History & Heritage
January 8, 2021

Narratives and Demographic Realities of the West End – 1

 

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 West End) “was” one of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

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?

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” … the perception of change increases.”
That’s a Priceism I’ve used for years, based on my political experience.  I noticed it particularly in the West End, where the rate of change had dramatically diminished since the 1960s and ’70s – yet people believed, with the approval of a handful of towers, that the rate of change had dramatically increased.  The same with the city, and even more in the region.
And yet:


That data is for the CMA, the Census Metropolitan Area – or basically Metro Vancouver.  Here are the actual population numbers:

So even though the population has increased, the rate of that growth slowed down over the past five years compared to the previous half decade.
And the rate in the last five years in the City of Vancouver was even less:

  • In 2016, the enumerated population of Vancouver (City) was 631,486, which represents a change of 4.6% from 2011. This compares to the provincial average of 5.6% and the national average of 5.0%.

In the longer view, the population growth has been steady, with little in the way of major increases or declines:

Choose where you like on the Goldilocks scale, but one observation I think we can rule out: Growth is “out of control.” Not.  But it’s often the precondition used by some to justify disruptive changes in policy, particularly in migration.  There may be other reasons to intervene in the type of growth, or for reasons of environmental sustainability – but an unprecedented change in the rate of growth is not one of them.

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