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A brief history of Vancouver gentrification: The drama of urban development

" Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
                                                                   — George Santayana

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Those rooming houses were all kinds of illegal, but nobody was stopping them from transforming. If you spot a spindly staircase going down the back of a house, you've just spotted an old rooming house.

Along the waterfront, squatter camps sprang up. Did you know that Vancouver had shanty towns? It did, at least until the city burned down the shacktowns to make way for the expanded industrialization of its waterfront land.

And so it begins...

Up in Coal Harbour, tenants flocked to float houses, made up of docked boats on the waterfront.  Kluckner said, "You look for these tipping points, where a piece of land could have gone either way." One of these moments came with the building of the Bayshore Inn, which was completed in 1957. This, said Kluckner, was "arguably the first instance of gentrification in Vancouver."

Those float houses were kicked aside to make way for... yachts.

Occupy Coal Harbour

Another tipping point in the area, said Kluckner, was the planned construction of the Four Seasons Hotel, which would be surrounded by — wait for it — a clutch of condo towers. Locals occupied the proposed construction site, dubbing it All Seasons Park in the summer of 1971.

The hotel scheme eventually collapsed after a crucial permit was denied. That land  is now Devonian Harbour Park. Though we know who eventually won the war over Coal Harbour's development, it's due to citizen activism that stretch of waterfront park exists.

Urban renewal and its refusal

Wait, we can't skip the Sixties! This was the period of Urban Renewal, during which cities across North America were reinventing themselves for the automobile (and the industries that keep it on the road). This was the era of slum clearance, the era of the planned waterfront freeway that stamped Strathcona and the DTES into their current form factors.

Urban renewal was a simple (if paternalistic) concept: replace a neighbourhood's buildings while keeping the population in place. A noble plan, one supposes, but locals just don't like being told what to do. If you think City Hall has a reputation for being tone-deaf and heavy-handed, it's only carrying on a rich and storied tradition.

Speaking of rich traditions, this period birthed neighbourhood groups as we know them. Meet Mary Lee Chan, who brought a bit of Boudicea to the fight against unilateral urban renewal. Her resident's association saved Strathcona from what would have been its destruction. Kluckner described this as "a rare occasion in North America, where a grassroots movement defeated three levels of government."

Mary Chan
Mary Lee Chan, via

1966 also brought us the Strata Titles Act. For the first time, you could buy an apartment as a piece of standalone real estate. Before the Strata Titles Act came along, you either had to buy a house ("fee-simple"), or buy into a New York City import known as a co-op. As you can see by looking out your window, this changed the game in Vancouver on a seismic level.

Gentrifying Gastown

Gastown in the late Sixties and Early Seventies was the place to be, since it was the only 'hood in the city whose businesses were open on Sunday. (You couldn't legally drink, mind you, but you could at least hang out somewhere.) Because of the Strata Titles Act, smaller spaces became available for sale.

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