable to be pissed off an irritated by the squalor on Vancouver's streets - it affects the quality of life of everyone - but the answer is to channel that anger into finding meaningful solutions.

Pushing out the residents of the DTES to another place somewhere else in the Lower Mainland is not the answer.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:21 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


junco, I'm equating drug addicts with zombies. I call bullshit on any lack of empathy causing the DTES to exist. Empathy is why it continues to exist. I'm not saying condos are the solution. I was describing the political situation to the fellow upthread who asked. I think the condo market is ridiculous and that the emperor wears no clothes.

This is actually a good example of political discourse in Vancouver though; If you don't think that crackheads are some kind of damaged angels, then you are a monster developer, somehow responsible for making them crackheads in the first place, who wants to pave over everything real and authentic with all the other asshole developers, counting their piles of money from Surrey or Richmond.
posted by dobie at 8:27 PM on February 21, 2013


Drug addicts are people, as in actual human beings, many of them dealing with mental illness and a history of abuse or neglect that most people can't imagine. They are not living lives of blissful ease.
posted by emjaybee at 8:36 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm equating drug addicts with zombies

drug addicts are people, goddammit! Not mindless undead who only want brains, but actual people. Crackheads are people. I don't know what you're trying to imply with your talk about "damaged angels", though I'm sure it isn't pretty.

I'm not saying condos are the solution. I was describing the political situation to the fellow upthread who asked. I think the condo market is ridiculous and that the emperor wears no clothes.

OK -- but my point is that the language you used to describe the DTES, and the rest of Vancouver by contrast, is marketing spin, focus-tested to sell a particular version of the city. It's the language of development.

then you are a monster developer, somehow responsible for making them crackheads in the first place

"Developers" aren't monsters. They're people, too. Some of them are particularly unscrupulous people. For the most part, they aren't personally responsible for creating drug addicts, but the structures they exploit to make their (in many cases egregious) livings are the same ones that create drug addicts.

...wants to pave over everything real and authentic with all the other asshole developers, counting their piles of money from Surrey or Richmond.

This part seems pretty accurate.

KokuRyu: I think it's perfectly understandable to be pissed off an irritated by the squalor on Vancouver's streets.

Agreed, but for a lot of people, apparently, the anger is misdirected at the victims, to the benefit of the rich.
posted by junco at 8:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd wager that proportion of developers and crackheads who are total unredeemable assholes is probably pretty similar.
posted by klangklangston at 8:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only people it will benefit are the ones who build the condos.

Odd that you don't include the people who will live in those condos and everyone on the buying end of the (private) housing market in Vancouver.

I'm not arguing that the costs to low-income and families and individuals don't outweigh those benefits in the DTES, but the "developers are the only people who benefit from new development" mantra drives me crazy. Real people end up buying and renting these units!
posted by ripley_ at 8:54 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not arguing that the costs to low-income and families and individuals don't outweigh those benefits in the DTES, but the "developers are the only people who benefit from new development" mantra drives me crazy. Real people end up buying and renting these units!

Sorry, I did elide some things there. You're right that the owners and/or occupants of new units benefit when those units are planned well, thoughtfully designed and integrated into the neighborhood, and well-built. For the most part, that doesn't seem to be the case with the current land grab. Most of the buyers for these units are not people planning to live there forever -- it's driven by speculation. Those people are likely to get screwed (if you agree, like I do, with the Bank of Canada's assessment of the housing market). Renters will get screwed because they're forced to rent condos from non-occupying owners who will demand some sort of return on their (unsellable) condo rather than from the corporate owner of a purpose-built rental building. Further, council has shown that it is exceedingly happy to waive community amenity contribution requirements. So in this particular case I do think that only the developers will profit, though I would agree with you that that isn't necessarily the case with new development.
posted by junco at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Could you conceive that someone could call crackheads zombies, yet still recognize that -- yes these are real people, and yes, they deserve as much help as anyone else to improve their life? Is your heart really bleeding over this?

Speaking as someone who lost a large portion of my twenties to drugs, I call some of my best friends "mother fucker".
posted by dobie at 9:06 PM on February 21, 2013


Renters will get screwed because they're forced to rent condos from non-occupying owners who will demand some sort of return on their (unsellable) condo rather than from the corporate owner of a purpose-built rental building.

