SFU, UBC professors concerned about effect of height review on Downtown Eastside

A group of professors at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia have issued the following letter:

January 19, 2011

Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Councillors, City of Vancouver, 453 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver

Dear Mayor Robertson and Councillors:

Re: January 20, 2011 Council Meeting on the Historic Area Height Review Update.

We, the undersigned, are professors at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia with an interest in the fate and well being of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

We therefore note with concern the recommendation before Council to change the allowable heights in the ”˜Historic Area’, which includes much of the Downtown Eastside. The effect of this will be to increase permitted heights on several sites. Assuming, as seems inevitable, that this facilitates market housing, we fear that this will lead to a further reduction of affordable housing in the surrounding area, particularly that of the residential hotels. This will have a devastating effect on low-income residents and the continued vitality and viability of the neighbourhood as a whole. We believe that planning in the Downtown Eastside should have at its centre the interests of the most vulnerable, rather than risk further destabilizing a community that is already facing intensifying pressures.

Market development, if wisely managed with the insights of the low-income community, can bring benefits to the Downtown Eastside. However, it can, and has, also led to increasing rents, conversions and displacement. We encourage Council not to proceed with the Height Review until a more thorough community based planning process is conducted, a cornerstone of which should be the improvement and protection of the affordable housing stock of the Downtown Eastside.

Yours sincerely,

Nicholas Blomley, Ph.D.
Professor, Geography, SFU

Elvin Wyly, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Geography;
Chair, Urban Studies Program, UBC

David Ley, Ph.D.
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada,
Canada Research Chair,
Professor and Head of Department, Geography, UBC

Samir Gandesha, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Humanities, SFU

Eugene McCann, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Geography, SFU

Jeff Derksen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, English, SFU

Nicolas Kenny, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, History, SFU

Dara Culhane, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Anthropology, UBC

Jamie Peck, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair in Urban & Regional Economy
Professor, Geography, UBC

Donald Grayston, PhD, former director, Institute for the Humanities, SFU; theologian and public educator

Derek Gregory, Ph.D., Professor, Geography, UBC
Fellow of the British Academy; Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; Dr. h.c (Heidelberg); Dr. h.c. (Roskilde)

Steve Collis, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor; Associate Chair, English, SFU

Mónica Escudero, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer
Spanish Language Program, Language Training Institute Humanities Department SFU

Graham Riches, Ph.D.,
Emeritus Professor, Social Work, UBC

Elise Chenier, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, History, SFU

Janice Matsumura, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, History, SFU

Paige Raibmon, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, History, UBC

Endar Brophy, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Communications, SFU

Gary Teeple, Ph.D,
Professor, Sociology;
Director of Labour Studies, Morgan Centre for Labour Studies.

Clint Burnham, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, English, SFU

Thomas Kemple, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Sociology, UBC

Sunera Thobani, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies, UBC

Willeen Keough, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of History, SFU

Karen Ferguson, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Urban Studies/History, SFU

Pilar Riano-Alcala
Associate Professor, Liu Institute/Social Work, UBC

Mark Leier, Ph.D.,
Professor, History, SFU

Valerie Raoul, Ph.D.,
Emerita Professor, Women's Studies and French, UBC

Catherine Murray, Ph.D.,
Professor, Chair, Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies, SFU

Shauna Butterwick, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies, UBC

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Sean Bickerton

Jan 19, 2011 at 10:49am

With all due respect to the learned professors undersigned whose credentials are very impressive, their concern that "market housing ... will lead to a further reduction of affordable housing in the surrounding area" is misplaced.

The Woodwards development included 200 units of social housing providing new homes for 250 people. In addition, that development has provided a badly needed supermarket and bank in the area, in addition to hosting amazing community space, extensive social services and having created jobs the area also desperately needs.

If the learned educators only lived in this area, as I do, they'd see the inhumane suffering of people abandoned to a Calcutta-like existence, to madness, left to act as human ATMs for violent gangs.

Further, if we truly believe as a city in mixed-income neighbourhoods, then why aren't we working to achieve that goal here in Historic Vancouver as well?

Rather than insisting that people are left to their suffering, I would encourage the writers of this letter to call for more housing, not none. Their concerns are not borne out by the facts.

East Is Least

Jan 19, 2011 at 11:20am

I looked into the social housing rates at Woodwards when they opened. 2 bedroom was $1600/m. Not exactly affordable.


Jan 19, 2011 at 11:49am

The vast majority of the Ph.Ds on that list not only have 0 experience about what is actually happening on the DTES, but have education which is completely unrelated to any of the social issues. You might as well have the cast from Jersey Shore sign it.

