Heather Redfern: Port of Vancouver development plans threatening East Van community

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      Full disclaimer: I am a born-and-bred East Vancouver superfan. This vibrant, grassroots neighbourhood has nurtured my career, which now finds me proudly leading the Cultch (Vancouver East Cultural Centre)—a really cool arts centre firmly grounded in its East Vancouver roots.

      Ask anyone around here and they’ll tell you that East Van is a special place. Rich with demographic and cultural diversity, we are ground zero for grassroots activism and progressive thinking. The arts thrive here; long-running institutions like ours are woven into the community fabric.

      Arts groups are showing incredible resilience as they continue to enrich the community during the pandemic. For example, our annual East Van Panto, a holiday tradition for many, was livestreamed into thousands of homes all over the country and around the world last December from the York Theatre. Along with local artists and community partners, we continue to bring a full season of performance into your homes.

      As if the global pandemic wasn’t a big enough challenge, we are now facing another threat that hits much closer to home: the Port of Vancouver. I was dismayed to learn about the Port’s little-known vision to build a huge shipping-container terminal at the foot of Victoria Drive.

      If you haven’t heard of the port’s container ambitions on the south shore, you’re not alone. This sprawling terminal will change the shore and skyline of East Vancouver. People along the Clark Drive corridor are already choking with vehicle exhaust. How will fumes from more commercial trucks affect our health?

      It is not okay to use our precious neighbourhood as a corridor to move more huge containers and to threaten our waters with even larger container vessels.
      There will also be significant impacts to community-oriented businesses that call our neighbourhood home. One of our biggest financial supporters for the past 25 years is the family-owned West Coast Reduction. They could lose their long-time home at the Port with this massive expansion.

      West Coast Reduction is working to fight climate change through renewable-biofuel production. It pays restaurants for their used cooking oil and puts money back into the hands of food processors by paying them for meat scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash. It also ships most of the canola oil farmed in the Prairies to international markets and recycles agricultural waste by turning it into useful products like pet food, livestock feed, and soap. It’s been doing this work from the Port in East Vancouver since 1964. It’s a local business that gives where it lives.

      As a steadfast supporter of charitable organizations in the neighbourhood, West Coast Reduction helps us pay salaries and keep the lights on, quite literally, year after year. That local giving extends beyond the Cultch to include the Kettle Society, Eastside Culture Crawl, and Union Gospel Mission. Thanks to this generosity, we are able to both provide free tickets to those who otherwise could not afford them and pay professional artists decent fees for their work.

      The collateral damage in the Port’s development ambitions will hurt us all.
      The very fabric of East Van is being undermined by a disregard for the people and businesses that make it unique. More containers full of foreign goods destined for U.S. markets will not strengthen our local economy.

      The Port needs to realize that it must have meaningful consultation with our community. We must be active participants in decisions that could have long-term ramifications on where we live, work, and play. How dare it move ahead and ignore the people that will be most affected? Our neighbourhood has the largest concentration of Indigenous peoples in the city. Where is the respectful consultation this community deserves?

      The Cultch was significant in my development as an arts worker. It is part of a neighbourhood that includes the Port and has been informed by the Port’s industrial operations and priorities. When I was a kid you could actually go onto the docks and see the ships. I cannot sit idly by while the Port of Vancouver redraws our neighbourhood landscape, creating more traffic, noise, and pollution.

      Spread the word so our collective voice rings louder.

      Heather Redfern is executive director of the Cultch, which operates three theatres, a gallery, and various multi-use spaces in East Vancouver.

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