Frances Bula header image 2

Woodward’s: The blind-faith experiment

January 5th, 2010 · 29 Comments

There’s been a lot written about the Woodward’s project in the last few months and much more to come as the complex opens fully over the next few months.

Here’s my take on it for the Globe’s ROB section, focusing on the gamble different groups had to make to go in. The city’s director of real-estate services, Michael Flanigan, noted that it took over $10 million in tax breaks from the city, money he considers mostly well spent, though he did observe to me that the $2 million in tax breaks for the condo owners probably could have been better invested somewhere else. The tax break per condo likely wasn’t enough to make a difference to anyone, but the $2 million could have helped out with other amenities in the project.

I’ll be looking forward to when it’s all totally open, especially being able to walk through the big central plaza. I’m going to the opening night of The Blue Dragon on Feb. 5 at the new SFU theatre there and really looking forward to seeing what the SFU spaces look like then. The last time I was through, on a tour with developer Ian Gillespie, it was all pretty unfinished — I got a sense of lots of big rooms but not much more.

I’m curious as to what other people are experiencing as the project gets close to finished — are you shopping there? is it making a difference? is it changing the feel of the area?

Categories: Uncategorized

  • I have clients in Gastown so I’ve been down there at least a few times each week since summer. It’s been exciting to see the project emerge from construction, especially considering how it looked when I took this picture in ’06:

    My clients and I have been shopping there. A bit in the Nestors, sometimes in the London Drugs and I suspect we’ll be regulars at the JJ Bean. Every time we walk through the courtyard we talk about how gutsy it was to install the photo art piece of the riot, and how confident the building seems in its setting.

    It’s still a work in progress, but you can see it really coming to life.

  • Turtles

    Hey, just started reading your blog recently and I’ve been really enjoying the knowledge and insight presented here. Of course then, my first comment is a complaint…

    I’ve been getting a little excited about the new Woodward’s, beginning to believe a bit that it might end up being a positive, interesting force in the neighbourhood. But reading your article, Frances, it occurred to me that very little of the “progress” and positive news about Woodward’s so far involves the actual residents of the DTES. A big-name grocery store, pharmacy and condos! (And some social housing). Didn’t they build one of those out at UBC too? You do mention the social housing, but no one’s actually living there yet; the effect on the social fabric of the existing DTES residents is far from clear. I guess my point is, how do we know this isn’t just the first step in the long-desired gentrification of the DTES?

    There are two sides to the Woodward’s project, and so far most of the good things that have happened with the project have been good things for the people with money, the people coming in from outside the community. Condos and universities, as nice as they are, are primarily the domain of the middle-class. Until we see signs that this project is actually helping the residents of the DTES then it will just remain exactly what we all did not want it to be: an expensive condo development in the heart of the downtown eastside. It is far too early for triumphalism.

    I don’t think your article is really guilty of this to such an overt extent, but I do feel like the omissions and the focus tends to lead the reader away from some of the big concerns that still exist about this project and starts to slip into standard real-estate speak: oooh new condo!

  • Turtles raises a very valid concern, but I would respond that the past two decades have demonstrated that retaining the area solely as the domain of low income households has not worked. I think it is important to distinguish between GENTRIFICATION (which results in the forcing out the low income households) and REGENERATION which can result in a more vibrant mixed income community, with a variety of uses and activities.

    I believe this is what will happen here, contrary to what Wendy Pedersen and the Carnegie Community Action are telling neighbourhood residents in their most recent call to action which I will copy below.

    What the DTES needs is a mix of incomes which will increase the likelihood that the streets and alleys are attractively maintained and respected, and not just the venue for illegal activities. New residents with some income will result in the vacant storefronts being brought back to life with a variety of commercial spaces. The commercial activities will result in more jobs for people in the area, something that is badly needed.

    I don’t know about you, but quite frankly, I find it very disturbing that we should celebrate ‘binning’ as the major job creation activity in the area. There are many more dignified ways for people to earn a living, and they should be offered.

    I think it is noteworthy that Jim Green once opposed the redevelopment of the Woodwards property by the Fama Group, because they were proposing a mix of housing, including market condominiums and cooperative housing, offices and retail space.

    At the time, Jim stated “this is not the place for private condos…..there should not be market housing with condominiums in the project since this would inevitably lead to the loss of low income housing.” (Vancouver Sun September 28, 2002).

    Subsequently, Jim also had concerns about the inclusion of the SFU School for Contemporary Arts since he feared it too might attract too many people and uses that would be incompatible with the low income character of the area. However, Jim now applauds the mix of uses, including the market condominiums and SFU. He is right. This is what is needed to start to bring some ‘normalcy’ to the neighbourhood, and I say this word, knowing it will be offensive to some.