So even if there is a glut of housing, individual condo owners will bypass the laws of supply and demand somehow (perhaps they'll organize a 10000-member cartel)? I find that a little hard to believe.
posted by ripley_ at 9:15 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those of you who have difficulty mustering empathy for "crackheads" and "junkies" in the DTES, may I modestly make a reading suggestion: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, by Dr. Gabor Maté, on his experience working as an addiction treatment specialist in the DTES (and at Insite, the infamous Vancouver safe injection facility). I can't recommend it enough.
posted by mek at 9:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


In early 2002 I saw someone getting beaten with a U-lock in an intensely brutal manner by two men on one of the streets that border Pigeon Park. One of my friends and I joined a stranger in rushing to the guy's aid, and we were able to chase his attackers off before they could completely finish what it was they started. Though he was a shocking mess of gore he resisted our pleas to get medical attention and hobbled off into the night.

This was the first night of my first visit to Vancouver and the name of that park will likely be etched in my brain in that poor fuck's blood and teeth for a long, long time.
posted by item at 9:26 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Victoria, anyway (an urban area of about 400,000 people across the Strait of Georgia), single-occupancy rents have actually been depressed thanks to a glut in condos over the past ten years. The vacancy rate for single-occupancy rentals is close to 3% in Victoria at the moment, compared to something like 0.5% five or so years ago. Holy shit! Vancouver must be in that territory.

On the other hand affordable rental housing for families is less than 1% vacancy rate.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on February 21, 2013


I didn't realize there were so many MeFites from Vancouver -- and ones who are allies of DTES residences at that. Maybe there should be a meetup? I have taught and volunteered in the DTES, and currently cover/blog several issues surrounding gentrification for a national progressive news site. But the best source of news is The Mainlander, which has already been linked to in this thread.

There are many egregious and violent acts of gentrification, but I think the Pidgin café basically makes explicit that there is no turning back. It's akin to British colonists disembarking from Lake Ontario and building a fortress named "Haudenosaunee" while the Iroquois stand and watch them.
posted by Catchfire at 9:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


at Insite, the infamous Vancouver safe injection facility

By "infamous", you mean the healthcare facility that has been proven to have saved dozens of lives from overdose, facilitated hundreds into detox and addiction treatment and lowered the once-astronomical HIV infection rates?
posted by docgonzo at 9:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


So even if there is a glut of housing, individual condo owners will bypass the laws of supply and demand somehow (perhaps they'll organize a 10000-member cartel)? I find that a little hard to believe.

Well, I don't think that DTES gentrification is going to result in a glut of rental condos, nor do I think that the developers (or their friends on council) want to do anything that would result in such a glut. I mean, as you pointed out upthread, if they were serious about building adequate housing to address affordability, they'd be plastering South Granville and Point Grey over with rowhouses.
posted by junco at 9:56 PM on February 21, 2013


"People openly shoot heroin and smoke crack and congregate en masse on the streets, peddling whatever they've stolen openly, completely disregarding traffic laws and any sense of personal responsibility, wandering out into the street high out of their minds,

I kept thinking about this statement, and I thought, "how inaccurate!"

Although I haven't been in Vancouver for a few months, I used to work in Van 5 days a week, commuting from the Island. I usually flew (bad me, I know), but sometimes I took the ferry and drove with the family, and I liked to take Knight and then Clark all the way to Hastings (I worked at Georgia and Bute).

So that one block around Hastings and Main is a little wild, and there are definitely some folks high or drunk or whatever, and it is not a place I would walk with my kids, at the same time it wasn't like some scene out of Hieronymus Bosch. It was shocking because the condition of the people was shocking, if that makes sense - sometimes people with no legs in rudimentary wheelchairs.

Or just people who were thin and obviously in poor health. Congregating.

And why were they congregating? Well, for one thing, Vancouver doesn't have much public space, so where else are they going to go? The waterfront is cut off by the rail yards. Stanley Park is a loooong way away. I suppose there is Pacific Station or the Ivanhoe or something.

But Hastings and Main is where they live. It's their front yard and front parlour. They don't have a living room or a back yard. And they would get kicked out of Pacific Centre Mall.

So a little empathy and compassion, a little understanding would go a long way. It doesn't mean you have to give money to every panhandler you meat, and it doesn't mean you have to tolerate syringes or any of that stuff. It's okay to be angry about that. But compassion would help.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


People always say the DTES is the worst neighbourhood in Canada -- the really ambitious say North America -- but I don't buy it. It's bad, sure, but there's practically no violent crime and there's at least a measure of social support in the area.

