Thursday, July 15, 2004


Underbelly News
Downtown Eastside 
Hi all!
If you haven't yet had the chance to see the proposed models for the Woodward re-development, please stop by  the old grand Dame on West Hastings and see what all the buzz is about.
On Tuesday, I went to an open house at the old brick store, where three development groups were hosting for the community, their hopes,visions and plans for Woodward's.
I was impressed with two of the designs. Concert properties which is controlled by union pension funds seems to enjoy the trump card. Their vision was slick and eye catching. Apparently, according to unnamed sources, the fix is in,  this group is the odds on favorite to  beat out the other two competing development companies.  Another group, Westbank, is, based out of the Okanagan. Its design for this megaproject and which the local Portland Hotel society is a partner of, is impressive.  A third group Millennium, at first blush  was far too futuristic for my liking.  It reminded me too much of a giant oversized phallus rising into the sky above.  Re-viewing the different plans, however, for the community square was enlightening. 
While studying the developers models and plans, I was mindful of the community and its needs.  I nevertheless need to ask what  the community's vision for this project is. Well apparently, many downtown eastside groups desire 250 units of non market housing to be built at Woodward's. Some community groups  also want neighborhood agencies to be housed at Woodward's. Some want a Native Healing Centre, while others hope for a food store. Many activists though believe, mistakenly in my opinion, that  the City and development groups owe it to the neighborhood  to turn  Woodward's over to Downtown Eastside interests.
But should they?
Well if you re-examine the history of Woodward's, you know that this department store never housed people, nor was social services  part of its mosaic. What made Woodward's unique and integral to the community was the components it had. Whether it was the people, bargains, workers, the xmas window display, the food floor or the rotating red neon W  high in the sky, one thing was certain, economics, people and good ole money  played a significant role in the firms' triumphs, longevity and yes even closure. And as Woodward's financial demise went, so did the neighborhood's.
Now a decade and a year after Woodward's closed its doors, there appears to be a resurgence ready to catapult  this historic landmark into shining bright  again. However, what role it will play will be left up to Vancouver City Staff, the developers, community activists and One Big Ward Boss.
Councilor Jim Green has long romantisized  Woodward's. He desires a legacy and Woodward's appears to  be it.  Mr  Green, a developer, as many of you know has imprinted his name and mark in our City by building social  housing. Many times Mr Green has attempted to rejuvenate and restore Woodward's but his dream was often eclipsed by other factors. Not this time though. Mr Green can smell the sweet taste of victory but a looming question begs asking. A victory for whom?  
Well from the perspective of this blogger, Woodward's no doubt will assist in shaping the re-vitalization of  the Downtown Eastside. However Woodward's is not the  be all and end all for this community.  For Woodward's to properly work for this neighborhood, the movers and shakers must realize one thing. If you have a large property that only  serves the Downtown eastside neighborhood, another ghetto will be born. Broader city  interests and appeal must shape the visioning of Woodward's.  Economic stability and neighborhood sustainability can like a happy marriage co exist.  Citizens of the Downtown Eastside deserve this. Maintaining the  status quo has been a nightmare for this community.  Bold chnges are needed and we can start with Woodward's. 

While I feel for social service agency activists who prefer nothing but social housing for Woodward's, my fear though is that putting poor people all in one area, has proven  disastrous for this community. As we know placing people in poverty and containing the ensuing social services in one neighborhood, has created a co-dependency beyond compare.  Like shackles that bind, people, of this community have been imprisoned to the plight surrounding them. This mentality mut stop if the Downtown Eastside is to have any hope of vitality and prosperity.  While I prefer more then 100 units of affordable housing, the reality is that all three developers are  able to only deliver 100. And since they are the ones with the finances and business expertise to make Woodward's work, therefore we must live with this reality.
Whoever is  ultimately chosen to re-build Woodward's will need to ensure that its services and stores appeal to a broad variety of tastes,incomes and people.  While gentrification of this neighborhood has for many, been a bitter pill to swallow, nevertheless balanced gentrification shouldn't  be  scary.   

One neighborhood's  eyesore has to be evenly distributed across the city. Wealth of the city must be shared. Resources must be spread out fairly and equitably.  Woodward's must be the catalyst which brings people back to the area.
Woodward's  re-investment in the Downtown Eastside will need the following:  Workers and their commitment of spending locally. Proprietors will be advised to be earnest, dedicated and lawful.  They will need to give a little extra back. Activists in the Downtown Eastside will need to be reasonable in their approach to Woodward's and what's best for the neighborhood. Restoration of our community needs a new freshness, a new boldness. And strong  economic measures must become the norm . Ward bosses will need to refrain from political favoritism. Our city Civil service will need to implement their expertise rather then succumbing to agency intimidation or political interference.  Developers will need to affirm the neighborhood's Values.  Most importantly, people from outside the area will need to feel that the Downtown Eastside once again, is a safe place to eat, live, work and shop.
For this neighborhood to accept its status as a dumping ground has to the extreme, been  tragic.  Lives lost, Hopes lost,. Dreams  Lost has become dejour. Tragedy around every corner. There has to be something better and Woodward's must spark a re-newed flame of hope.   I think there is.
Remember the Millennium project I hated so much. Well after re-viewing their written material and plans, a couple of interesting ideas caught my eye. One is that Millennium is based locally in our Downtown Eastside. This group was part of the re-design of Victory Square Park.  Importantly, in their plans for Woodward's, they have suggested that Army and Navy dept store become an anchor tenant at Woodward's. And they implemented as part of their plans, the relocation of  Simon Fraser University into the vacated Army and Navy store site.  Speaking of street dreams, Millennium restored the old Povince building on Hastings and moved their company there. I think they are committed to this neigborhood and I can't imagine anything better. 
Imagine Hastings street with amazing anchor tenants who employ people and have lots of people buzzing about. People  with purpose is exciting! So with a bit of reservation, I am  happy to support  the Millennium group's proposal for its  vertical street of dreams. 
Why - because I really want to see Woodward's rise again
Jamie Lee Hamilton
Disclaimer - This blogger resides in Pendera which looks directly on to Woodward's. My view will be lost if Millennium is the successful builder, due to their soaring to new heights concept. However the Community's wellness is first and foremost in my hope for a healthier stronger community.  Arming  people with hope, passion  and jobs is way  better then just a lovely view. Good luck to Millennium!