Print Edition: March 26, 2014
Vancouver has been working hard to clean itself up and make itself a healthy and forward-thinking space on the West Coast.
However, up until now, the east end (the one we all know and love) seems to have been ignored.
Last year I remember reading an article about the homelessness issue in the Vancouver Sun. As I have been told, a large portion of the homeless living in the Downtown Eastside have come from the shutdown of Riverside Hospital, a project that was closed for costing the city too much money. Yet a few decades later, there was talk that keeping the evicted Riverside residents on the street was costing more than if they were put into special care.
Go figure. But this is only one step in the process.
The Downtown Eastside has garnered a somewhat surly reputation over the years. This is partially due to the homelessness issue, low-income housing, and drug abuse. To accentuate this problem, many of the buildings and living spaces are left in derelict conditions.
But a solution has finally presented itself.
Recently the city passed a plan to re-vamp the east end, starting with the areas in highest need. They’re calling it “The Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan” — pretty straightforward. Their analysis is geared toward restoring the entire east end, but it highlights the Oppenheimer DTES core as a high-needs area.
Largely, the project proposes to assist low-income and deplorable unemployment rates by introducing more opportunities for work, both industrial and commercial. As well, a clean-up of residential rental zones, more assisted housing, available medical assistance services, and improved transit — a revitalization of the entire area.
As a bit of a Vancouver historical nut, and knowing about some of the recent historical site movements (the Hogan’s alley tributes for one), I was worried this would cause other problems with historical preservation. However, the city has kept this in mind.
Historical sites and neighbourhoods, such as Strathcona and Japantown, are to be preserved and repaired. Any improvements made in Strathcona, for instance, are to match the traditional look and feel of the historic neighbourhood. Good — I’m impressed.
In any history book I’ve read, or old photograph I’ve looked at, I have found the Downtown Eastside used to be a commercial paradise. Even my old man used to go shopping down on the E. Hastings strip by the famous “Save on Meats” shop. It was just another shopping district for good old-fashioned family outings.
This too has been met in Vancouver’s new plans. Overall, the plans seem to be pushing for a return to this state of comfort, livability, and commercial excellence, and if such a thing is even possible, I hope it goes according to plan.
My only main area of concern is the financing. With bridge tolls in place post-Olympics, I question where the money is coming from for this large-scale, multi-million-dollar project. The budget was in the booklet, but it seems the city itself is only contributing 20 per cent of the needed funds. The rest is being put forth by unknown investors and non-profit organizations (30 per cent and 50 per cent respectively).
Not that I have a big problem with this — it just makes me wonder a little. I’m not a financing genius, but it still concerns me that the city would invest so little into a project that’s supposed to revitalize its blue-collar core. If the money comes in, that’s fantastic. I just don’t want to see such a beneficial project only go half-done.