Gentrification: Fight the system, not your neighbours

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So for those demonstrators who see restaurants as the foot soldiers of a global corporate kleptocracy reaching it tendrils into the Downtown Eastside I put forward an idea I hope you'll consider. The best countermeasure we have to such a global corporate kleptocracy is a strong, resilient and inclusive local economy. That's a cooperative venture. In a neighbourhood like the DTES we need dissidents, entrepreneurs and innovators to help shape the dialogue around how we do this. 

In the DTES we have been given an opportunity to do just this in the form of the Local Area Planning Process to work together on informing a road map for a community plan that can challenge the old ways of doing things and support the type of innovative social economy needed here. It's already sprouted, but we have a ways to go. Around the world cities have been employing diverse approaches to creating strong and inclusive local economies, from the cooperative economies of Bologna and Mondragon (Basque) to the growth of community currencies like Vancouver's own SeedStock, to crowdfunding the revitalization of dilapidated buildings in Washington DC - a new and exciting form of community ownership. Social enterprises and social purpose businesses have begun to measure their success not in dollars generated but by the social impact they have in their communities.

The DTES is home to nationally and internationally renowned social enterprises and social entrepreneurs, some of them do it quietly, some of them receive attention. The Hastings Crossing BIA, often portrayed by the picketers as a self-interested agent of gentrification when it defends small businesses and denounces bullying tactics, has developed its programming entirely around opportunities for community capacity building, job creation for residents with barriers, improving dialogue and building social capital in the community. The Hastings Crossing BIA sees a strong, inclusive and resilient local economy as something that will create badly needed opportunities for many to break the cycles of poverty and dependence that have come to define this area. Restaurants, along with other small businesses, play a role in this. 

We are not naive about the risks that come with renewed interest and development in any given area, more especially our Downtown Eastside. This is why we have been engaging the City of Vancouver, residents, businesses and academics about the need for a retail strategy to ensure that we retain low-income serving businesses and create or attract others that we currently lack. We need a diverse range of businesses to reflect the diverse range of needs, cultures and income levels in our area.

We've been asking our planners and elected officials to examine current tax and zoning policies that create cost prohibitive commercial spaces in our communities, once again, a challenge throughout the city. We've been pushing hard for our planners to question and develop new approaches to approved uses and other things that dictate what kinds of businesses or housing are feasible in spaces and will be engaging low-income residents on a "good neighbour" charter that can positively influence the relationships between businesses and residents through supporting inclusive business practices. Something the Hastings Crossing BIA has already invested resources in by sponsoring things like Recipes For Success and working closely with Mission Possible, the Pigeon Park Street Market, VANDU and other community partners.

It is things like this that we would hope those who are concerned about development or gentrification would put more energy into.

We prefer to fight the system, not our neighbours. Instead of targeting restaurants as "symbols" of gentrification, let’s focus our energy on the laws, institutions and policies that actually create it so we can deal effectively with the challenges it poses and leverage it where possible for positive community gains. 

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