MOVments: Surviving the City, Reality TV, and E-Commerce

This week we look at the economic realities and struggles of big business, small business, and "anti-business." From the uncertain fate of the The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, to the changing landscape of independent bookstores in the city, and the meta-reality of the DTES anti-gentrification conflicts, we're exploring what it means to survive and succeed in Vancouver's economic wilderness.
Saving The Centre. Many in Vancouver's arts and culture scene are looking to the City to step in to save The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. The Centre is set to be sold to the Westside Church after struggling with economically viable programming as a large-scale venue. Will The Centre survive as an art space? We'll have to wait to find out.
Struggling to Sell Books. Francis Bula explores the economic ups and downs of Vancouver's best-loved independent bookstores of the past and present in this recent article. Some of the culprits behind slumping sales are easy to identify - the rise of e-commerce to name one - but others are more surprising (and more Vancouver-specific). She also examines stores like Kidsbooks and Pulpfiction Books that are surviving and thriving against some pretty bleak odds.
Reality TV Gets Real. Did the reality presented in the television show Gastown Gamble contribute to the current anti-gentrification protests in the DTES? Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones of The Atlantic Cities seems to think so. The show follows Mark Brand's journey as the socially-conscious owner of Save on Meats. As Hinkes-Jones says, "For many of the at-risk locals whom Brand has hired, he's a legitimate hero. But there's also little doubt the show's subject — the renovation of a historic Downtown Eastside business to make it more appealing to upscale customers — is exactly the sort of effort that's caused much of the distrust among the protesters."
And On a Not Entirely Related's Bike to Work Week! Check out this neat initiative co-produced by Vancouver is Awesome with Penny Smash funds. Definitely some of the most fun you'll have getting to work in the morning.
At the MOVeum:
[Image: Shelves at Pulpfiction on Main. Photo by Richard Erirksson via Flickr]

MOVments: Foreign Investor Spectres, Sign Language, and Ghetto Revolts

This week we explore recent debates around three points of contention in the city, namely, unoccupied condos, Chinese language signage in Richmond, and anti-gentrification activism. In all three cases, confusion and misunderstandings abound, making any single reading impossible and revealing just how complex the issues of affordable housing, intercultural communication, and shifting socio-economic demographics really are.
Vacancies for Sale. The murky count on apartments purchased and left vacant by overseas investors (as well as Canadian residents) may have just become a little clearer. A recent Globe and Mail piece reports the findings of adjunct UBC planning professor Andrew Yan which suggest that "nearly a quarter of condos in Vancouver are empty or occupied by non-residents in some dense areas of downtown." The argument goes that these vacant apartments drive up market prices and skew the perception of density in certain neighbourhoods. But the vaguely racist undertones of the discourse also mean that the issue is more complicated than simple numbers. (Although perhaps not according to Gary Mason. For an unequivocally pro-free-market perspective on the situation, see his response piece in the Globe and Mail).
Reading the Signs. A change to Richmond signage bylaw that would have seen English mandatory on all store signs was struck down by city council recently. The issue was brought forward by two women petitioning the Chinese-only signs they saw in the city. Kerry Starchuk told The Province: “This is not cultural harmony because I have no idea what these signs, advertising and the real estate papers are saying." On the other hand, members of city council felt that the city should not be responsible for controlling sign language and that owners should be free to market to the customers they are looking to attract.
Living, Working, and Protesting in the DTES. As most of you have probably heard by now, anarchist groups have been protesting gentrifying forces in the Downtown Eastside in what some have coined a "ghetto revolt." In the midst of the protests, some restaurants are engaging with local residents in a socially and financially supportive way. This fantastic piece from the The Thunderbird explores the complex relationship between business owners and DTES employees, as they each struggle "to succeed in their own way."
At the MOVeum:
[Image: Multi-lingual signage in Richmond. Photo courtesy of via Flickr]

MOVments: Telling Tales and Toying with the World of Vancouver Real Estate

This week in MOVments we explore some of the recent narratives, numbers, and neighborhood games top of mind in the ever-present world of Vancouver real estate. We have the on-going and multi-layered tale of gentrification in the DTES, some new research that tackles the oft-cited cause/effect relationship of of foreign-buyers driving up condo prices, a playful chronicle of one conceptual artist selling the smallest pieces of real estate in the history of Vancouver, and an online game that tests your knowledge of local city neighborhoods.

