Apr 12 2010
When a neighborhood’s resiliency derives so much from affordability for the working class, artists and small businesses, should a neighborhood deliberately avoid making improvements? Deliberate sabotage of a community seems rife with risk and the threat of unanticipated blowback.
But for the funky, vital neighborhood of Commercial Drive in Vancouver, gradual improvements will just keep adding to the trend of gentrification that has made home-ownership for lower incomes totally out of reach and made some local business owners concerned about their long-term future. Without more massive infusions of subsidized housing, how can the Drive retain its character as the neighborhood becomes irresistible to Yuppies? My comments in the Granville Magazine blog post, When livability and resilience collide
Can Commercial hold back gentrification? If it can’t, is it possible to retain the neighbourhood’s distinct character? These were the sorts of questions that participants were dealing with at the recent Drive to Resilience forum on envisioning the future of Commercial Drive, hosted by the students in the Semester in Dialogue program at SFU. Those in attendance included residents, local business owners and representatives from various neighbourhood organizations who were guided through a day-long exercise in collaborative problem solving.
Much of what participants discussed revolved around developing more support for affordable housing, help for artists and small businesses, and even programs to support the integration of the area’s homeless and marginal people into composting efforts. In this sense, much of Commercial Drive’s character seems dependent on low rent and subsidies for those with low income.
Ironically, the characteristics that define Commercial Drive may have actually become more pronounced due to the gentrification of areas like Kitsilano, which has sent artists and working-class holdouts fleeing for the Eastside. But in a few more years, rent increases for residents and businesses may conceivably turn the area into a slightly more mellow version of South Granville—with its Le Chateau, Pottery Barn and Chapters stores—sending purists and the area’s poor fleeing for some other as-yet ungentrified corner of the city.
If the consensus from neighbourhood residents and Vancouver-area citizens who make the Drive their second home is to preserve a working class neighbourhood and artist refuge in the midst of a rapidly growing, trend-setting cosmopolitan metropolis, the simplest way to keep rents down is to disincentivise certain yuppie types from moving into the neighbourhood. How to do that without going so far that you actually put the area into decline is tricky.
How Does Commercial Drive Retain This?