What people mean is that it's the worst neighbourhood that they have to walk through to get from their office to the pub for drinks after work. It's the worst neighbourhood that tourists from suburbia have to skirt around to take pictures in front of a steam clock.

What makes the DTES notable isn't that it's poor, but that's it's poor and surrounded by such crazy affluence. If zoning restrictions were dropped and the current residents were shuffled off to a neighbourhood that the tourists and the bridge-and-tunnel crowd didn't notice, the DTES would become some of the most valuable real estate in Canada. And if the new poor neighbourhood were in, say, Langley, it wouldn't get 1/10th of the media coverage even if it had the exact same social issues.

So, even though I don't really like the idea of picketing a business owner, I do support efforts to oppose gentrification in the DTES. The DTES makes us as a community remember the least fortunate and most vulnerable because we have to make eye contact with them every day. If we lose it, I'm worried that we'll lose some of our compassion with it. The urban poor don't need to be pushed further to the edge of our awareness.

If we ever lose the SROs and the Mission and the safe injection site (and ...) in the Downtown Eastside, I hope to hell that it's because we don't need them anymore, not just because we were tired of looking at them.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:08 PM on February 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


docgonzo: apologies for my tongue-in-cheek word choice there, I was trying to imply that Insite was famous for all the wrong reasons in the media, as opposed to its legitimately awesome track record.
posted by mek at 10:10 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, it is a plain fact that they have lowered the speed limit on Hastings to 30 KM per hour. The same speed as a school zone. The only other entire area of the GVA that has this speed limit. Why? Because the people "congregating" on that street, wander across, without any regard for what the hell is happening in reality. Because they've regularly been hit by cars.
posted by dobie at 10:26 PM on February 21, 2013


That's true. But so what?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


"People always say the DTES is the worst neighbourhood in Canada -- the really ambitious say North America -- but I don't buy it."

Yeah, I mean, it pretty much goes Cuidado Juarez, San Salvador, DTES… It's like claiming that the Blue Jays is the best baseball team in the world.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


...but I don't buy it.

You're absolutely correct. It's only "the worst" in comparison to something approaching "the best" separated by a single block.

The poor/rich divide is not so absolutes but proportion. The DTES is horrific in both aspects compared with DT.

The problem with high-margin retail moving into the DTES is that they displace resources for the people who live in the area - who live in the area because there is a reasonable concentration of resources - because there is a reasonable ability to house the people who need these resources - - - forcing the residents of this neighbourhood away from their resources typically lose these people those resources, and the extant resources seeing less people request said resources get their budgets or already paper-thin margins cut, and things just spiral further on.

Historic Chinatown has been languishing for decades now, after a brief optimistic spurt maybe 20-25 years ago. I wonder what's in store for that piece of real estate, and the long-timer locals who've lived there for generations.
posted by porpoise at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great thread. It's super interesting to see how other North American cities decide what version of public space is ideal.

A lot of urban planning folks talk about the street or public space as a place where we encounter difference and disorder and discomfort (actual danger is not necessary, but the discomfort of meeting the other). And that when we try to sanitize everything to suburban levels of comfort (no panhandlers because, hey, no sidewalks or pedestrians for that matter) we are eroding our ability to handle difference and communicate across those differences.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:45 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


OK, it is a plain fact that they have lowered the speed limit on Hastings to 30 KM per hour. The same speed as a school zone. The only other entire area of the GVA that has this speed limit.

Completely and obviously false - is this something you heard on Sun TV? Every single school, community center, playground, etc has this 30km limit, along with plenty of other "traffic calmed" neighbourhoods where speed bumps are installed every 100 meters at locals' behest... such as directly outside my house in East Vancouver, and pretty much all over the damn place.

Heck, the DOWNTOWN CORE is traffic calmed - look at the square bordered by Georgia, Davie, Denman and Thurlow. And this is precisely so that apartment dwellers can "[congregate] on that street, wander across, without any regard for what the hell is happening in reality" (where reality is, I guess, a highway). And of course we've outright banned driving from sections of Robson and Granville, mostly to accommodate shoppers and drunks, respectively.
posted by mek at 10:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I used to live on Vancouver Island, I would take twice-yearly trips to Vancouver with my daughter to do things like go to the art gallery, visit the aquarium, go to Science World, walk around Stanley Park, and the like. Every time we went we would walk through the DTES, so we could remember while we were staying in a nice hotel and having fun times, people lived there who were not so fortunate. We never encountered one person who was anything but lovely to us, but we saw plenty of misery. We did this from ages 8-11 or so and it gave my daughter a great sense of empathy for the people of the street. For a while she worked at a facility on the DTES, until running the gauntlet of crack dealers every day got to be too much for her.

