[Update: this is what happened — the Council decided to cut the 70+ speakers out of their agenda, and are seeking to employ silence, co-opt, divide, and conquer tactics.]
Over the last few years, the mayor and other council members in Vancouver have made it increasingly clear that they function as middle-management for corporate interests and do not function as democratically-elected representatives of the people whom they have been appointed to serve. One of the ways in which that is now coming to a head in Vancouver is around the matter of gentrification in our downtown eastside — the central community of poor and marginalized people in this city. Essentially, real estate developers and their allies are trying to change very significant zoning bylaws in order to gentrify that neighbourhood, drive out the poor and the homeless, and make a lot of money while further ostracizing, isolating, and harming the most vulnerable populations of our city. Basically, they want the City Council to legalize a criminal act (which is a fair expectation on their part, the law in Canada has consistently demonstrated its willingness to modify itself in order to meet the rapacious goals of Canadian capital).
The crucial vote on these zoning bylaws is occurring today (the matter has been given the name of the “Historic Area Heights Review” in order to obfuscate what is really going on). Prior to that vote, any citizen of Vancouver has been invited to contact City Hall in order to speak to the Council about the issues involved. I have agreed to do this. If you live in Vancouver, you should try to attend (things start at 2pm and will probably go late).
Being fully cognizant that others will go into much more technical and statistical detail about this effort to gentrify the downtown eastside, here is the transcript of what I intend to say to City Council later today:
When all is said and done, I believe that the discussion of the Historic Area Heights Review (HAHR) is prompted by a very basic division. This is a division between the mostly poor and marginalized people who actually live in the downtown east-side, and the wealthy and powerful real estate developers who do not live in that community, but who want legal permission to steal the land and gentrify the neighbourhood. To gain this legal permission, the developers need the City Council to implement the HAHR. Therefore, I want to pose a simple question to the Council:
Will the Council permit people who live in the downtown east-side to determine the future of their neighbourhood, or will the Council permit external corporate interests to determine the fate of that community and the people who live there?
If we are trying to live within a “democracy” and actually subscribe to the notion of “the rule of the people,” then it is clear that the City Council should prioritize the desires and goals of the residents of the downtown east-side who have almost unanimously gathered together to voice their opposition to the HAHR and have, instead, requested that the City set aside ten previously determined sites for social housing.
However, I sometimes wonder if the democratic process has stopped working in Canada. For years, the government has been transferring public property and common wealth into the pockets of private corporations and individuals. Thus, during the 2010 Olympics we saw an international spectacle that was used to transfer public monies into private pockets, we saw services being cut, social housing being destroyed and promises being broken. Additionally, we saw the further criminalization of poverty, something already begun by the Safe Streets Act, and the increased exercise of surveillance and force over against poor people.
Consequently, I am often left thinking that City Council members, those who are elected to represent and serve the people, actually do not care about the people. Instead, they seem to be the representatives of corporate interests and appear to be more keen to befriend the wealthy and powerful few who want to plunder the poor and marginalized many.
I think the ways in which the Council members vote on the HAHR will make their allegiances apparent. If council members choose to faithfully act as democratically elected representatives, they will reject this move to gentrify the downtown east-side. However, if Council members are more interested in profit – even when the cost of that profit is human life – then they will approve of this move.
To be perfectly honest, I have little hope that this Council will listen. I only agreed to speak here today because those whom I know and love, who happen to live within the downtown east-side, requested that we come and speak. Out of respect for them, I am doing that. Besides, there are sometimes wonderful and unpredictable moments when the unexpected happens and when those with power choose to act in a life-giving instead of a death-dealing (but profitable) manner. Maybe this will be one of those moments. If it is not, then you will have joined a great host of those who have gone before you—those who have had power and walked away with blood on their hands.
If that more predictable result occurs, then we should consider this: when the democratically elected representatives fail to listen to the people but instead choose to oppress the most vulnerable segments of the population, then it is time for the people to reject the legitimacy of those representatives and come together to rule themselves. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Woe to you who add house to house, and join field to field til no space is left and you live alone in the land… Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants” (Is. 5.8-9).
Even now, it is not too late to do what is right. Reject the gentrification of the downtown east-side. Create 100% resident-controlled social housing at the ten sites selected by the Downtown east-side Neighbourhood Council. Or plunder the poor and then look for a pretty way to phrase that so that you can sleep at night. The choice is yours. But regardless of whether you choose to serve Life or serve Death, we will continue to serve Life and will continue to resist all that which is death-dealing.
For more on this issue, see the following media links:
Plan for towers in the Downtown Eastside under fire
Condo towers could push out poor from DTES: activists
Downtown Eastside activists protest over-height condo plans
Activist Rider Cooey joins fight against towers proposed for Downtown Eastside
City building height review faces more opposition
Mayor Robertson’s party wages war on Downtown Eastside
Brigade of academics petition city hall not to raise heights in DTES, Chinatown
Francis Bula blog
Fight the height: condos are killing us
Vancouver Media Co-op
SFU, UBC professors concerned about effect of height review on Downtown Eastside
Proposal for higher buildings in downtown Vancouver criticized in advance of city vote
nailed it, Dan!
The Isaiah quotation is especially poignant.
I will pray for the struggle.