Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reverse Gentrification

Hey everyone,

I wrote an article that I'd love to share with you.  Finally, a wonderful current event to cover in Vancouver!  Tongue firmly planted in cheek.  ;)

(photo from http://blog.yaletowninfo.com/2009/05/yaletown-pin-sharp/)

 APRIL 25, 2011

Mayor Frobertson held a press conference this afternoon during which he announced a new low-income housing project slated for construction in the heart of Yaletown, part of the city's attempts to revitalize the neighbourhood.

“We have a lot of hope pinned on this new development. As you know, council has been concerned about Yaletown for quite some time. Consumption runs rampant from Homer all the way to Beatty. It's a breeding ground for the most dangerous kind of capitalists. It's hard to say whether we can even call it a community anymore – one recent study found that 97% of Yaletown residents cannot name anyone else who lives in their condo building. To leave Yaletown to its own devices at this point would be unconscionable.”

Councillor Kerry Flang added, “Something has to be done in Yaletown – luxury has become an end in itself. Upward mobility has gotten so out of control that most of these unfortunate penthouse dwellers have no time or motivation to reach out and connect with other people. Even the yoga classes have failed to bring them fulfilment and inner peace. The little dogs aren't helping. Sadly, some have turned to anti-depressants.”

Frobertson reported that one city councillor had suggested bulldozing Yaletown and starting over. But after talking about some more creative solutions, council is now confident that by seeding Yaletown with a low-income population, revitalization will be swift.

The strategy, which has been dubbed “reverse gentrification” by council, has been met with some skepticism by the DTES residents who will be invited to fill the new low-income Yaletown housing. “I guess Yaletown is nice, with the seawall and False Creek and everything, but how will we afford to live there?” asked one shelter dweller who attended the press conference.

The mayor reassured him, announcing that tax breaks would be provided to stores and shops catering to the new low-income Yaletown residents. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “an 'Army & Navy' will be opening right on the seawall in 2013, and I've also heard that the owners of the old 'Save on Meats' are eyeing a Yaletown location beside the Cactus Club.”

DTES resident Fraser Stuart admitted that it would be difficult to leave the DTES. Like 90% of those who call the DTES home, he would prefer to stay. “I have found such a family, such a network of support in the DTES. I don't know if I would survive in a neighbourhood where no one stops and talks to you on the street. Where are the people in Yaletown who work for social justice? Where are those who volunteer? Where is the empathy, the community spirit? Then again, I guess that's why the mayor want us to move in.”

Councillor Raymond Flouie also spoke at the conference, focusing on a different angle: preserving the heritage of Yaletown. “Yaletown used to be where all the rail workers lived; it was full of warehouses and factories,” remarked Flouie. “How do all of these rich young professionals honour the industrial heritage of Yaletown? We can't afford to see this history die. We simply must bring back some folks who know what it means to work hard and get dirty for practically no pay. I can't think of anyone better than the minimum-wage-workers and binners of the DTES.”

At one point in the afternoon, Mayor Frobertson told a heart-warming anecdote about the early stages of the project. “I was discussing the plans with my favourite real estate developer, Bob Rennie, and I'll be honest, he was less than thrilled about it, worrying about what it would do to the real estate market in Yaletown. But then I quoted something he himself said: 'We need to have the less fortunate walking down the street next to the fortunate.' And the scales fell off Bob's eyes, in a sense, as he saw how it applied to Yaletown. We both sat there, marvelling at this beautiful vision of an inclusive Yaletown, enshrined in this wonderful new social housing. He now agrees that it is imperative to restore a social and income balance to Yaletown.”

Even though many residents of Yaletown have expressed their opposition to this reverse gentrification plan, council seems poised to go full-steam ahead with the project. “Frankly, we don't want to stop with Yaletown,” confessed Flang at the close of the press conference. “We're hoping the entire middle- and upper-class will soon reap the benefits of this reverse gentrification strategy. We have some very interesting ideas for Shaughnessy.”

(Photo from: http://bxnative.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/women-and-gentrificationmaking-some-connections/)

Post Scriptus (this is a real quote:)

One of the driving logics of gentrification in the Downtown Eastside is 'social mix'.  Yet every single time 'social mix' is proposed in a middle-class or rich neighbourhood, it is rejected. No one wants a social housing project, a detox centre, a methadone clinic, a food bank in their backyard. So why should a low-income neighbourhood accept this logic? SFU professor Nicholas Blomley explains that 'the language of social mix serves to justify giving the right to space and property to those with wealth, and taking it away from those who are poor. Social mix is a strategy used to expand hierarchical structures and mask asymmetrical power… It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing.'” - Harsha Walia, “Vancouver Approves Chinatown Towers, Prices Out the Poor,” Vancouver Sun.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Random Thoughts and Links on a Holy Saturday

Good Friday brought up a lot of thoughts in me.  Holy Saturday brings more.

- I spent part of the morning pulling a red wagon full of large rocks through the DTES, and dropping them off in various locations.  I got a lot of comments and funny looks.  I felt a bit like the disciples who were sent to get an untamed colt for Jesus, and the strange questions they might have been asked.  I felt foolish, but the good kind of foolish.

