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

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

(Page 3 of 4)

Here you'd see artists flocking to the area, which is the canary in the coalmine for gentrification. "Along the way, of course, " noted Kluckner, "people are beginning to be pushed out." Those people ousted were the single men who worked in the primary industries, especially loggers who hung their hats and spent their wages in Gastown. ("Wine and dine, it's Smilin' Buddha time!")

The Original Smiling Buddha Sign

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

If you think developers are cozy with City Hall now, it used to be even worse: in Tom Campbell, we had a developer and mega-landlord as our Mayor from 1967 to 1972. This is the guy who demolished the opera house to build Pacific Centre.

(By the way, remember the comparison of Vancouver City hall with "Sons of Anarchy"? A developer became Mayor in Season 4.)

Here's Tom Campbell in an image from James Lorimer's "A Citizen’s Guide to City Politics". When you see the image on the left, you will immediately have thought of the image on the right. I'm just saving you the trouble.

As Mayor, Campbell ordered the police to crack down on illicit activity in Gastown (all the better to make its properties more salable). Strata Titles Act, yo: even in 1969, the gentrification potential of condos was well understood by development proponents and opponents alike.

Those crackdowns led to the Gastown Riots, now memorialized in the SFU Woodwards foyer. (Campbell became a rather laughable figure: he described opponents to construction of the Burrard Inlet crossing as "Maoists, Communists, pinkos, left-wingers, and hamburgers.")

At that time, Kluckner said that the standard line from building owners to tenants was "buy or get out." This ultimatum became a meme, to the extent that condo conversion was frozen in 1973.

This was the beginning of two huge entities in Vancouver today: local area planning and community action groups.

The early Eighties, also saw the first homeless appearing on the streets of the DTES. Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam closed, but the government's concurrent promise of care in the community never quite materialized. Where did the patients end up? Pigeon Park. (Pure living-on-the-street homelessness isn't caused solely by lack of money: there's something else involved, like mental illness or addiction.)

Around the same time, Expo 86 sparked a huge round of evictions from the SROs along East Hastings Street. Those rooms were rented out to unsuspecting tourists who had no idea they'd be staying along what was known as "Skid Road".

Expo 86

Do you still have the t-shirt?

As for those evicted, they were basically screwed. Said Kluckner, "They didn't have a Burnaby to go to. They were at the bottom."

The remaining SROs are now poised for transformation yet again. Rents are rising as the buildings get renovated, but welfare rates are frozen. As Kluckner said, we're reaching another one of those tipping points.

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