In a rite of passage, ‘liminal’ refers to the transition point that is neither here nor there; a threshold that can result in multiple interpretations or outcomes, and thus (often) confusion. In this episode, Wes Regan, Social Planner responsible for Community Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Initiatives with the City of Vancouver, aptly uses this word to describe his work space at the downtown Woodward’s Building and, by extension, the city’s current approach to community economic development (CED).
One could say the true liminal space is the Downtown Eastside itself, a threshold between competing realities that the city has worked hard to define, and reconcile, in the almost two decades since the signing of the Vancouver Agreement. As “A Program of Strategic Actions for the Downtown Eastside“, the Vancouver Agreement was formulated to address poverty, substance abuse, homelessness, crime and injustice, all of which have afflicted the DTES for a generation.
Regan has been a part of a number of organizations and initiatives contributing to understanding that uneasy but critical dynamic — between economic development and gentrification, top-down social programs and self-determination, and civic integration and maintaining the integrity of community culture and the collective lived experience.
From the establishment of the Portland Hotel Society in 1993, to the Woodwards Squat in ’02, to the eventual successes of social enterprises like EMBERS and Potluck Café & Catering, city staff have learned to embrace this ambiguity. It resulted, in Regan’s estimation, in a collapse of the traditional economic development hierarchy of formal, social and informal economies, into a “livelihoods continuum”. The development and implementation of the city’s Healthy City Strategy and new Community Benefits Agreement policy are just two expressions of policy innovation on the new continuum.
In this discussion with host Colin Stein, Regan talks about his almost two decades living and working in and around the DTES, and some of the practical implications of this new approach to CED.