30 professors against DTES gentrification speak out against Pantages/Sequel 138

Letter sent on Friday, April 20th to Development Permit Board in advance of hearing Monday, April 23rd 3pm:

Vicki Potter
Director, Development Services
Chair, Development Permit Board
City of Vancouver, 453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Y 1V4
vicki.potter@vancouver.ca

April 20 2012

Re: Development permit request for Sequel 138 project, 138 East Hastings St.

Dear Ms. Potter:

We, the undersigned, are professors and instructors at local universities and colleges. We write to you because we share a deep interest in the future of Vancouver. More specifically, we write to you in your capacity as Chair of the City’s Development Permit Board to express our concern about the development permit application for the Sequel 138 project at 138 East Hastings St. and its likely negative impacts on the low-income population of the city’s Downtown Eastside.

We commend the City of Vancouver for its support of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan (DTES LAP) process and continued adherence to the principles of the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan (2005). Given the City’s supportive stance in these areas, we strongly urge the Development Permit Board to deny the request for a development permit for 138 East Hastings St. when it comes to the Board on April 23. We ask that you deny the permit request at least until the completion of the DTES LAP process and until after a study of the social impacts of gentrification in the neighbourhood has been undertaken.

Reviews of development permit applications tend to focus on technical and legal matters, yet these foci do not necessarily address the social impacts of a development like Sequel 138. However in this case, part of the Development Permit Board’s role will be to assess the development application in the context of the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer Official Development Plan (DEOD ODP). This ODP outlines the “goals and policies addressing [DEOD’s] social, physical, historical and economic issues” (ibid., p.4, our emphasis). Therefore, we believe that the Development Permit Board must consider the wider social and economic implications of the Sequel 138 permit request.

Furthermore, the DEOD ODP is intended to “provide a decision-making process which permits greater citizen involvement, while recognizing the significance and uniqueness of the area in the overall City context” (ibid., p.4) and to ensure “that Downtown-Eastside/Oppenheimer area residents, property owners, merchants and workers are consulted on local planning and development matters and on the implementation of capital improvement projects” (ibid., p.6). We believe that the DTES LAP is exactly this sort of inclusive decision-making process. To permit the development of 138 East Hastings St. before the LAP process has concluded would be counter to the spirit of the DEOD ODP. The Development Permit Board can decide to stop the development until the DTES LAP is completed. This, we believe, would be the sensible planning approach.

The negative effects of gentrification are well documented in the academic literature and are already being seen vividly on the Downtown Eastside landscape. We are convinced that neighbourhood change of any sort must only happen through careful planning that takes account of the social impacts of development. Without the sort of careful, coordinated, and comprehensive planning that the DTES LAP promises, the ripple effects of gentrification – including increased property values and taxes, real estate speculation, rent inflation, ‘renovictions,’ spatial and social exclusion, dispossession, and the displacement of low-income residents – will severely impact what the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan (2005, p.58) calls the neighbourhood’s “role [as] the core neighbourhood for low income” people in Vancouver.

While the plan argues that this role should be maintained, and that “at least 1-for-1 replacement of SROs” (ibid, our emphasis) should be the policy goal in the neighbourhood, its authors worried that if “land values get to a point where market development is attractive despite having to incorporate a 20% social housing component, it is unlikely that 1-for-1 replacement of the existing 2,000 SRO units will be possible in the DEOD” (ibid.). We believe that the Sequel 138 permit application indicates that we have now reached the point where development is attractive in the neighbourhood despite the 20% requirement. We suggest that the Development Permit Board should take the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan’s warning seriously when considering the Sequel 138 application. We also argue that piecemeal approval of development applications on technical grounds without addressing the wider social impacts of these sorts of developments and without allowing the DTES LAP to run its course is counter to the City’s longstanding commitments to excellence and leadership in urban planning and to the welfare and maintenance of the low-income community of the Downtown Eastside.

We are not alone in our concern about the dangers of approving the development permit for 138 East Hastings. There seems to be a broad neighbourhood consensus in the Downtown Eastside that Sequel 138, once completed, will result in the displacement and exclusion of the very low-income residents who the City’s Downtown Eastside Housing Plan acknowledges are the heart and soul of the neighbourhood. Indeed, an indication of the level of neighbourhood concern is the fact that over 2000 individuals and 45 organizations have signed a community resolution calling for the property to be sold to the City for 100% community controlled social housing and amenity space.

It is clear, then, that many residents of the neighbourhood, among others, are concerned about the implications of approving the Sequel 138 development permit. And the vision for the future of the Downtown Eastside that Council charged the DTES LAP committee with creating has yet to be formed. Therefore, we ask you to deny the development permit request at least until the DTES LAP has been completed.

Sincerely,

Eugene McCann
Associate Professor
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University

Kirsten E. McAllister
Associate Professor
School of Communication
Simon Fraser University

Elvin Wyly
Associate Professor
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia

Jeff Derksen
Associate Professor
Department of English
Simon Fraser University

Nicholas Blomley
Professor and Department Chair
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University

Glen Coulthard
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science and First
Nations Studies
University of British Columbia

Willeen G. Keough
Associate Professor
Department of History
Simon Fraser University

Elise Chenier
Associate Professor
Department of History
Simon Fraser University

Trevor Barnes
Professor
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia

Shauna Butterwick
Associate Professor
Department of Educational Studies
University of British Columbia

Mark Leier
Professor and Chair
Department of History
Simon Fraser University

Mary-Ellen Kelm
Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair, Aboriginal Studies,
Medicine, and Health
Simon Fraser University

Adrienne L. Burk
Teaching Fellow
Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
Simon Fraser University

Steven Ng
Instructor
School of Energy
British Columbia Institute of Technology

Christiana Miewald
Adjunct Professor
Centre for Sustainable Community
Development
Simon Fraser University

Gary Teeple
Professor
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Simon Fraser University

Jamie Peck
Professor
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia

Peter Hall
Associate Professor
Urban Studies Program
Simon Fraser University

Matt Hern
Instructor
Urban Studies Program
Simon Fraser University

Clint Burnham
Associate Professor
Department of English
Simon Fraser University

Enda Brophy
Assistant Professor, School of
Communication
Simon Fraser University

Dara Culhane
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Simon Fraser University

Samir Gandesha
Associate Professor
Director, Institute for the Humanities
Simon Fraser University

Geoff Mann
Assistant Professor
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University

Jerry Zaslove
Simons Chair of Graduate Liberal Studies
Simon Fraser University

Sarah Walshaw
Sessional Instructor
Departments of History and Archaeology
Simon Fraser University

Glen Lowry
Associate Professor
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

M. Simon Levin
Sessional Faculty
Faculty of Visual Art + Material Practice
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Tom Nesbit
Continuing Studies
Simon Fraser University

Henry Tsang
Associate Professor
Faculty of Culture + Community
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Cc:
Lorna Harvey, Assistant to the Development Permit Board
lorna.harvey@vancouver.ca
Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Councilors
City of Vancouver, 453 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca

Kevin McNaney
Assistant Director of Planning, City of Vancouver
kevin.mcnaney@vancouver.ca

David Autiero
Project Facilitator, Development Services, City of Vancouver
david.autiero@vancouver.ca

Brenda Prosken
General Manager, Community Services, City of Vancouver
brenda.prosken@vancouver.ca