In 1997, as workers were stripping asbestos out of the old Woodward’s building, the Vancouver planner overseeing the project predicted it would take 10 to 20 years for Hastings Street to change. “From anything we can see, the community will be overwhelmingly low-income for that long,” Nathan Edelson told the Vancouver Sun.
Flash forward 22 years, and he was both right and wrong. True, a lot has changed on Hastings Street since the opening of the new Woodward’s Building in 2010. The central passion of legendary activist, non-profit housing developer, and city councillor Jim Green, Woodward’s has led the urban revitalization — or gentrification — of the west end of the Downtown Eastside. It sure did take a long time to change, but change it did, no matter how you label it.
Yet, one could say it’s also taken a long time for nothing much to change. Edelson can acknowledge a modicum of success, but he’s clear on one thing — there’s lots more to be done.
Because it’s all still happening. The 24-hour drug market. Unchecked addictions amongst the city’s most vulnerable populations. A lack of safe, affordable housing. It clearly gave Edelson pause recently, as he reflected on the past, present and future of inner city planning.
He does so from a different perch today, as consultant with the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association for their *RePlan project (which is focused on the 1,800 housing units on City-owned, leasehold land between the Cambie and Burrard bridges). Back in the day, Edelson and his ‘brothers and sisters’ in the city’s planning department were in the thick of it, focused on what he calls “a reasonable public purpose”: to provide temporary shelter for the poorest in our society and to, over time, replace that with self-contained, permanent social housing.
And so, despite any perceived equivocation over the outcomes of his work over the years, there’s no doubt Woodward’s was a success in providing some of that social housing. It’s just one example of the many civic projects Edelson helped usher through local community planning and consultation processes, and ultimately through the Councils of the day, for populations co-existing across the entire spectrum of need in society. Go ahead, Google him. You’ll see.
Humble almost to a fault — “some of my best ideas were his”, he says, deflecting credit to Jim Green — Edelson continues to carry the torch for housing, which is, in his opinion, job #1 for planners.
So yes, as Gord put it, he was right. Right in his beliefs and his methods, because it all had an impact. Still, Edelson thinks it’s not enough. He’s just not done focusing on those in our city who are in need, and how he can help shape what the future will bring.
Nathan Edelson is this year’s speaker at the Jim Green Memorial Lecture, tomorrow evening (March 13) at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at Woodwards, 149 West Hastings Street.