OP-ED: Preventing Spatial Apartheid

By Jim Green

Vancouver has a world-wide reputation for planning expertise. Many former City of Vancouver planning staff went on to work on significant projects in China, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai.

What put Vancouver on the world planning map is the concept of “Vancouverism”, which is basically a means of creating mixed-use developments that are environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable. It started many years ago under the planning director of the day, Ray Spaxman, and was further developed by Larry Beasley.

A component that cannot be overlooked is the inclusivity required to have a city that truly works. Mike Davis, a renowned planner and academic at the University of California, has studied very different approaches that are based on the separation of people along the lines of wealth, occupation and race. 

This is typical of many American cities where low-income people are ghettoized and those with money are enclosed in gated communities that exist to keep out lower income people and people of colour. Mike Davis calls this approach “spatial apartheid”, which in my opinion, is clearly not the way to develop a livable city. This approach leads to isolation, hostility and violence.

The emerging trend in Vancouver is to strive for the polar opposite of spatial apartheid.  The best example of this is Woodward’s. The redevelopment of Woodward’s set out to accomplish many things on a small but yet very strategic piece of land. The community was involved in all aspects of the development process – and that process included 4,000 people that came to co-design sessions to give their vision of how Woodward’s should work. There was a community advisory committee, co-chaired by a long term Downtown Eastside resident, Lee Donahue, along with the Chair of Gastown Business Improvement Association, Jon Stovall.  This collaborative approach led to a project which functions in so many ways to improve the community and the social and cultural aspects of Vancouver.

Approximately 50 BladeRunners, who are primarily aboriginal street involved youth, worked on the construction of Woodward’s. Retail on the site includes a highly sought after Woodward’s food floor run by Nester’s, a London Drugs, a Subway and J.J. Bean Coffee, whose head office and roasting facility is located in the Downtown Eastside.

Building Opportunities with Business (BOB) and Jim Green and Associates worked with these retailers and with Simon Fraser University, whose School for the Performing Arts is also part of the redevelopment, to recruit local residents and train them for positions.

The recycling in the Woodward’s complex has been contracted to Recycling Alternatives, a neighbourhood business that hires locally, while the refundable containers are managed by United We Can, a Downtown Eastside non-profit. Security for the complex is provided by the Portland Hotel Society, a well known non-profit operating in the Downtown Eastside. There are 200 units of social housing and a childcare facility, as well as W2, a non-profit media arts collective, which will soon be operating a social enterprise coffee shop on the site.

Woodward’s also features 500 units of market condominiums, some of which were sold at reduced prices to Downtown Eastside residents. Many of those buyers work for organizations such as the Portland Hotel Society and other non-profit organizations. Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts is committed to providing access to their facilities and events to local residents and organizations.

According to Dr. Pier Luigi Sacco, the Downtown Eastside is already the centre of culture in the city and I believe very strongly that there will be a synergy between W2, SFU with its five theatres, and the community. I believe this will bring great benefits to the whole city.

I have said on many occasions that Woodward’s is the model for the future, and I think that we are beginning to see that happen in places like the Olympic Village that have many of the components that Woodward’s first embraced.

In my current work with the Holborn Group on the redevelopment of Little Mountain, I can see many similarities with Woodward’s, especially the challenge of inclusivity. Little Mountain has a strong community advisory group that meets regularly and is well-educated on planning concepts and procedures. This group, which is open to anyone who would like to join, is an invaluable part of the redevelopment team. Holborn has also agreed to offer employment opportunities to the Musqueam people.

Little Mountain, which was the first social housing in Vancouver, was demolished for the redevelopment – but part of the arrangement between the provincial government, the city, and the Holborn Group is that the 224 social housing units that were on the site will be replaced and former tenants will have the opportunity to come back and live there. We are also looking at the possibility of including the Little Mountain Neighbourhood House in the plan, along with retail and possibly childcare. The plan is that it be architecturally significant and achieve LEED Gold. The possibility of including more social housing and affordable rental will be considered as well.