    As I stated in the same Vancouver Sun article, “there is already a significant stock of social housing in the area….a mix of social and economic classes will contribute to a resurgence in the area.” Today there are significantly more social housing units than there were seven and a half years ago. Now we need more affordable market ownership and rental housing to even out the balance.

    To conclude, it is my view that while the Woodwards building ended up being much taller than I ever expected, and a lot less of the original complex remained, despite the generous heritage density bonuses, Woodwards will in fact be a panacea for the area. It will result in regeneration and revitalization and while I agree that some low income people may not feel comfortable living in the area, shooting up in the back lanes, urinating on the streets, and laying out their stolen property for sale along the sidewalk, I think this will be a wonderful thing.

    This is why I am so strongly opposed to the message from CCAP that is copied below:

    Upcoming Council Meeting – Stop Downtown Eastside displacement
    Carnegie Community Action Project

    Hi everyone. CCAP and low-income DTES residents desperately need your help
    at City Council on (probably) Jan. 21st.

    That’s the day that council will hear speakers on staff recommendations to allow building heights to increase in the western DTES (roughly west of
    Gore). This report is called the Historic Area Height Review. Source:

    Higher buildings mean more condos. Condos are already outpacing new social housing in the DTES by a ratio of about 3 to 1. And the condos in the Woodwards and other developments are having ripple effects throughout the neighbourhood:
    • Land prices increase;

    • Rents in hotels (the last cheap housing available before homelessness) increase;

    • Businesses that serve local residents can’t afford taxes;

    • New businesses serving new upscale residents move in (some are subsidized by the city);

    • Low income people are excluded from upscale business by security guards and prices;

    • A new power structure favouring people with more money develops;

    • Some new residents lobby to stop new housing and services that low income residents need;

    • Low income people stop feeling comfortable in their own neighbourhood;

    • Homelessness increases.

    • A unique low-income community with many assets could be lost.

    CCAP needs you to go to Council on the 21st and support this position:
    No new height until we have a social/economic study of the impact of Woodwards and other DTES condo development on the tenure and assets of the low income DTES community and until we have a local area plan for the whole
    DTES neighbourhood in which low income residents have a say proportionate to their numbers.

    Background: What exactly is the planning staff recommending to Council?

    At a meeting on Dec. 10th DTES planners told CCAP that staff will probably make the following recommendations at a City Council meeting on Jan. 19th

    (probably speakers will be heard on the 21st):

    • Three new towers up to 15 stories on three specific sites in the DTES;

    • No height increase in Gastown or Victory Square;

    • About a one story increase on Pender St.;

    • Chinatown South to go from 90 feet to 120 feet (12 stories) with rezonings;

    • DEOD (this is Main St. north of Hastings and about two blocks of Hastings): increase the height limit from 100 feet to 120 feet with rezoning.

    What’s missing from the city’s recommendations?

    CCAP is just completing a two year comprehensive vision for the DTES
    based on consultation with 1200 low income residents. The height increases
    proposed will leapfrog over CCAP’s process. The planning department has known about this process from the beginning.

    The Woodwards development and other city measures to “revitalize” the DTES are already having a huge impact on the low income DTES community, but the city has done no social/economic impact study of this. The city needs to assess the development that’s already happened: Is it creating more homelessness? Is it destroying a vibrant community where low-income people feel safe and comfortable? Where will people displaced by higher rents
    caused by gentrification go? “

  • Joseph Jones

    Turtles: You have quickly and aptly perceived the underside of fabulaous positivism!

    FB says: “A grocery and a drugstore opened in early December, bringing legal commercial activity to the block that hasn’t been seen since Woodward’s closed in 1993.”

    Not one mention of the ten years of tax advantage that will help new chain stores to boost profit as they kill off established surrounding enterprises.

    (Compare with: Brian Hutchinson, “Vancouver Downtown East Side Slowly Crawls toward Gentrification,” National Post (18 Dec 2009)

    When facts do not fit the story line, the story line rules.

  • Frances Bula


    I realize that you think anyone who in any way writes positively about development must be bad, but I am the only reporter I know of who has actually included the number on the tax breaks that the project will get — a point I emphasized in both my blog post and the actual article. When facts do not fit a story line, the story line rules indeed, it seems.

    To Turtles: Yes, it’s true, there’s much more to be written about whether Woodward’s will just become a gentrification wedge or whether it will do what the developer, architect and city have said they worked very hard to do, which was to create a project that welcomed DTES residents and didn’t create an enclave that was aimed at shutting them out. Clearly Tinseltown is perceived as that kind of enclave. Woodward’s, where the city has insisted on keeping some control over the central plaza and where PHS has been hired to provide security — with the idea that they are NOT going to be the kind of people who toss out anyone who looks the least bit scruffy — is aiming for something different. The proof will come in the next couple of years when we see how it is used.