The problem on the DTES is not a lack of housing, but rather a total and complete abandonment by our government of the mentally ill coupled with lack luster approach on crime. I remember the DTES in the mid 90s prior to the bright idea of shutting down River View hospital. There were more homeless on Granville street in front of what is now Meinhardts! It was that which started the problems here which have been ignored ever since. Giving housing doesnt solve the problem of the people on the DTES, in fact in enables it....go down there yourself and have a look at them. I have lived in Gastown for 9 years, and it has only gotten worse. Lackluster court sentencing for repeat drug dealers, injection sites, and the unwritten rule that laws and bylaws simply dont apply to that area is what's causing the area to rot.

We need to get to the source of the addiction with education, tougher sentences, government support for the mentally and physically disabled. What we need is an intervention. Giving an addict a warm place to sleep does nothing for the problem.

I remember reading how Rudy Giuliani cleaned up New York by taking what is known as the "broken window" approach. Basically he made sure all petty crimes were punished i.e. graffiti, drug use, theft, aggressive panhandling etc to send message that order would be maintained. The rest as you know is history. Contrary to that the DTES is a place people can do what ever they want with no reproductions. Its actually a disrespect to those abusing our city and themselves if you ask me. They want help, they need it.

No...housing is not the problem. Its the cities lack luster approach to the order in the area, and the governments total disregard for those in real need of more then just a bed.

Any recovering addiction will tell you that in order to stop they need to leave their circle of drug using friends and enabling environment. Keeping them all there only enables the problem. What we need to do as a city is have an intervention, get people the help they need and spread the social housing across the province so they dont return to old habits.

On another note what right does anyone have to tell hard working potential buyers they do not have a right to live in the historic area because there is a restriction there not seen anywhere else in the city?

IMO this is just more about optics, then actually solving anything.

But hey..what do I know im not an Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies or have a Ph.D in English. I just live here.


Jan 19, 2011 at 11:59am

@East is Least

While I wont comment on the price because i have never looked there myself but there are many types of social housing. Its not just for people living on the street, but rather people like low income single moms etc. I could be wrong, but I believe there is a designation of social housing, and the social housing at woodwards was not meant for homeless at all.

East Van Arts

Jan 19, 2011 at 11:59am

SFU Woodwards has been a godsend to the DTES. After years of occupation by drug dealers and their victims, that part of our city has come back to life.

It hosts music, dance, art, students, teachers, intellect and energy. It has changed life on the streets and given hope to the good people who live there. The elderly poor who have for decades been terrified to leave their rooms now walk with confidence. It has become THEIR neighbourhood again.

Such is the power of turning away from the ghetto model, and toward a city of inclusion and welcome.


Jan 19, 2011 at 1:48pm

NDB, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but you are misinformed if you believe the "vast majority of aformentioned professors have "0 experience about what is actually happening on the DTES." Comparing them to the cast of Jersey Shore is a gross misstatement. Particularly, David Ley and Elvin Wyly have been involved with the community and done substantial research in the area.

Second Nation

Jan 19, 2011 at 2:07pm

There's an entire industry in Metro Van that profits from perpetuating poverty and addiction in the DTES.

These "poverty pimps" want the status quo to continue and if possible grow. They've got no interest in improving the situation.


Jan 19, 2011 at 4:44pm

I did say that vast majority, not all. While I have not met each one personally or seen them spending long periods of time in the area I will take your word on the fact there are a few who do work down here, or are aware. Having said that I have run circles around "academics" on this topic more then a few times. I find most of their opinions to be "arm chair quarter back" type of responses, rather being on the actual field. I'n addition I have yet to read a paper, study or any type of research by any of these academic which gets to the heart and takes a tough stance on the REAL problems. If you have a link to one...please post it. Would love to read it.

My analogy to Jersey Shore was jsut to add color, but the reality is I could ask 10 questions to the cast and probably get answers I felt were as in tuned as PhDs on that list...at least some.


Jan 19, 2011 at 6:06pm


Yes, you are in correct in that respect. I singled out the two since I am most familiar with their work. For example, David Ley spoke last year at a UBC Dialogue event where he expressed his support for the DTES neighbourhood. Particularly, Ley strongly disagreed with the sentiment of the DTES requiring revitalization as it would imply the place was dead or lacked in life, something he did not see any truth to.

Elvin Wyly recently gave a keynote at the "Right to the City" conference (where Ley was in attendance as well) organized by VANACT. He is a resident of the DTES as well.

At the very least, I can speak for the geographers that they are fairly knowledgeable or have done work relating to gentrification and housing and/or the DTES. The point being is they raise a legitimate concern in their letter.