However, this idea of this pocket of the downtrodden in the midst of great affluence is really troubling to me. There's something unbearably crass about sitting in an up-scale eatery and watching a parade of human pain go by outside. A couple of years ago, I went on a date to a pricey bistro located in a Gastown alley. The bill for two of us for snacks and wine was over 200 dollars. I know I would have enjoyed it far more had I not been watching the binners and crackheads out of the picture window. Not one other person there even acknowledged these people were out there. My date called me a 'bleeding heart' when I pointed out that there is something horribly decadent and inhuman about indulging oneself in this way. And I would disagree that the exposure of the affluent to the poor is helping attitudes. Most people I know walk by these people like they are not even there, and are more irritated by their presence than empathetic.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Every single school, community center, playground, etc has this 30km limit

There are certainly some larger thoroughfares with 30km/h limits as well; Beach Ave from Stanley Park to Thurlow comes immediately to mind. The thing about the Hastings speed limit being something unprecedented was an idea that got spread by the local media to generate outrage amongst "inconvenienced" commuters.
posted by junco at 11:00 PM on February 21, 2013


It's like claiming that the Blue Jays is the best baseball team in the world.

YOU WATCH YOUR MOUTH.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:00 PM on February 21, 2013


Quite a bit of debate was had on the subject of gentrification at tonight's public hearing for the proposed 17-story condo tower at 611 Main St, in the heart of Chinatown. CCAP's Jean Swanson and many others spoke; her remarks can be found here.
posted by mek at 11:03 PM on February 21, 2013


Yeah, I guess I'm just going to cut all pretense and say that I don't think that people should shoot heroin and smoke crack or whatever else on the street. I think condoning this behaviour implicitly or explicitly makes society worse off. For some reason, I feel that people who protect the DTES do it because they are comfortable taking and prescribing a victim position, and while being patriotic and all, I feel like that sucks.

That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. Leaving the thread to google Sun TV, because apparently I should watch that.
posted by dobie at 11:20 PM on February 21, 2013


I think condoning this behaviour implicitly or explicitly makes society worse off.

Why do you believe that? All evidence suggests the contrary, which is exactly why the Supreme Court ruled against the federal government in their effort to close down Insite. To quote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin: “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.”

Harm reduction doesn't increase drug use and make society worse off; it reduces crime, reduces deaths, & reduces the cost of delivering medical services for everyone.

I agree it sucks that people have to use drugs on the street. It's as unsafe as it is unsightly. The answer to that problem is more funding for social housing, addiction and mental health services. Right now we just have police managing the symptoms of social crisis, rather than the government treating them.
posted by mek at 11:36 PM on February 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's something unbearably crass about sitting in an up-scale eatery and watching a parade of human pain go by outside.

I see your point, but I don't think it's any less crass to be conspicuously decadent while people are poor kilometers away instead of meters away. To me it might even be worse. I have family that live in one of the stupid-rich suburbs of Detroit, and they all go about their lives as if downtown Detroit doesn't exist.I'd take vVancouver's problems over that wilful ignorance any day.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Harm reduction doesn't increase drug use and make society worse off; it reduces crime, reduces deaths, & reduces the cost of delivering medical services for everyone.

Well said.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 AM on February 22, 2013


The speed limit on the entirety of Bowen Island is 40km/h and in the village it is 30 km/h. And in some places it is 20km/h. And Bowen is in the GVA.
posted by salishsea at 1:12 AM on February 22, 2013


dobie, you can opine all you want and that is fine. The problem is that you are conflating your opinions with facts about harm reduction and life in the DTES and your opinions and the facts are heading out on parallel tracks.

Yes people SHOULDN'T do heroin and crack. But they do, and safe injection sites and other harm reduction strategies ensure that the damage is mitigated.

dobie, my heart does bleed for people who live and die in the DTES. Friends of mine have died down there, I was on the board of a local native-police liaison organization when our women started going missing. It breaks my heart. My heart absolutely bleeds for this community.
posted by salishsea at 1:12 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Targeting a single, independent business with a view to, I guess, making it go out of business seems like a punitive way to take issue with public policy that the restaurant has no direct part in and which predates it by some time.

