A few weeks ago, PT ran a post: “The West End The Way it Was.”   Its last line: “One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.”

Regular commenter Bob took issue:

The distinctive mix of demographics that made it unique: seniors, young immigrant families, the gay community, all are being driven out by the gentrification unleashed during Vision Vancouver’s and the BC Liberal’s tenure. The removal of St.Pauls to the False Creek Flats will be yet another body blow to the community.

 

There’s been a narrative like that in the West End as long as I’ve lived here.  Since the 70s people have said the unique mix isn’t what it was, or is in danger, or is no longer.

I understand what Bob bemoans: the perceived loss of diversity as the West End becomes upscaled and out of reach of the residents who gave it real character.  It seems they are being unfairly squeezed out by a rate of change – whether demographic, physical or economic – that’s too fast.

No arguing with what people perceive; that’s their reality.  But I learned as a councillor that people’s perception of the rate of change in their community is paradoxical.  As the rate of change slows down, in fact, people’s perception of change increases.  What was once unnoticed in a neighbourhood swept by turbulent change – like the West End in the 1960s – becomes the focus of attention when things slow down enough to notice.

But eventually facts have to match up with perceptions.  Change must be reflected in the measures of that change.   And thanks to the great work by the City’s Social Policy department, we have those measures in one place and can graphically see them illustrated.  Lots of charts.*

No amount of data from yesterday will necessarily convince those persuaded by the anecdotal changes of today.  However, these community profiles derived from the census do provide a base of comparison over decades. Are seniors, families, immigrants and gays being driven out.  And who has replaced them?

We can find out in this Profile of the West End**:

 

Big takeaway: the astonishing thing about the West End is its stability.  Even physically, the district west of Burrard and south of Robson is remarkable for how little it has changed from the 1980s on.

Chilco Street in 2009:

In 2019:

Not even the trees have changed.

Is this Denman Street in 2005 or 2019?

Denman Street in 2005

So how about the people? Let’s begin with the Age Profile of the West End:

The general distribution of the West End’s population has been quite consistent over time. 

To repeat: “consistent over time.”

The biggest shift hasn’t been in age cohorts but in ethnicity, and that’s something we haven’t begrudged.  Boomers like me as young adults who moved into those new highrises built between the late 50s to early 70s were, like the apartments, largely white – a reflection of the Canadian post-war demographic. (In 1971, 96 percent of all Canadians were of white European origin.  Canada may never have been so white, ever.)

In fact, the West End has an increase in the percent of young adults, but more are brown. They are increasing in number, not being driven away.

Many are ‘immigrants’ from eastern Canada, some the children of offshore migrants who came to Canada in substantial number beginning in the 1970s.  But as fits the theme of the West End, the change in the percent of migrants has been modest, unlike that in some of the other neighbourhoods of the city.

The same overall with racialized groups – known now as IBPOC*.  Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of change there either.

The percentage measure of racialized groups stays roughly the same, even when it doesn’t look that way to those who see the shifts in years, not decades.

The West End doing its thing: being the ‘arrival’ city for waves of immigrants, foreign and domestic, each turning stretches of Robson, Denman and Davie into their dining rooms.  That included a wave of gays – young men like me in our 20s – looking for one-bedroom apartments to share along with social acceptance. The West End was doing what it did well – accommodating different kinds of newcomers.  Same purpose, different origins.

And like every group that comes from more conservative cultures (which is, compared to the West End, practically everywhere), some discover the freedom to pursue their sexual and gender identity.  How many are gay?  How many of them are now being driven out?  It’s always been hard to say with any precision – like the myth that 10 percent of the population are homosexual (check your Kinsey).

Today classifying people as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ is so binary.  Likely the biggest cause of change in the size and location of the young gay community has been the app – Grindr, Scruff, etc. – diminishing the need to cluster in a single neighbourhood, benefiting from the serendipity of the casual contact.  My guess is that anything comparable to the ‘Castro Clone’ wave of young boomers is much smaller.  But the senior gay community (although impacted by AIDS in the 80s and 90s) may even be a larger percent.

So Davie Village lives modestly on, even if gender fluidity flows elsewhere. (Not a bad thing if you’re in the region. There is gay life in Langley)

 

Next post in the series will look at seniors, and the West End housing stock. 

 

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**WEST END: HIGHLIGHTS

A growing population of seniors, with a very significant proportion of older persons living alone.
The smallest share of families of any Vancouver local area, but growth in absolute numbers.
A less culturally diverse population than the city overall on many measures, but a large population of new immigrants and non-permanent residents.
A neighbourhood with many lower-income residents and households.
A substantial share of Vancouver’s rental stock and increasing affordability pressures on renters.
A large working population filling jobs in many sectors.
Strong perceptions of a healthy built environment and use of active transportation.

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*** IBPOC: Indigenous, Black, People Of Colour.
However, “racialized” is shifting in its definition.
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The word has been used to describe those said to be oppressed by those who defined them, the linguistic colonizers, universally white.  Since an oppressor cannot be among the oppressed, whites could not be ‘racialized’.  But now that Vancouver (52 percent people of colour) is made up of racial minorities, to omit whites as a racialized group becomes increasingly untenable.  Consequently, the definition has shifted: “to categorize or divide by race” – unavoidably including whites.
.
This City of Vancouver report is using the term but, understandably, avoiding clarity of the definition.