Pidgin Protesters. By now, you've probably heard about the protests happening outside of a newly opened restaurant called Pidgin in the Downtown Eastside. Anti-poverty activists are arguing that the intrusion of another high-end restaurant in the neighbourhood means that there is not only less space for low-income housing or organizations providing community services but that it is also disrespectful to the culture of the community. On the other side of the argument, people like city councillor Kerry Jang see the mixed nature of the area as a positive and restaurant co-owner Brandon Grossutti sees his efforts at hiring DTES residents as a path to a more integrated community. And while we're on the subject, check out a couple other perspectives that range from accusations of a kind of reverse NIMBYism to biased media coverage of protestors.

The Myth of the Foreign Buyer Boogeyman? Chances are that if you've lived in Vancouver for any length of time you've also heard about the people who come from overseas to buy up our real estate, drive up prices, and then leave the residences vacant. This Globe and Mail piece suggests that there may be less truth in the story than we previously believed. Although exact statistics are tricky to obtain the article states that "2012 figures from Landcor Data Corporation show that only 0.2 per cent of people who bought residential properties in Metro Vancouver last year are currently living outside of the country" In other words, hardly enough to drive the market. The article also says that many foreign investors are in fact also residing here, coming from China and other countries in order to support their children's educations.

Cube Living. Looking for some affordable real estate in the city? Then look no further than artist Alex Grunenfelder's Cube Living project at 221A Artist Run Centre. Last week, Grunenfelder was selling one cubic foot units of space to interested buyers for as little as one dollar. In this interview for The Tyee Grunenfelder explained the project: "I'm not necessarily advocating living in smaller spaces," he says of Cube Living. "It's about looking at the discussions that are happening around all of this, and maybe looking at things from a different point of view, and also trying to project, where is this going? Where is this process of urban densification going to end up?"

Know Your 'Hood. And finally, get to know your Vancouver neighbourhoods with this cute little app (helpful for the next time that you buy real estate?).

At the MOVeum:

March 3 - Design Sundays: Upcycled Urbanism                                             March 7 - Special Curator Talk & Tour: A Clandestine History of Contraception March 10, 17, 24 - Design Sundays: Upcycled Urbanism 

[Image: Screenshot from Click That 'Hood game by Code for America]

MOVments: Safety First

Remember how last week we said that BC's push for online voting was a simple tale of convenience in our fast-paced world? As it turns out, it might not be. OpenFile points out why online voting might be more dangerous than you might think. That's right, dangerous. The whole thing got us thinking about how we perceive safety and the different ways that we engage with risk, liability, and uncertainity in Vancouver. So, this week we're looking at the slightly threatening (and also the smelly and the historically biased) side of the city.

Skytrain Safety. The first of many Skytrain fare gates was installed last Monday with the aim of reducing fare evasion and increasing safety for riders. But as OpenFile reports the new system (which won't begin operating until 2013) might make public transit seem safer but will probably do little to actually decrease danger. As TransLink Chief Operating Officer Doug Kelsey suggests, “The keyword is ‘perception.' By having fare gates, it enhances the customers’ perception of the system being safe...Does a light make people safer? I don’t think so, but if it eliminates some shadows and increases the customer’s perception of safety, then great. That’s a secondary benefit for us for sure.”

Odour Laws. Chances are if you've ever spent any time at the corner of Commercial Drive and Hastings, you've smelled something, well, gross. The rendering factory in the area is just one of the facilities that will likely be affected by a new bylaw designed to manage the city's stinkiest smells. High-risk businesses will be required to pay fees of up to $150,000 in order to implement odour management plans.

Getting Into It. There are also dangers associated with leaving some of Vancouver's harsh realities unexamined. For example, as Rebekah Funk argues, terms like ‘urban renewal’ and ‘urban sustainability’ used in place of 'gentrification' can shield people from understanding the detrimental impact of new businesses and higher-income housing on the city's poorest areas. Far from being a cut and dried issue, Funk's article in the current issue of Megaphone Magazine looks at the problematics of building integrated, socially-responsible neighbourhoods in the city. And, in a similarly revealing vein, a recent public intervention campaign aims to draw attention to historical injustices committed by BC's first lieutenant-governor Joseph Trutch against the province's aboriginal peoples. Several stickers reading "Joseph Trutch was a racist bigot” have gone up along Trutch Street. Definitely an attention-grabbing way of fighting historical amnesia.