A single restaurant is neither a line in the sand nor a cause of gentrification and it's mental gymnastics to identify it as such. It's a soft target, and has been singled out for that reason.

mek - you've said that this new restaurant, one of several in the area, has tactlessly waded into the trenches issue by virtue of opening in a building converted years ago.

I don't see it, sorry, irrespective of considerable sympathy for those people dispossessed or evicted by the loss of social housing and support for those who value downtown social housing provision.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:51 AM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's funny how me saying that I disagree with open drug use basically turns me into a conservative right wing, developer loving, commuter from the suburbs bent on destroying Vancouver.

I fully support insite and other programs to get people off the street, never said anything to the contrary. Our mental health programs are absolute failures, and we should be protecting and reducing the harm of for women (and men) choosing the sex work.

However, open drug use on the DTES gets treated like it's free speech. The people there get deified as some kind of noble savages. Salt of the earth, just having a talk, congregating, all looking after each other. "Haven't they suffered enough?"

Bullshit. That attitude helps to create apathy about the DTES, because you aren't even allowed to discuss it. The continual lowering of the bar...
posted by dobie at 5:59 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the rest of Vancouver was willing to tolerate social housing in their neighborhoods, and hadn't systematically pushed poor / mentally ill / addicted people into the DTES over decades, this debate would look a lot different.

Moving to Toronto after growing up in Vancouver, I was impressed by Toronto's slightly more successful 'patchwork' social housing network, rather than Vancouver's seeming "GTFO our community" approach.
posted by anthill at 6:58 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, open drug use on the DTES gets treated like it's free speech.

Are you saying that there are groups in Vancouver who treat open drug use like free speech, or that people in this thread are treating open drug use like free speech? Thanks.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:41 AM on February 22, 2013


Based on the pictures of the protestors, it seems like an older crowd. My own impression is that younger people are less engaged by this because they have less sympathy for the idea of free housing for people who don't work when they are struggling to pay rent in the same place. Furthermore, young people often have to live in cheaper neighborhoods where the non-working poor are often antagonists. I have lived in such a neighborhood and been threatened and almost mugged on the way home from work. Gentrification meant my rent costs increased and I had to live with more roommates, but it was a price I was willing to pay for not having to step over a drugged-out guy lying on the sidewalk with his pants open masturbating to the women walking by on the way to work.

My father was a homeless drug addict at one point, but his successful recovery had nothing to do with providing him housing in an expensive city and the fact he recovered probably has to do with taking him out of that so-called "community" of druggies in the city and the fact he went to a dedicated rehab center. For all the costs of keeping these people in an expensive city with high living costs, more of these kind of centers could be funded. Compassion should be about what works, about actually helping them with proven programs.

If I ever go to Vancouver, I will make an effort to go out of my way and dine at PIDGIN. Opening a restaurant like that is not easy- it looks like they have a great menu and are providing more than a few people a job. Their FB page has more information about their side of the story.
posted by melissam at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Vancouver..
posted by dobie at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2013


Just to be clear, there is no free housing; social housing is rental subsidized to be affordable on welfare, which is 610/mo, so rent ends up being in the 325-450 range. Living on 25 dollars a week on welfare in Vancouver is a common experience.

MuffinMan, it's absolutely a soft target. But if you'll read the articles, my sentiment is shared by local businesspersons as well - Sean Heather basically says they screwed the pooch on their launch, albeit more tactfully than that. The restaurant design was obviously a mistake, and the windows were papered over after a week of protesting.

If this protest succeeds in closing the business, I suspect city hall will become a lot more responsive all of a sudden. It will be seen as a failure of governance by both the right and the left, for different reasons of course...
posted by mek at 10:40 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this issue gets especially interesting when you take it in context with the rampant NIMBYism that goes on in the richer neighbourhoods. Dunbar doesn't want a 6 story seniors residence, the West side doesn't want a Skytrain down the busiest bus corridor in North America, Yaletown tried to protest a HEAT shelter, but somehow trying to keep high end businesses from encroaching on a poor neighbourhood is beyond the pale.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:44 AM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have to say, it's very jarring for me to see the descriptions of the DTES as such a terrible neighborhood and then look at the corner that Pidgin is on in Street View. I mean, I live in Chicago/edge of the Rust Belt, and when I think of "bad neighborhoods" it's stuff that looks like Halsted/63rd (which looked like this half a century ago) or Broadway in Gary, Indiana.