    I know that when I went to the opening day at Nester’s, it did seem to be attracting local people. We’ll see

  • Michael G:

    I take a bit of exception to your statement:

    “I don’t know about you, but quite frankly, I find it very disturbing that we should celebrate ‘binning’ as the major job creation activity in the area. There are many more dignified ways for people to earn a living, and they should be offered.”

    1-800-Got-Junk is recognized as a corporate success story and that company is basically just binning on a larger scale. IMO, individuals showing initiative and turning reyclables into cash isn’t undignified unless we choose to render that judgement on their activities. To me binning is basically an urban variant on wildcrafting and a for the most part the epitome of the ‘green’ job (walking or biking, recycling, and requiring little or no significant capital outlay or an expensive education to get started). Would we consider a mushroom hunt or blackberry picking ‘undignified’?

    My guess is that binners have enough challenges without hearing that they should consider their attempts to provide for themselves to be ‘beneath’ that of those with regular kinds of jobs.


  • jack the bear

    well, I live kitty corner from Woodward’s and will be watching the changes with interest. A long-time Grandview-Woodlands resident and worker who ended up in the DTES via the conventional means, I have been ‘regenerating’ at roughly the same pace as the Woodward’s project. I hope Jim & Mr. Geller are right; I’ve written in my own wee blog about how the diversity of souls in the ‘hood will inevitably put a pressure on the dealers in front of the Grand Union that the cops can not sustain.
    Time will tell.
    Happy New Year to all.

  • Chris, I agree that the ‘rags and bones’ men of yesterday, like 1-800-G0t-Junk were entrepreneurs trying to eke out a living. Many went on to become successful businessmen in many endeavours.

    I do not consider those who pick mushrooms or fruit to be involved in ‘undignified’ occupations. But I do consider going through messy garbage cans or climbing into large garbage bins searching for tin cans and bottles a less than dignified occupation.

    Instead, I would like to see the same people offeredmore opportunities along the lines of those created by organizations like BOB or EMBERS, both of whom are helping people in the DTES. I would like to see them painting buildings, or landscaping, or power washing and cleaning their neighbourhood, and other neighbourhoods around the city.

    I would like to see more employed in construction which is something Bladerunners has offered many people. And I would be pleased if some start working in London Drugs and Nesters, perhaps starting with some of the more menial tasks, but eventually assuming greater responsibility.

    My point is that we seem to have settled on ‘binning’, going through garbage, as a most appropriate occupation for many people, when I think there are capable of much more. And by increasing the commercial operations in the DTES many will have more opportunities.

  • Putting aside all the Woodward’s’ nostalgia stuff, because no one knows what it was like back then, I will be interested to see how this confluence of social strata shakes out.

    It reminds me of an experience I had back in the late1980’s.

    SCARP’s David Hulchanski set us planning students an assignment to study the housing situation in one of DERA’s latest project.

    DERA’s manager, at the time, kindly gave me a tour of a recent project at the other end of Alexander Street.

    It was a brand new residence within a neighbourhood of old decrepit, nevertheless fully occupied, brick buildings: occupied by residents who had obviously acquired a sense of proprietorship of their “own place”.

    The new building had a courtyard overlooked by the older building, the residents of which, demonstrated their displeasure, towards the “nouveau riche interlopers” by chucking empty beer bottles into the new courtyard.

    The yard was strewn with broken beer bottle glass: hazardous to walk thru even on tough leather!

    Gregory’s remark, to the effect he had set up distinct architectural semiotics for the two levels of occupancies got me to thinquing about that place at the end of Alexander.

    Be interesting to see how the new one works out . . . Yup!

  • njb

    Binning is an unpaid job with no benefits or safety standards. Please don’t romanticize binning.

  • Well, sorry if I’m giving the impression of romanticizing it. Not my intention. I just don’t believe any task is inherently undignified. Because it’s hard for people to separate what they do from who they are, I think it’s counter-productive to look down on a particular job. Perhaps recognizing the value of the service binners provide is a first step in working towards ensuring they have the same access to benefits and safety standards most of us enjoy?

  • Matthew Hinton

    To answer Frances’ questions, I live two blocks from the Woodward’s project, and am certainly shopping there.  The project is making a difference, and it is changing (slowly) the feel of the area. 

    There are still as many open houses (of agents flipping completed condos) as move-ins on Saturdays, but there is a distinct change in the activity in the surrounding blocks.

    If there is any failing in the project, it is only its failure to live up to unrealistic hopes.  Woodward’s is meant to be transformative; its critics seem to forget that change is the desired outcome.  But it is not a social program – it is a real estate development.  Nester’s is not a soup kitchen; London Drugs is not a shooting gallery; TD bank is not handing out social assistance cheques.  Critics appear to wish otherwise.

