A recent travel column published in the Toronto Star caused quite a stir in Vancouver.
“The man is dancing and watching his reflection in the window, humming to music only he can hear and oblivious to the small group of visitors walking past,” it began. “We’re making our way through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, widely considered the worst neighbourhood in Canada.”
The column described a walking tour of the mostly low-income community.
As the Straight reported on August 9, many people who live and work in the area were not thrilled with the idea of serving as a tourist’s object of interest.
In response, a different tour made its way around the Downtown Eastside yesterday (August 17).
Dubbed the “Chinatown yuppie tour,” a media release describes the attraction as highlighting “gentrifying businesses and their patrons who are displacing the low-income residents of the DTES [Downtown Eastside]”.
“Don’t gawk, come and talk,” participants chanted. “We don’t want your stupid walk.”
“Downtown Eastside is not a safari,” they said. “Drive away in your Ferrari.”
According to a summary of the tour posted online, participants were taken to businesses new to the neighbourhood where low-income residents do not feel welcome.
“We passed the new ice cream parlour on Gore Street that sells cones for $4.75, then stopped outside Matchstick Coffee which sells coffee for $3.25,” it recounts. “After that we visited a new restaurant at Keefer and Gore where prices for a meal start at $15.”
“These retail spaces are zones of exclusion for low-income people,” continued the post by Karen Ward published at the Mainlander. “They are spaces where poor people are judged and watched suspiciously, spaces where low-income people can’t even afford the cheapest item on the menu. On most days—except for today—they are places where people with money can sit in comfort and gawk at poor and homeless people on the street and sidewalks outside.”
The so-called yuppie tour was organized by the Carnegie Community Action Project (which has held similar tours in the past) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.
A 2014 report commissioned by the City of Vancouver states that in 2013, 60 percent of the Downtown Eastside’s 18,500 residents were low-income and 731 were homeless. It also notes that between 2001 and 2013, property values in the area more than tripled.