Near Woodwards, Cultures Collide

The Woodwards Building offers market value condos with designer kitchens and stunning views worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for interested buyers. The cheapest unit goes for about $386,000, and an ad in the half-finished lobby offers tours of the apartment. A block south from the Woodward condo complex and W2’s airy half-finished atrium on Cordova, is the Crosswalk Emergency shelter on Hastings Street, a run down early 20th Century building with peeling paint. The ground floor windows have security bars and the door’s bolted shut, while a sorry-looking menorah pokes out of a second floor window.

Last week, a kid in a white hoodie flashed what looked like a gang sign at another man outside the Crosswalk Shelter, and it was across the street that I caught up with Mark Jancen.

“This whole area, they keep them like caged animals,” he said, referring to police and government efforts to contain drug dealers and criminals. “Sooner or later they have to redevelop this whole area.”

While the homeless deserved assistance and compassion, Jancen was keen to see the criminal element pushed out of Hastings, and he believed that the Woodward condo and W2 construction would spur on much needed gentrification.

Gerald Devrise said he lived at the Gastown Hotel. As he puffed on a joint, he said that he liked the new media and art centre being built at W2, and thought that East Side residents would benefit from it.

“It’s nice. It seems to be a little…different here, eh?”

Yet over at the General Store and Bakery on Cambie, Australian shop worker Trent Crafford wasn’t so sure. “It’s not going to clean up the area.”

He did concede that the new media centre and art gallery going up at W2, along with the social housing scheme sounded good. But as he’d only been in Vancouver for just a month - out of two years spent working in Canada - Crafford felt that he didn’t know the area well enough to comment further.

Indeed, when walking around the Cambie-Cordova-Abbott-Hastings block, you feel that it’s a slightly hazy urban borderland between the poverty and decay of the Downtown East Side and the glitzy, slightly sanitized tourist charms of Gastown.

At the Bourbon Pub on Cordova, assistant manager Victoria Leeming gave her take on the W2 and Woodwards development project.

“It’s a really positive thing. Not only is it bringing subsidized as well as market-price housing , it’ll have an SFU campus.”

As she poured beer for her customers, Leeming said that Woodwards and W2 would attract more young people and bring Gastown into the next decade but that gentrification would displace the East Side’s original residents.

The Federal and Provincial Governments, in Leeming’s opinion, had to take action other than just sweeping the issue of poverty under the rug.

Bourbon customer Tyrone Langley, took a more pragmatic view. “Real estate is real estate. Only so much is left in the Downtown Core.” Eastward expansion of new construction was inevitable in Tyrone’s opinion as it was virtually the only place left for the City of Vancouver to develop.

As for the social housing that was part of the W2 project, Langley said, “The developer had to agree to a certain amount of that to get zoning.” It wasn’t agreed upon out of any altruistic desire to alleviate homelessness according to Langley.

At the junction of Abbott and Cordova Streets, a street party was in full swing. Skaters showed off their stunts on wooden ramps set up on the road as rap music blared out of speakers and throngs of people gathered to watch.

Meanwhile, a scruffy-looking man in a faded black T-shirt pushed a sickly-looking woman in a wheelchair with spots on her face and her head tilted to one side up from Hastings towards the party.

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