    I have trouble thinking of an “established surrounding enterprise” which would be a competitor of these new businesses.   The only direct competitor I can think of is T&T vs. Nester’s – both of which are chains, the former owned by Loblaw’s, for which I’ll shed no tears (especially given the store’s dearth of dairy, cheese, and bread).

    It is frustrating to live near Woodward’s and endure stridency from those who do not, who apparently seek to foolishly preserve an artificial majority of marginalized people.  Thus far, the project’s change has been positive and welcome.

  • Bill Lee

    Would I use it? Not sure. Woodward’s many departments were a draw, much more than LD and higher-priced Nesters.
    And those bus stops on Hastings at Abbott are currently a bus driver option, if they don’t like the crowd at the stop they don’t have to stop and pick up. So maybe I won’t get off the bus there.
    Then there is the steep walk from downtown over the escarpment to T&T for foods, or continue on to the few late evening stalls on Keefer and Gore open. Why Nester’s then?

    It was the “late great” Brad Holmes who brought mass gentrification to Gastown/DTES with his “artists” studios over a decade ago.

    Any minute, Robertson and his politeness police (see the $26000 4 pager in the Wednesday Vancouver Sun? No, me neither) will be moving the binners and the U-Can to another location forthwith, perhaps with a low-income residence beside promise.

    They had to force the SFU performing arts down to the Woody. Same as they had to force communications and a few other faculties down to Harbour Centre years before. I hear that the Harbour staff turnover is much higher that Burnaby as the staff can walk across the street and have a job interview for a better wage, not to mention a less arbitrary manager.

    And a SFU clerk did complain to me about the offer of a ticket to Blue Dragon by Prez Stevenson for the cheap price of a day’s wages. ($65 and fees) No thank you. Off to Quebec to see the real stuff not a re-staging.
    I know that the Anderson project at the Playhouse by LePage was uncomfortable for the usual Jerry Lewis fans who make up the regular theatre audience in this town. Maybe they find his work “difficult”?

    They will have enough surveillance cameras but I wonder about treatment of some of the rougher street elements inside the lines of “private property beyond this line” tiles that will differentiate between the public street and private mall complex. Will there be protests about excess roughing up, or beatings by guards or police?

    Something to watch, or to avert one’s gaze as we pass by, on the other side.

    Every street has a good side and a bad side. One side does more retail business, the other side languishes. Will the diversity of shops on the “Golden Crown” side take away sparkle from Woody?

    And there is little walking trade on the Cordova side. Abbott was always an ignored side and leading from TinselTown/Henderson Mall is not an incentive to go up the street.

    Maybe this will be like Columbia+Front Street in New West, or the indelicacies of downtown Tacoma Pacific+Commerce streets.

  • Turtles

    @Matthew Hinton: what’s “artificial” about the majority of marginalized people in the DTES? They live there! Should it be replaced with a “natural” majority of the well-heeled?

    Woodward’s represents by far the single biggest hunk of cash thrown at the area in decades and it has big plans for itself. No, it isn’t a social program, but that’s half the problem isn’t it? If Woodward’s is to succeed on all levels a lot more positive changes are yet required for the existing residents of the DTES, otherwise they will be wiped out by the incoming tide of cash. And honestly right now the status quo does not seem particularly threatened.

  • Let’s see now, a post way back mentioned a security guard buying into the tower . . . ummmmmmm . . . interesting!

    I’m bad with numbers so maybe some one should check me out.

    Anyway my math guesstimates:

    Average Condo Vancouver 350,000
    15% DP 5,250
    Mortgage 344,750
    Monthly mtg Pymt @ 5.7% 2,000+/-
    Monthly municipal taxes 125
    Monthly strata fees 250
    Gross monthly payments 2,375
    Monthly income @ 30% payments (CHMC) C$7,125+/-

    So, to buy in Vancouver, according to CMHC’s ideal figures, a family income of C$85,000 will get you a view, a drug store, Nesters, be kind to your neighbours even if they throw beer bottles, and let’s hope the wife has a good job!

    I’m out of the loop but that looks like a lot to me.

    Is Vancouver the most sustainable city in Cascadia . . . cash strapped and mortgage poor . . . or what?

  • njb

    “[..] for the existing residents of the DTES, otherwise they will be wiped out by the incoming tide of cash.” What exactly does “wiped out” mean? What will happen to them?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Neighbourhood revitalization and heritage preservation are touch stones of good urbanism. How often do we get that right? My gut and my brain are at odds on the Woodward’s site: gut says “no”; brain says “wait ’til you see it”.