Getting Cozy on Robson. And lastly, in a move that is making the streets happier, more lively, and ultimately maybe even safer, Robson Street will be filled with giant bean bag chairs for three weeks. The large scale art installation has already got a lot of use from children and adults playing, lounging, and sliding around, since it opened last Wednesday.

At the MOVeum:
September 13 - Art Deco Chic: Talk & Tour with Ivan Sayers | Design Challenge Winners Panel 
September 19 - Opening Night - Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong
September 20 - Opening Day - Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong

[Image: Pop Rocks installation on Robson Street. Photo by David Niddrie]

MOVments of the week


Another round-up of things we’ve been following this week:

Two block diet. The Vancouver Sun ran a great article this week about a small community that has formed around producing local food. Some residents in the Riley Park-Little Mountain area decided to pool their resources and help each other turn their back yards into gardens. They now share a communal compost, greenhouse, pressure-canner, laying hens and bee hives and provide an example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

Marine Gateway. The Marine Gateway Project continues to face opposition from many residents in the Cambie Corridor. Architect Nigel Baldwin is one of the latest people to voice concern. Francis Bula presents a document he prepared that visualizes the proposed development in other locations in Vancouver revealing just how large it would be.

However, Bula brings up a good point that it may be more appropriate to judge the individual parts of the development, rather than condemn the whole. For example, the proposed development would include community gathering spaces, something that is currently lacking in Marpole.

Still, others argue that projects like these are essential to drive down the cost of housing and increase supply.

The Charles. The new pub in the Woodwards building has sparked some controversy over the direction of development and revitalization in the area. Some residents and advocates for the Downtown East Side are concerned that the new businesses opening in the neighbourhood offer products and services at prices well beyond what many residents can afford, speeding gentrification.

Hornby bike lane again. The City of Vancouver released drawings of the blocks affected by the Hornby bike lane. The plans continue to draw the ire of the business community. I have been particularly enjoying following Gordon Price’s thoughts on bike lanes in the city and the current conflict between businesses and planners.

Breaking car-dependence. Another thing we’ve been following is the Tyee’s series Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, about planning cities to minimize the need for cars.

Image credit: Les Bazso, PNG, from the Vancouver Sun

MOVments of the week


A round up of things we have been following this week.

Beatty Street wall repaint. Painting is finally underway on the new Beatty Street wall mural. The project is jointly funded by the City of Vancouver and Concord Pacific and depicts figures from Vancouver’s past and present. More information can be found on the project’s Facebook page and Youtube.

Shortly before the Olympics the Beatty Street Wall was painted over by city workers conducting what was apparently routine maintenance. The move sparked the ire of a large number of people in the community. For those of you who may be feeling nostalgic, the original artwork is still visible on Google Street View, here.

Pop-up shop. Douglas Coupland partnered with Roots to open up a temporary store in Gastown stocked with several limited edition signature items. The event has garnered a lot of buzz and is part of a trend in retail and marketing that turns shopping into an event with stores appearing in novel locations for limited periods of time. Pop-up retail and marketing has already been used successfully by several companies. In a sense, the Cheaper Show uses the same model in order to create new markets for local art. I’d love to see this concept used for non-commercial purposes too, like education or community building.

The changing face of Gastown. The Westender focuses on the closure of Biz Books to highlight the pressures on independent businesses as Gastown gentrifies. In spite of the neighbourhood’s facelift, rents are rising and there is a growing number of empty storefronts as people wait for the renewal and residential density ushered in by Woodwards to arrive.

City calls for container housing. City council is considering a motion to explore the use of shipping containers in providing low-cost social housing. The Tyee ran a very positive story about this kind of housing earlier this year, but the comments below reveal that it is a very controversial idea.

Old Spice answers your questions. And a shout-out to Old Spice for launching an excellent social media campaign this week. In short: you send a message to the Old Spice Man via social media and he responds in a video on Youtube. This is in no way a product endorsement, I just think it’s a clever and entertaining campaign and Mashable is reporting some incredible stats about its’ reach and effectiveness.

Image credit: Kris Krüg, via flickr

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