Studio One Architecture
138 East Hastings
“The proposed integrated mixed-use development comprises of commercial component, affordable home ownership and social housing residential units. The project is located in the Downtown Eastside, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver. The area is being revitalized with social activists, artists and new redevelopment. Affordable ownership of residential homes will bring vitality and crucial element of belonging and accountability to the community. The social housing units will deliver much needed housing to the neighbourhood. The development will become a catalyst for change and focal point for the neighbourhood.”
http://www.studioonearchitecture.ca/ (BLURB TAKEN OFF WEBSITE ON JULY 20, 2011 DUE TO COMMUNITY PRESSURE)
There is an attempt here to highlight the continuity of this project with both the past and present of the neighbourhood. As for the past, the DTES is here described only as “one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver,” an absurdly reductionistic description of a rich and complex area in the city. The point is, I suppose, that in connection with its historical character, this development will be the “Sequel” – the next chapter in the evolving narrative of the area.
Moving from the past to the present, we are told that this area is currently being “revitalized” – brought to new life and vitality by social activists, artists and home owners. The proposed project Sequel 138, then, also stands in continuity with the current remaking of the neighbourhood.
One of the most interesting elements of this statement on revitalization is the combination of social participants it names. Here social activists and artists are explicitly inscribed into the gentrifying process, rather than real estate developers, financial institutions, architectural firms, condo marketers, urban planners, etc. So while social activists attempt to resist gentrification and support the low-income community, their work is mystifyingly construed as making the neighbourhood more “vital” and therefore more attractive to the very forces they oppose.
Central to this paragraph is the sentence about home ownership and its capacity to generate vitality, belonging and accountability in the community. This is a statement remarkable for its ideological audacity (property ownership is what produces the common good), its lack of understanding of the current DTES community (which already exhibits vitality and belonging), and its overt poor-bashing (low-income people, who are also renters, are inherently irresponsible). It promotes the idea that middle-class home owners moving into the neighbourhood will normalize the behavior of poor people, making them more “accountable” (though it is unclear to whom and for what such accountability is directed).
The combination of (affordable?) market condos, social housing and commercial spaces replicates what exists at Woodward’s, though on a smaller scale. The notion that these three parts to the project will be integrated together on the site (form their own internal community), as well as within the wider community, has been part of the rhetoric of “success” of the social mix paradigm at Woodward’s. The reality, however, is more like social tectonics than integration. We can also expect to see the ripple effects of gentrification that Woodward’s has produced in its immediate vicinity to be actualized on the 100 block of East Hastings: empty SROs, increased rents, upscale businesses, zones of exclusion, etc.
Whether Sequel 138 will be a “focal point in the neighbourhood” or not, such a project implemented on the 100 block will no doubt be a “catalyst for change,” though a destructive one for low-income residents of this community. It will no doubt exacerbate the brutal reality of displacement, exclusion and hostility for low-income people (who have been effaced from the architect’s rendition of the streetscape in front of Sequel 138), and further the imposition of various mechanisms of social control. The change intimated here will be a change for the worse for those who live in low-income housing units and use the various services currently located on or proximate to the 100 block.
In light of this ideological discourse of gentrification that masks the suffering it produces, social activists, artists, community members and the broader public need to stand together and assert:
“There will be no Sequel to the Pantages story unless it is written by the low-income community.”