Comments

  1. Yes it is a very nice area to live for those that love the urban lifestyle as it is close to beach, lake, downtown, shopping, restaurants and forest. Very walkable.

    It is indeed interesting that most in0migrants to the west-end are NOT like the rest of MetroVan. Why is that?

    I am also wondering why it is not completely car-free yet? Would this not be the ideal test community for no cars?

    1. We don’t need car free, but at least build out complete streets.

      I am always wondering why the city gave up on the whole streets concept they tried in the development east of Granville Island.

      But watching the changes on Beach taking shape, I am somewhat hopeful that cars will pushed back further and more space be made for people.

  2. I love the data dump. And I love the dose of reality, the pace of change really isn’t that great. Salutory lesson from the citywide data that our rate of population growth is nothing special:

    1986-96: 81,622 more residents – an 18.9% increase from base
    2006-06: 53,445 more residents – a 9.2% increase from base

    And it adds support to the idea that displacement is not really occurring in Vancouver (although the type of data isn’t following individuals but classes of people). In fact there isn’t much evidence for displacement due to gentrification anywhere. And some places have access to gold-standard data. The study referred to in this article used enrolment in Medicaid to track individuals in NYC and found no displacement due gentrification at all:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-31/did-gentrification-displace-low-income-nyc-kids

    They found that poor kids moved around a lot, but they were not more likely to move out of their neighbourhoods in areas where incomes were going up and in areas where they were flat. Even studies done by organizations focused on housing security haven’t found much. This US study found:

    “Displacement of black and Hispanic residents accompanied gentrification in many places and impacted at least 135,000 people in our study period.”
    https://ncrc.org/gentrification/

    But this is over a 13 year period that included Hurricane Katrina which accounted for a chunk of that move all on its own. This was a study over the whole US, and it is still only found movement of 10,000 people per year out of gentrifying areas. From the commentary that gets thrown around this town, you would think that there were 10,000 people per year displaced in just Vancouver.

    One bit of data missing, and I think missing from the whole housing policy debate, is the rate of change in total residential square footage. We have the data for number of residential units, but not area. And I suspect this might have some answers why our current rate of residential construction (which still isn’t that high) isn’t satisfying demand.

  3. I was fortunate to live in the West End for four years. It was the best neighborhood I ever lived in.

    1. Tell us more!

      For instance, what age were you? For many, their West End experience coincided with youthful energy and the excitement of their early career, not to mention the, um, social opportunities. For others, a transition in their lives to another stage.

      What was is about the West End domestically that worked for you? Or the qualities and amenities of the neighbourhood. Or just the events of times in which you were there.

  4. I lived in the West End for a long time and was driven out by high housing costs. I’m curious how the socioeconomic makeup of the neighborhood has changed through time.

    I’m curious about this for the city as a whole, too!

  5. I looked at the West End report and it sites look like poverty rates in the neighbourhood have dropped ~10%. I was pushed out of the neighbourhood (and city entirely) due to housing costs – maybe what people are missing in the neighborhood are broke people like me.

  6. I Lived in the West End through most of my 20s from about 1981 on. I was attracted by the local energy and proximity to downtown, Stanley Park and the beaches. And as a bonus Expo was near enough that I’d be there several times a week – cheap entertainment with a $100 pass. But even without Expo there was always entertainment on the streets and beaches of my extended ‘hood. Busking policies brought in by the city has decimated that. We used to be on a sort of international busker circuit but fees and restrictions meant many of the best acts just skipped us. (I once ran into a busker in Manhattan who I’d also seen perform here.) Now we get the same old ultra-boring local performers over and over and over and over… yawn.

    Though at that age and at that time I still felt the need to own a car, financial limitations meant I didn’t own one for about half the time I was there. I didn’t miss it for daily use at all but it was a limitation for things like skiing or camping. I dreamed of a car sharing service before CAN (now MODO) became a thing.

    I worked in North Vancouver at the time and became intimate with the SeaBus – an excellent and dignified part of our transit system that features washrooms at the stations and seats for all. Few ever talk about the turn-off of the sardine experience or having to stand for half an hour when defending SkyTrain. Having said that I was still pretty excited to see SkyTrain being built even though it did absolutely nothing to improve my commute or travel.

    When I finally moved out to get a toe in the housing market I moved to Whalley of all places – knowing that the SkyTrain extension to Scott Road was in the works. I figured that knowledge might be missed by those not paying attention and we’d get a land boost. Worked! A few years later I was headed back to the city – but False Creek South this time. I could just as easily have gone back to the West End but condos were not all that common yet and I found something I really liked here. Being in the centre of our cycling network and having a ten minute bike commute where all but the first and last blocks are in protected lanes is a bonus. The West End still falls behind on that score. I can cycle to any of Vancouver’s best streets, neighbourhoods and amenities in fifteen minutes or less – including the West End.

    I still give the West End high marks. Its commercial strips are really only just okay and I wonder why they always seem like they are struggling. But they still beat the Cambie Bridge head and Central Broadway which is my local area now. I can’t complain at all about access to everything I need on foot, but it’s not the nicest experience – too much MV traffic – too much big box. The West End feels more like a neighbourhood in that sense.

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