    Then again we have all been waiting too long to see too much misery and human suffering put to an end in the so-called DTES. What does that say about our prosperous and wealthy society that we have held on to so much strife for so long?

  • After graduating from SCARP in early 1987, I traveled the country, winter/summer, surveying, and commenting on, public urban spaces in sixteen Canadian cities.

    My observations turned into “The Canadian City” a 1989 publication. Although it is out of print I still receive royalties: the point being, some one in Canada is still interested in the amenity of public urban space.

    Apparently, Vancouver’s bicycling councilors are not!

    A typical example of the city’s redundant thinquing is “The Historic Area Height Review”.

    What on earth is so special about height that it is treated without any consideration given to the street level amenity?

    Victory Square, Pigeon Park, Blood Alley, Sun Yat-sen and Architect David Mar’s nice little triangle on Pender have existed for quite a while. Yet, despite recent up grades they still remain ill defined, pedestrian-disconnects, surrounded by debilitating traffic noise and pollution.

    This isn’t so much a lost urban opportunity as that of local, misplaced political priorities.

    This Woodward’s tower concession is typical. In an areas of heights up to 70′ with special conditions 100′: Woodward’s is 32 storeys at 320′. Is this enlightened social policy, desperation or politics as usual?

    Why the huge height concession and, for that matter, the heritage tax allowance?

    No doubt a well-meaning council was motivated to grant concessions, hell any concessions, to get this emblem of human kindness up before the Olympics.

    BTW: is the courtyard designated public space? Or is it private property wherein security controls appropriate behavior and dress? Be interesting to see how that goes into the social mix!

    So, begging the question, why waste time, money and expectations on “The Historic Area Height Review” when height is still subject to “socially responsible” whim?

    Professionally I have no problem with social/height concessions where necessary: indeed, there is a case to be made for incremental unit cost decline as height increases: but . . .

    . . . this arbitrary flexibility makes a mockery of a very expensive planning process.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Urbanismo, the numbers don’t lie: the sign outside Woodwards advertising the “assisted” housing suites is offering 3 bedrooms for rent at $1550, two bedroms at $1300 (or so). I can’t imagine any low income people who could afford those rates, let alone a family living on Welfare or disability.

    I’m really baffled by Mr. Geller’s blanket dismissal of the CCAP concerns, especially what seems to be a very legitimate criticism of Planning’s leapfrogging over their very thourough-sounding consultation process with the low income community. Lewis suggests we are putting an end to the misery here, but, while there maybe a handful of newly employed low income people at Woodwards, the real result of gentrification (or revitalization or whatever) is that the problems are being pushed farther east. How on earth does more condos solve mental illness, addiction and homelessness?

    When architects and planners start spouting half-baked social theories, it’s a sure sign that they are totally ignoring their own area of expertise. This is a heritage district, and Woodwards, Ginger, the new condo behind No. 5 Orange, and most of the others built from the ground up are butt-ugly, stick out like sore thumbs, and detract from the integrity and character of the heritage district. Planning’s HAHR plan will only ingrain this denuding of the city’s heritage and give developers carte blanche to build the lowest common denominator.

    The issue of gentrification is totally moot now, so we may as well embrace it. No-one is going to bemoan the disappearance of dealers from the streets in 10 or 100 years, but the City at large will suffer a big loss if our heritage is steamrolled in the process.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    No, no, no.

    I don’t see an approach predicated on building out “one site at a time” putting and end to the misery in the DTES.

    I don’t agree with the idea that “gentrification is totally moot now, so we may as well embrace it.”

    But I agree that “the city at large will suffer a big loss if our heritage [continues to be] steamrolled in the process”.

    The great failure of planning in the 20th century has been “suburban planning”. On the threshold of a new century, we are faced with a new failure: “urban planning”. What is missing in the suburban and the urban type planning is planning with “urban design”. In other words, laying out the urbanization of neighbourhoods with the human experience of place in mind.

    All we get from the municipality is city fabric meant to be experienced with the human beings driving behind the wheel of an automobile at 30 m. p. h. (50 km/h). That’s not good enough.

    Gentrification, in my books, is moving one set of folks out—typically the ‘poor set’—to move a new and more prosperous set in. However, that is just not necessary in the cradle of our city.

    With 15,000 people living in 500 acres of so-called DTES, we can hardly call that “urban density”. At 100 acres each, a set of five “quartiers” or neighbourhoods lie within walking distance of the very core and heart of our city in what planners have dubbed the “Downtown Eastside”.

    Thus, it would be possible to intensify these quartiers with 30,000 new residents without displacing a single soul, or building anything that is out of character with the 2 to 4-storey historic precedent.

    If you do the math, that would bring the DTES to the same demographic of the rest of the city. One third below the poverty line; two thirds above. The significant difference would be the ability of intensification to attract a full range of neighborhood services.

