Friday, May 17, 2013

Deconstructing Gentrification Justifications: "Gentrification is Inevitable"

This is a shorter post as part of my gentrification series... I'm eager to finish this soon.  It's entirely possible that the DTES will be completely gentrified before I'm even done writing!

First, if you haven't already done so, read my introductory post on gentrification here.  I'm now  in the middle of trying to deconstruct some of the common justifications for gentrification.  The first two are written, and now we're on to the third.

1. Increasing the diversity of the neighbourhood (social mix) is good.
2. We need to do something about this neighbourhood!  Anything is better than what's there now.
3. Gentrification is inevitable, so at least be happy you get some benefits!
4. We have the right to live here, and you don't.


"Gentrification is inevitable."

Even though this is one of the most common justifications and cop-outs I hear,
I won't waste a lot of time on it.

Earthquakes, tornadoes and floods are inevitable.
Rain in Vancouver is inevitable.
Growing older is inevitable.
Death is inevitable.

Gentrification is NOT inevitable.
It is the result of human choices.
We have the human capacity choose differently, if we want to.

I refuse to believe that developers have no choice except to build condos in the DTES.
I refuse to believe that restauranteurs are inextricably compelled to open fancy restaurants in the DTES.
I refuse to believe that the mayor's hands are tied, that the premier is powerless,
that the prime minister is stumped,
and that none of them can find any money to put toward building housing for low-income people.
I refuse to believe in a personified "market" that must run rampant and do whatever it wants to do.
I refuse to believe that we have no choice but to bulldoze over a bunch of marginalized people.
I refuse to justify these practices by offering a few scattered units of social housing in the condos, like crumbs from our feasting table.

I refuse to succumb to this brazen lack of imagination and willpower.

I refuse to say,
"Sorry, current DTES residents, the market is our god, and the market has spoken.
Because people will buy condos here, we really must build them here.
Placating art in the DTES, courtesy Bob Rennie.
Because people will come eat and shop in this trendy, edgy new locale, we really must open businesses here that you can't afford.
And because this will drive up your property values and rents,
I'm sorry, but most of you are going to have to leave this neighbourhood you call home.
We can't stop it.
But cheer up!
At least a couple of you can live among your new rich neighbours in these five new social housing units we're building!
And we'll even agree to hire one of you as a minimum-wage dishwasher in this new bistro.
Because we care."

I refuse to say, "There is no alternative."
The TINA slogan must be buried with Margaret Thatcher.

Because we are creative, innovative, free human beings.

DTES residents paint the old police station.
There are, in fact, plenty of alternatives.
We can take a variety of paths.
We can choose people over profits.
We can choose to sacrifice the fulfillment of our "wants" so that others can have their needs fulfilled.
We can choose to create a sanctuary for those who have been consistently victimized and sinned-against (more on this in a couple weeks).
We can do it if we want to.

But do we want to?
Maybe that's what some of us mean by inevitability...
... that gentrification is inevitable because most of society wants it so badly.
I can let that fear paralyze me, too.
Especially after the dismal election results on Tuesday night,
   along with Christy Clark's expression of gratitude to the condo developers who made it all possible (Click that link - you'll see that even Bob Rennie is feeling magnanimous and asking his colleagues to protect 3 blocks of the DTES from gentrification!  What a swell guy.)

These are the questions we SHOULD be asking:
Is there enough compassion in Vancouver to prevent gentrification?
Is there enough selflessness to preserve a neighbourhood for people who have no other option but the street?
Is there enough will to listen, to understand, to prioritize, and to empathize with people who have endured so much suffering already in their lives?
Or will we continue to see them as people who don't deserve our care? (more on that in the next post)
Are we resigned to becoming a boring, greed-and-market-driven version of Vancouver?

Friends, gentrification CAN be stopped,
but only if we want to stop it.
We have to remind each other to be the best, most compassionate version of ourselves.
We have to call each other out when we're becoming worse versions of ourselves.
We have to do it together.