It's such a stark comparison that that corner of Cordova and Carrall streets looks absolutely gorgeous in comparison -- no empty lots, beautiful buildings, street life.

I am saying this in full recognizance of the fact that beautiful architecture does not equal affluence, and vice versa that run-down buildings do not automatically signal a CRIME ZONE! But the discrepancy is so large that it's just very hard to square away the descriptions of the DTES as such a terrible place when it looks so physically healthy on the surface.
posted by andrewesque at 12:12 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hastings and Main is what people usually are freaking out about when the describe the squalor of the DTES. Look closely - you can even see some litter.

In all seriousness, this is ground zero for all sorts of human misery in British Columbia, and was where a serial killer worked for more than a decade before being caught - nobody cared, because the people you see here in Streetview are considered expendable and disposable, often because of their gender, socio-economic status, and, of course, race.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:06 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


>I don't think that people should shoot heroin and smoke crack or whatever else on the street. I think condoning this behaviour implicitly or explicitly makes society worse off.

Please don't conflate IV drug use in the street with other behaviors that are socially unacceptable in public (such as nudism or public sex). Addicts use drugs in public because a) they are attempting to stave off withdrawal symptoms with an immediate fix and/or b) their addiction has consumed all of their financial resources, leaving them homeless.

Street fixing is the extreme end of despair. Addicts know this. Often, it involves old, used or unsanitary needles and opiates dissolved in fluid taken from a nearby puddle of rainwater. (This results in horrific skin abscesses). It is an embarrassing, humiliating, dangerous, and painful consequence of addiction. Addicts don't fix on the street because they are unmindful of the sensitivity of passersby, lacking in pride, or taking pleasure in flouting social rules or conventions. They do it because they are suffering.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm so glad Occupiers are keeping busy. If there's a deserving target of your rage, it's some guy who set up a restaurant in a building where tenants were evicted years ago who serves the kind of food you'll go back to your nice suburbs and eat once you're done sticking it to him.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:33 PM on February 22, 2013


andrewesque, this portion of Hastings, right around the corner from PiDGiN is a more accurate example of what the DTES looks like. Almost everybody in this picture is likely to be mentally ill, HIV+, drug addicted, and suffering from serious other serious health problems. You are looking at many drug dealers, and many cops. There are also street workers in that mix.

Across the street from this place is a supported housing organization that won't even consider you unless you are triple diagnosed. And they have a waiting list.

It's a hard place, despite some nice new trees and old brick buildings that were the gems of the Empire in the 1880s.
posted by salishsea at 4:48 PM on February 22, 2013


Yeah, I guess I'm just going to cut all pretense and say that I don't think that people should shoot heroin and smoke crack or whatever else on the street.


But drinking microbrews while eating Kobe beef sliders on those same sidewalks is fine?

I am a frequent visitor to the DTES, and dare I say the street life, both harrowing and fabulous (Army-Navy, and my now-lamented cigar shop), is what keeps me coming back? Insite, may it spawn a thousand harm-reducing daughters until we never need such a place again.
posted by Dreidl at 6:39 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The right for the poor and working class to maintain their housing in the DTES, a rich source of real estate for the city, has been a battle since before Expo (1986). It heated up again before the Winter Olympics (2010). The arguments often get derailed by so-called drug use debates - which do not accurately represent the thousands of people who live in the DTES.

So nice to see a picture of Jean Swanson in the Tyee article – a woman who has been fighting this battle for many, many years!
posted by what's her name at 7:12 AM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jean Swanson is a legend and deserves every honour we can offer her.
posted by Catchfire at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, there has been a lot of media coverage of this in the last week, most of it crap. I wrote an article on it, which I hope isn't too inappropriate to post here. Pidgin's past: a track record of profiteering at our expense
posted by mek at 6:48 PM on February 27, 2013


A contact of mine knows Brandon Grossutti (a tech industry contact), and anyway he mentioned that one reason why Pidgin may have been singled out is racism - it's nominally an Asian restaurant with an Asian chef and Asian food.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:00 AM on March 1, 2013


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