- Our church did an abridged Stations of the Cross walk around the neighborhood, stopping at different places to pick up and carry one of these rocks, and to read part of the crucifixion narrative and sing a short song.  We stopped at the Courthouse, and we stopped in alleys.  We ended at the beach at Crab Park, where we built a cross out of the rocks.  This is where we will celebrate Easter tomorrow.  Good Friday was the first service we did in this neighborhood, two years ago, before our "official" launch - this was our third Good Friday walk.  I believe it's significant our community of faith began by acknowledging Jesus' presence with us in the midst of suffering.

- Power has been on my mind a lot lately, and I was struck again by Jesus' downward mobility - how he had to give up all control and make himself completely vulnerable to betrayal, pain, and death in order to conquer death and the powers of darkness.  I was reminded that while following Jesus does bring life to the full, following Jesus will also sometimes - often - feel like carrying a cross.  It will feel like failing.  It will feel like death.  The way of Jesus leads down before it leads up.  I know today that are many things in me that still need to fully die, and one of them is my need for control, my need to feel like I'm succeeding and being effective and useful.  Kathy Escobar always writes about this on her blog, and I love it.

- Yesterday afternoon, I managed to finally finish this book, A Million Little Pieces.  I had been reading it for over a year, but only on Welfare Wednesdays, as a way to enter into the mindset of someone with a substance addiction.  But I decided Good Friday was also a good day to read it.  I know there's been a lot of controversy around how factual the book is, but I think it's quite valuable in terms of its vivid description of the mental, spiritual, and physical experience of addiction.

- I saw this video yesterday (linked off Kathy's blog), and really liked the analogy Brene Brown uses: a lot of people come to church or come to Christ looking for an epidural (a God and a community to take away their pain), and end up finding a midwife (a God and a community who sit with them in the midst of pain and help them push through it).  Watch this for the rest of what she says.

- I've got this song running through my head, "You Won't Relent," about God's unrelenting love and desire for us to surrender everything to him.

- Last night, I watched Of Gods and Men.  It's about a group of French monks who are wrestling with whether to stick it out at their monastery in Algeria during the unrest in the 1990s.  It's a beautiful movie, again, about surrender, and the cost of giving yourself fully to God and to a community.  Very moving.  Trailer below.

Now it is Holy Saturday.  I remember hearing someone once talk about Holy Saturday as a one-day mirror of the "waiting" space in which we find ourselves in salvation history: we are in between our own spiritual death and our full transformation and resurrection, in between the death of this earthly kingdom and the full coming of the next kingdom.  It's a good challenge to wait well, to wait actively, to hold on to hope, when your Savior seems at times to be so absent, whether hidden behind a gravestone, or away, preparing a place for you.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Haters, do me a favor... stay out of our hood.

This may be angrier than my typical blog post, but I really feel the need to get this off my chest.

There are suburban Christians who come into the DTES regularly to hand out tracts and to preach.  I don't think this, in and of itself, is wrong.  I am especially sympathetic with the ones who take the time to get to know the people to whom they preach.  I remember talking to one woman in my neighbourhood whose journey to faith and freedom from addiction began thanks to a woman from Abbotsford who stopped by her tent in Oppenheimer Park every Friday night to give her a sandwich and a tract, and to talk to her.

But there are some "preachers" who are really starting to get on my nerves.  My sources tell me you can find them at some of the Christian missions that make people to sit through a sermon before they serve them food.

I know these preachers second-hand.  I hear their words come through the mouths of some DTES Christians I know.*  It happens when the topic of gay people comes up.  Or Catholics.  (Two groups that are both represented in our community at Jacob's Well.)  When these topics are broached (or sometimes, just out of the blue), these otherwise loving and accepting Christians start parroting the words and attitudes of these preachers.  Attitudes of hate, prejudice, and exclusion, along the lines of: "God is angry at Vancouver and will judge us because of all the gay people,"  or, "The pope is the Antichrist."

I have no idea why you would come into a neighbourhood like the DTES and preach hatred and fear.  Especially toward two groups who are so well represented in the DTES (for example, one study I read said that 40% of homeless youth in Canada identify their sexual orientation as the primary cause of their homelessness).  Especially since they're also two groups who are quite involved in serving the DTES (I am thinking of the many lesbian feminists and Catholic sisters I know who work around here).  And especially in the presence of marginalized people who have experienced their fair share of hatred and fear already in their own lives.

I see this preaching as spiritual abuse - abuse of people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, who easily accept your spiritual authority, who are less likely to question the things you say, and more likely to swallow it whole.

If you want to preach to my friends, read Jesus' sermons to people on the margins.  They mostly contained words like "blessed are you."  Or, "what do you want me to do for you?"  Or, "go in peace."

Preach love.  Preach welcome.  Preach acceptance.  Preach hope.  Preach grace.  Preach resurrection.

And if you feel the need to preach hate, please, do us all a favour and stick to the suburbs.

Rant over.

On the topic of Christians, the church, and gay people, I highly suggest that everyone read a series of blog posts by my friend Wendy Gritter.  She has a way of approaching the issue (especially on a denominational level) that I had never before considered - as a "disputable matter," a category used by Paul for a different issue in Romans 14.  Believe me, you really need to check this out.  Here's the link to the first in the series

*Believe it or not, there are a fair number of Christians in my neighborhood.  Many people don't realize this, and they come preaching under the assumption that everyone in the neighborhood is heading to hell and is in dire need of some fire insurance.  In reality, a lot of DTES residents know God, know Him in a deep and tried-and-true way.  A lot of them have wrestled through a lot more crap in their lives than I have, and the fact that they cling to God in the midst of it all often amazes me.