An interesting sideline to this redevelopment is that from the land costs and profits generated, the provincial government will invest half the money in social housing in Vancouver and the other half throughout the province. The province and the city, along with Streetohome, have just announced $225 million for 1,006 social housing units in Vancouver, and part of that funding is expected to come from the redevelopment of Little Mountain. This is a unique situation in which the redevelopment of a social housing project is being used to generate funds to finance other off-site social housing. The precedent for this is Woodward’s, which generated 200 units of social housing off-site, known as the Lori Krill Housing Co-op. 

According to Housing Minister Rich Coleman: “the capital that Little Mountain will bring will actually create another thousand units of social housing…this is the right type of housing, which is supportive housing.… It’s really smart leveraging of an asset to actually do more in the areas that you need it the most."

It is imperative that we use every tool at our disposal to produce the housing that is so badly needed in our city and province.

Jim Green is the principal of Jim Green and Associates and served on Vancouver City Council from 2002 to 2005.

OP-ED articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Think City. To make a submission to the OP-ED section of the Think City Minute, please email editor@thinkcity.ca for details.

one thing weird about Woodwards

The Woodwards complex is great, I love it, and it certainly serves to prove that a mixed use, mixed income development is the way to go to create a lively downtown. But if one of the concepts in this project was to reinvigorate street life, why is it that the only way to access the grocery store or, on the other side, London Drugs, is by entering the courtyard? Where are the inviting curbside entrances to these stores? Instead we get walls and advertising. Granted, there are doors for smaller retailers on the sidewalk side, but I am curious about this planning: and perhaps London Drugs is finding the lack of direct access from Hastings to be a factor in their poor sales in this building.

I'm sick and tired of self serving puff pieces.

"What put Vancouver on the world planning map is the concept of “Vancouverism”, which is basically a means of creating mixed-use developments that are environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable. It started many years ago under the planning director of the day, Ray Spaxman, and was further developed by Larry Beasley." BULLSHIT! http://members.shaw.ca/urbanismo/thu.future/vancouver.failed.html Enough! Grow up. There are 600,000 living in the city and most are struggling to pay the mortgage and get the kids a decent meal. . .

Open Space

I couldn't agree more, Jim. As someone whose father worked with Woodwards for 35 years starting from a bag boy to senior management, I am very proud of what has happened with the Woodwards development. I remember fondly going down and eating at the restaurant, tagging on with my mom on $1.49 days and driving through the grocery drop off. I believe the new development carries on the proud tradition of Woodwards as a place that brings together people from all over the Lower Mainland. During the World Urban Forum in 2006 we profiled the planned development in a photo display on youth and cities (you can see the photos at http://wp.me/pSExV-9S)

I would add a few other development gold stars - Granville Island with its mix of condos and coops; the protection of China town; the open water front. Other smaller yet equally important successes are the Strathchona and Cottonwood Gardens and adjacent park. Urban oasis such as these are important for residents, giving them a space which promotes health through recreation, urban "wilderness" and food security.

My cautionary tale would be for the sustainable development community to assume that environmental and social sustainability easily co-exist. Though it is wonderful that the new Olypmic developments are so environmentally sustainable, they are as well unaffordable to most, as is much of Downtown Vancouver. I find that people often get lost in staring at the ecological baubles, while forgetting that everyday people need to afford to live. Trade-offs do exist, and must be discussed upfront.


In the name of the rockstar Jimi hendrix Shrine under the georgia viaduct a beutiful pease ot rock history in vancouver the viaduct should be torn down and the area rivitalized I invite the world to come and see the shrine 796 main st in the back

jim green's visions

yes, we are fortunate to have people like jim green here in vancouver - to bring a broad community vision to places like woodwards - interesting to see the model is growing - in a recent visit to the woodwards area - there is evidence of positive change in the surrounding streets and services -

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