Dear Mayor and Council,
I am the Program Director of grunt gallery and a resident in the Quebec Manor Housing Co-op. I have lived in this community for the past 28 years and have seen many changes over this period. Mount Pleasant is growing and changing at a rapid rate and while most of this development has been good for the community I think the RIZE building represents a very real threat to what is here now.
Development for the most part has been sustainable and inevitably gentrification is a part of this picture. But I feel RIZE in its central place in Mount Pleasant will push this gentrification into overdrive.
My biggest worry about this increased gentrification is what it will do to the art community in Vancouver. In the VanCity commissioned report, The Power of the Arts in Vancouver: Creating a Great City, Pier Luigi Sacco correctly identifies the east side as the home of the art community in the city. He also recognizes the strong state of development of the arts in the east side citing the international recognition of many of our artists and our strong position internationally especially in the field of visual arts.
The basis of much of this strength has been on the strength of the visual arts community here in the city. Despite the worst provincial funding in Canada Vancouver has somehow emerged as THE place where international artists emerge in Canada. This is not because of our strong visual arts institutions because frankly one of the things that pulls us together as an arts community is the fact that from The Vancouver Art Gallery to the smallest artist centre we are all under resourced. Struggling with not enough space or staff all of us must reconcile the highest space costs in the world with the lowest funding levels in the country.
So if it is not our institutions what is the nature of Vancouver’s success? Part of the reason for this has been the availability of space for artists studios and housing that has been the boon that made this development possible. Many other jurisdictions spend millions of dollars trying to develop the position that Vancouver is now in and unfortunately recent developments in the East End are changing all this quickly and perhaps irrevocably.
Most of this studio space exists in the neighborhoods around False Creek Flats; Mount Pleasant , Strathcona, Clark Drive, Chinatown and the DTES. These areas have historically been the places where artists live and work in the city. Development threatens all these areas currently. We at grunt see the results of this gentrification every day. Renovictions are common all along Main Street. The closing recently of 901 Main Street laid bare the problems with the arts and redevelopment and the very real threat they make to the arts community.
We all know the history of artists and gentrification because it’s an old story now. How the arts are used to open up neighborhoods for redevelopment is a cliché now. grunt gallery was able, in an earlier spurt of redevelopment in Mount Pleasant, to enter a marketing deal with a developer of the early Live Work sites, PEMCOR, to purchase a condo in the Mainspace Development on Main Street. We joke it was one of the only times the arts community ever moved forward during redevelopment but in truth I have been invited to write about it, speak about it and lunch over it many times. We remain a unique entity in this regard and not only in Vancouver but across Canada.
The same developer PEMCOR went on to produce the EDGE development at the foot of Main Street on Alexander which included 30 live work studios donated to the city that has become the CORE Coop and produced some of the only rent controlled live work space in the city. Perhaps the city should look back at this development as a model to move forward because it was one of the only successful ones.
But to RIZE. This development has far too many negative impacts on this community (and not just to the arts community) and far too few positive ones. Situated in the heart of Mount Pleasant and literally towering over it so much that even city staff toned it down in the visuals it presented to us and to you. The negative impacts include a threat to the small independent businesses along Main Street due to rental increases, the loss of really affordable housing, increased traffic problems and congestion, destruction of the café culture that exists in that intersection, and the promise of an even bigger development on the Kingsgate Mall site.
With the selling off of the studio space included in the project the city has effectively prevented any relief towards the studio shortage. Not that we were expecting much. The District Building by Amarcon also promised affordable studio space after closing 901 Main Street but even as this building opens nobody I know has heard anything about this affordable space.
The problem here is that artists are responding to these threats by moving east. But not east to Rupert Street but to Toronto or Montreal or Winnipeg where there is a better chance of finding sustainable housing and realistic funding. Over the past several months two board members of grunt left for Montreal and Winnipeg, our Technical Support now works out of Toronto and our associate curator moved to the interior. Further up Main Street art community residents housed for over twenty years are getting renoviction notices.
grunt owns its own space so is not threatened by these increased property values but we are literally watching our support base disappear under our feet. The housing that RIZE is offering is not affordable to any of the residents of this community so there are few alternatives.
Its easy to talk about helping the arts community and the power of creative cities but after working in this field for the past 30 years mostly all I’ve have seen is talk. But by developments like RIZE we will see the destruction of the arts communities in Mount Pleasant and in neighboring communities in a very real way and all the homilies in the world won’t prevent that. If this council is serious about its support for the arts it needs to step up here.
We can see the new community being formed but will there be any room in it for artists, small businesses, cafes etc. Who can service these communities and where will they live? RIZE will cause many more problems than it solves in this community and council needs to recognize this very real threat.
Thank you for your attention