    I agree with “Gassy” that most of the projects that have been built in the historic Gastown townsite–including Woodward’s–defile the tradition of West Coast Urbanism circa 1912.

    What most people don’t seem to understand is that those areas in our city that built out before 1912 hold a special lesson for us in how to achieve high-density with low-rise form, and human scale. These areas show us the example of how to make “urban space” work for people, and not just for cars. And they show us how to make livable places, with the intensity necessary to generate street bustle, without casting the long shadows of the bamboo towers.

    All the more reason, I suppose, to move aggressively to wipe them off the city map.

  • “The great failure of planning in the 20th century has been “suburban planning”. On the threshold of a new century, we are faced with a new failure: “urban planning”.”

    WOW . . . Lewis . . . you sure got that right!

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Lewis, I agree with your expert comments regarding urban design, but the social demographics part still rings hollow. My comment that “gentrification is totally moot” is, to be clear, restricted to the Historic Area zones, where the HAHR review is also trying to use the “rebalancing” argument as one of the justifications for building more towers and condos. But I think it is a false argument with no basis in reality.

    While there may be only approximately 2,500-3000 upper income residents out of 15,000+ total DTES residents at present, they are almost all concentrated in the Historic Area zonings. If approximately one third (5000 of the 15,000 total) DTESiders live in the Historic Area, there can’t be more than 2000 +/- left that are low-income now. Virtually all the condos and live/works built since the 90s are located west of Main, and there has been a corresponding hollowing out and lot vacation of the low income community over the last 5 years. Some entrenchment exists, of course, but it’s being swallowed up quickly. Consequently, I would say the Historic Area is ALREADY close to the 1/3 below poverty to 2/3 above ratio.

    For better or worse, there hasn’t been such a demographic ratio in these neighbourhoods since, what, the 1920s? Ever?

    Planning has made it clear they want to fast track new developments, but this investment will be poured almost exclusively into the western 1/3 of the DTES. Is that a balanced approach? And of course, if you are turning a paltry profit running an SRO, and 2/3 of your neighbours have turned big profits selling condos, who wouldn’t cash out eventually? With inertia, these additions will naturally cause displacement.

    If we really were serious about wanting to “normalize” or “balance” the demographics through densification, we would need to add 3-4,000 MIDDLE income, “affordable” units. The working and middle classes are the ones being shut out, not just here, but all across the city (ie. see my note on rent rates for assisted units at Woodwards, and Urbanismo’s mortgage numbers).

    In a decade, the ratio in the Historic Area could easily be 5or6 high incomes to every 1 low income even with the status quo restrictions. But where are the middle incomes, families, and working classes that provide all the bustle? Aided by Planning’s cash grabbing narrow-mindedness, Vancouver developers now build almost exclusively high end/high profit buildings that are beyond the reach of all but the highest earners.

  • Bill Lee

    see site for the May 2006 Census, knowing that it is rough (~20% didn’t answer) and there are no public social data for the smaller Dissemination areas (Data Level 2) inside Census Tracts, though the city might have bought them

    So here’s the picture of Census Tract 933059.06 (933 is Vancouver, etc.)

    and that stat tables for 059.06 from Richards to Main, roughly either side of Hastings. You might want to see 058 east of Main (use the map icon at the top of the Census Tract column at the link below, and then CT Profile)

  • wally

    I’m not so sure we should lay all the blame for the lack of middle-income-suitable housing on developers. Our collective values are driving what developers build. If we all think we can’t live without granite countertops and 24 hour concierges (to do what? accept the take out delivery? let the call girl/boy/drug dealer in? what?), that’s what they’ll build.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “Ghost”, let’s look at the 500 acres of the so-called downtown eastside (really, the “cradle” of our city) a little closer and come to some consensus.

    Imagine the Olympic Logo… Three rings at the top, two rings at the bottom. Then, imagine each ring represents the footprint of a neighborhood in the DTES.

    Main Street, which you use as a demarkation line in your analysis, would lie just to the right of the top-left Olympic ring in the logo, and it would bisect the bottom-left ring.

    The top-left ring corresponds to Gastown, and the bottom-left to Chinatown. Continuing from left to right along the top of the logo, the middle-top ring would be centered on Oppenheimer Park, and the third and last ring on the top row would be centered on Clark and Hastings Streets.

    On the bottom row, next to Chinatown, the second ring would stand for Strathcona.

    Yes, each ring measures approximately 100 acres, and it is a pure coincidence that what I would call a “five-quartier” analysis of the area coincides exactly with the five-ring logo of the Olympics.

    Go figure.

