Monday, March 23, 2009

Woodwards to Transform the DTES

Next year, a community may be remade before our eyes.

It's all connected to the Woodwards Project, a new high rise multi-use complex soaring above the derelict buildings of Canada's poorest neighbourhood.

It has been over 6 years in the making and has seen squats by housing advocates who worried about the gentrification of the poor community.
The message was heard loud and clear at city hall and by the developers and architects involved in the building project. Inclusion, not exclusion.

Unlike the soaring towers of glass characteristic of yuppie Yaletown, Woodwards is going to be different. Of the development's 536 suites, about 40% will go to non-market housing. The mix of tenants will range from the urban chic who dine nightly at bistros like nearby Wild Rice, to less advantaged folks, some of whom have just made their way off addiction and the streets.

I spoke with one future resident shortly after he received notice that there would be a space for him. He currently lives at one of the emergency shelters set up by Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. He's a smart and articulate guy with a university eduction and spattering of mental illness that eventually led to substance abuse issues that he's now recovering from. His favorite place to hang out - the library, where he can access the net and read to his hearts content. His luck in landing a spot at Woodwards was not lost on him.

In addition to housing, Woodward will also house Simon Fraser University's new Centre for the Contemporary Arts (a perfect venue for the "struggling artists"), office and rental space for non-profits, as well as retail grocery and drug stores. There's even word that negotiations are going on between the development's large retail tenants and local non-profit Bladerunners, which finds work for street youth and recovering addicts on construction sites and now, it would seem, local businesses.

This new project isn't going to solve homelessness in the city. But it's certainly the right model. The idea of integrating the most vulnerable into our communities rather than ghettozing them is the right way forward. I'm excited and proud to watch the transformation of the neighbourhood before my eyes.


John Horn said...

First, nice job, Kurt Buddy.

Second, I didn't know people could have "a smattering" of mental illness. Intriguing.

Third, wow, where can entitled white collar professionals who have a guilt-complex sign up to be considered for tenancy? Because I'm interested!

Fourth, do you really trust these guys? I mean, Gregor's heart is in the right place and he says all the right things, but have we seen anything from anyone (other than the activists and all the stalwart affordable housing advocates) that gives hope for greed to be trumped by social justice? Basically, when will the penny drop on this one?

Fifth, a great model that I'm sure my Special Lady's parents will love to discuss at our next interactive, whirlwind dinner. It was of inspirational stuff, m'lad!


Kurt Heinrich said...

Hi john, I think that any project needs to have benefits to everyone (including developers) in order to be successful. Sure, it's not all social housing but there's a big proportion that is.

Ditto for the Millennium Village, which, if the NPA were in power, would doubtlessly be completely gutted of any affordable housing. Vision's doing their best to make sure that affortable housing stay, at least nearby, despite the cost overruns that have conservative housing commentators decrying a project that could give scenic waterfront to, gasp, poorer people...