“Discovering” the Downtown Eastside

On July 5th, about 80 Downtown Eastside residents and friends marched from Pigeon Park to the site of Concord Pacific’s proposed condo development at 58 W. Hastings and then on to Concord’s glitzy Presentation Centre at the south end of Carrall St. At the Centre, the marchers chanted “Concord: Get Out!” over and over. Then Streams of Justice presented a tableau from the back of a pickup truck decked out with paper mache person labeled “Downtown Eastside” who wore a hangman’s noose around his neck. Dave Diewert presented this speech showing how the Downtown Eastside is being colonized by developers from outside the community who are denying the humanity of the community to justify destroying it:

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

What you are witnessing today is the tragic and unnecessary elimination of a real community at the hands of profiteering developers and supportive city officials.

Recall the explorers of old.

Sustained by financial backing from state and private funders, they sailed off to “discover” new lands, fuelled by a desire for untold wealth and resources.

Their journeys led them to distant places, where they encountered communities of people and complex cultures they did not know or understand. And indeed, the land was rich in resources and potential wealth-creation, and they earnestly longed to posssess it.

So they used their power to remove the people who stood in their way, through deceptive legal strategies, philosophical and theological argumentation, and the violent use of coercive force. Rooted in an ideology of cultural superiority, they destroyed indigenous people and their cultures to clear the way for their own appropriation of land and wealth.

Today we have new explorers; they are the large real estate developers who are invading the community of the Downtown Eastside in order to appropriate the land and acquire for themselves great wealth.

They build condos for wealthy city-dwellers and displace the current low-income residents of the neighborhood. They promote their efforts as creating “communities for world-class living” while the actual community of people struggling with poverty, ill-health and trauma are removed from serious consideration and criminalized.

Real estate speculation, increased rents, soft conversions, loss of land, and the influx of upscale amenities are the local fallout of this invasion of condo development, and it means displacement, eviction and increased homelessness for the people of this community.

And city officials applaud and approve this pattern of settlement (aka, community development). They imagine a mixed neighborhood, one more inhabitable for the “deserving” members of the society. Its proximity to the downtown core makes it an enviable place for aesthetic impulses. Using the rhetoric of “revitalization” and urban renewal, they give their stamp of approval to the numerous applications for development permits.

The Downtown Eastside is being appropriated into a scheme of upscale, world-class development, legitimated by city officials and their regional plans, and fuelled by an ideology of free-market investment and visions of a world-class city.

This inevitably entails the loss of land and services for the majority low-income residents of the neighborhood, the displacement of individuals from their homes, the increase of homelessness, and above all, the destruction of a real, vibrant, creative, courageous community.

For this we grieve … and we resist, by bearing witness to what is happening and by formulating our own vision of this neighborhood, and demanding its implementation.

We are here, and together we are strong.