    Now, if you take the five neighborhoods (Gastown, Chinatown, Strathcona, Oppenheimer Park, and one without a name centered on Clark & Hastings), the first thing that jumps to mind is a question: What kind of imagination did it take to put a single zoning boundary around these five unique places?

    Strathcona, east of Main Street, is the eye of the storm. A neighborhood that has stood up to the worst kinds of challenges anyone could have hoped for. Like the other four neighborhoods it has one ace up the sleeve: location, location, location. Count on this community to weather the storms to come.

    I would expect that a good part of the population that is above the poverty line lives in Strathcona.

    Further, I would suggest that if we wanted a model for how to do urbanism from Gastown all the way to the PNE, along the long overlooked Hastings Street corridor, you could do a lot worse than look to Strathcona for inspiration.

    Chinatown is also exemplary for its spirit of community. Long after Chinese Canadian residents departed for the suburbs, the Chinatown community has stood strong (with strong leadership from the merchants). But, note that the footprint of Chinatown falls on both sides of main, and that the residential component of Chinatown today is to be found east of Main.

    Still, every time I think of the people that put on the Night Market and the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, I want to wrap myself in yellow silk and dance a Dragon Dance on Keefer Street. The Chinese community know how to do urban culture in a way that the anglos still do not.

    Gastown is the only place in our city where one can walk along the street and experience both human scale and continuity of the streetwall–strongest on Water Street, with its magnificent termination at the Europe Hotel.

    Here the urbanism and the architecture really work well together. The continuity of character in the urban space and diversity of built form in the architecture are first rate. ( I am not going to waste ink listing the lengthening litany of what has been done wrong there).

    Oppenheimer Park neighborhood (including what some term as Japan Town) was decimated by the Powell Street/Cordova Street one-way long before the crack cocaine crissi. The traffic coupling that brings cars in and out of the downtown in the manner that the never-built-freeway was meant to do is in my mind the real neighborhood killer.

    Hastings Street itself is the overlooked and misunderstood spine of the five neighborhoods, as well as a hard-wired artery into the core of our city.

    Hastings Street is without question Vancouver’s “Great Street”. Let’s do a walking tour from Victory Square to Clark Street some day, and tell the tale of what we see along the way… Only the worst kind of bungling imaginable along what should be one of Canada’s Great Places of Urbanism.

    The 100-acre “Quartier” that centers on Clark and Hastings is just brimming full with potential because the area is in transition from warehouse and industry. It is as much the gateway into Vancouver as it is the gateway into the Hastings neighborhoods to the east, going in the opposite direction.

    That’s a snap shot urban analysis of the so-called DTES five neighborhoods with a legitimate claim to being among the best urban areas in our Canada, yet having been misunderstood and mismanaged in wholesale manner for at least the past 40 years.

    I can’t imagine what is going to happen next. We are headed for a train wreck. The fundamentals are missing, and not understood by either the city design professionals, or our politicians.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Bill, thanks for the links – a can of wonk I’d rather avoid, but I can’t resist, so here goes…

    2006 Census Numbers for the DTES west of Main St.

    Total Population: 6,205
    Number of dwelling units: 4530
    Number of dwellings owned: 430 (under 10%, vs all Vancouver at about 60%)
    Number of dwellings rented: 4120 (over 90%, vs all Vancouver at 40%)

    Again, I would estimate the number of low income units/residents west of Main has dropped substantially since 2006 due to the noticeable effects of “hollowing out”. On the flip side, post 2006 or coming on-stream soon are a plethora of market developments, some which directly displaced low income units. Woodwards, Ginger, behind #5, Pender, Paris, Koret, many along Water Street, Fung’s remaking of the buildings around Gaolor’s Mews, and development notices are up right now on more buildings dotted around, and of course Concorde is still lurking on their big empty lot… They’re all luxury high-end additions.

    Note that Woodwards + Koret = nearly 600 new market units added since 2006, an almost 150% increase in high-end units over the 2006 census for the whole area in only 2 developments!

    Lewis, I realize Main St. east in Chinatown overlaps the HA (V6A), and Alexander and Railway condos also stretch east of Main (the views!), but still, I don’t see such extreme demographic shifts and investment occurring in any other quartier, including Strathcona — house renos don’t shift the population much, though the market influence is strong. Again, however, I totally agree with your comments regarding there being NO NEED for densification (towers and height increases) in what is already a well-planned area, and the numbers make that clear: Population density per square Kilometre: 10, 504 (vs Van as whole at 735).

    My revised 2010 projection/guesstimate would be about 3250 lower income residents to 2500 high income west of Main. Maybe not quite as dramatic a demographic shift as my original estimates, but still, this has occurred over a mere 4 year period! An historic urban migration, to be sure.

    The below stats appear to back up my contention about the huge gap between low income vs. luxury ownership in the Historic Area, and the complete void of middle/working class and families, a gap that is far more apparent four years later (ie. the dog population has exploded over this period). These numbers are more due to SROs than market forces, although both groups share characteristics (Single Yuppies and DINKS replacing single middle aged men), and so the new condos won’t change this much.

    Kids under 15 years old: 265 (where most of these kids live, I have absolutely no idea!?)
    Single: approximately 65% (vs. all Vancouver at approximately 35% — the corollary is that marriage rates are way below Van average)
    Average age: 44.4 (vs. all Vancouver at 39.1)

    Median Monthly Payment for rented units: $361 (vs. 812 all Van)
    Median Monthly Payment for owned units: $1353 (vs. 1081 all Van)

    That last stat – owned units being nearly 30% more costly compared to Van as a whole – is interesting! I guess it’s true what they say: Gastown is the new Yaletown.

    Lastly, I note the census area is Main Street west to Richards. The southern border is Prior, but heading west it jogs down Quebec to Keefer, then jogs down Taylor to Pender.

    The jagged south border of the census area means, except for the tower desecrating Shanghai Alley, the swampy southwest side of historic Chinatown has been mostly annexed to the neighbouring census – the International Village towers are not included in these numbers or the HA/DTES (I assumed they would be in my earlier post, since this is part of the 5 original neighbourhoods). Also, the Thornton Park towers on the west side of Main are not included in this census area. Nevertheless, these two tower clusters represent significant density and demographic changes encroaching on the Historic District and western DTES, and exert additional market pressure.

    In terms of design, they belie the exact intent of Planning’s approach to tiering historic heights: raze and tower. Not one iota of history remains.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Well, “Ghost”, we are on the same page after all. You are focusing on one-and-on-half of the “Olympic rings in the Logo” that I have used to analyze the so-called Downtown Eastside. My point is that the planning has not been very good. And, that to have an effective plan for the entire area—and the full demographic—we need to look at all five neighborhoods, and no just the Historic Area.

    I have to concede that my last walk around the DTES dates back to last spring, so its been a while. However, you give a detailed account. Let me pick through it and provide you a detailed response in the next day or so.

  • Bill Lee

    This will be off the “front page” of the Fabula blog (still no ‘Recent Comments’ sidebar so we can avoid Michael “Surburb-Destroyer” Geller)

    CBC Radio is doing a remote from Pat’s Pub (overly dark and overly cold beer) in the Hotel Patricia 403 East Hastings at Dunlevy.

    On the Coast, the drive-home show from 3 to 6 with former City reporter Stephen Quinn will be examining Downtown Eastside and Strathcona’s music roots from 1910s (Jelly Roll Morton) and on.
    [ Surprised not to see a land speculator sponsorhip as they try to gentrify $500,000 condo plans. Do you know how many artists show up in Census Tract 9300058? ]

    “Earlier in the day, from 3 to 6pm, catch CBC Radio One’s Stephen Quinn broadcasting On The Coast live from Pat’s Pub at the Patricia Hotel.

    Then a concert from there with ‘talents’ as

    Jelly Roll Morton Making Vancouver Concert
    One night only at the Patricia Hotel, 403 E. Hastings St. Vancouver
    January 15, 2010 8PM (doors 7:30)
    First come, first seated.

    Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941) is a musical icon and the self-proclaimed originator of jazz. He started playing piano in the “sporting houses” of New Orleans when he was still a teenager. He went on to become one of the most acclaimed pianists and composers in jazz.

    Morton’s wanderlust led him around the continent and from 1919 to 1921 he settled in Vancouver, at the Patricia Hotel, where he played piano in the Patricia Cafe (now Pat’s Pub). His stay in Vancouver coincides with a long lost golden age of entertainment centred on the Hastings Street strip.

    A stellar cast of musicians will perform Jelly Roll Morton’s own compositions plus music that is inspired by the story of one of the most colourful personalities in jazz. The concert takes place in the very room where the legendary Jelly Roll Morton once entertained Vancouver audiences all those many years ago.

    Henry Butler has been called the pride of New Orleans. He is a renowned pianist with a passion for the music of Jelly Roll Morton
    Ndidi Onukwulu is one of Canada’s most original and engaging blues performers .
    The James Danderfer Trio is finely tuned ensemble that includes Miles Black on piano and Joe Poole on drums
    Brass Roots will make you feel like you’re in the middle of a New Orleans street party
    CR Avery is a poet, pianist and composer who has received accolades from the likes of Tom Waits
    Moka Only is an exciting urban musician who is known for his work with the Juno Award winning group, The Swollen Members.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Bill, wish I could be there. Sure beats the “official” launches going on at Woodwards. Unfortunately, my son is not yet of legal drinking age, athough I’m sure he’d love to hear the great music too!