Travels Through East Vancouver

Defend Grandview Park…. from the People?

In Development, East Van Institutions on May 18, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Only on Commercial Drive could a community park redevelopment engender the creation of three different ad-hoc “groups”. The issue? The redevelopment of Grandview Park, one of a number of East Vancouver parks slated for a facelift over the past few years. Like other redevelopment projects (Victory Square, Oppenheimer Park, Victoria Park), there is a shut-down period of approximately eight months scheduled in which to complete the work (July until March) during which time local residents will have to content themselves with Victoria, Strathcona, or Mosaic Parks, all in the immediate vicinity. From what I can tell from the park plan the intention is to:

  • re-do the children’s play area and water park
  • tear down the rotten tennis court that is rarely used as a tennis court and replace it with a multi-use court that apparently will allow bike polo (this was not on the original plan, but has been added following community consultation)
  • improve street visibility of the park to “cut down on crime” (I have to note here that since my first visit to the park twenty years ago there have been no less than three improvements to visibility in the park for exactly this reason).
  • increased seating – benches and picnic tables (most of which were removed from the park about a decade ago in order to reduce loitering and “crime”)
  • improve park drainage (which they have tried to do on more than one occasion)

All pretty standard stuff right? I mean, cities redevelop parks all the time with many of these same objectives – including the one about reducing the amount of drugs flowing through a given neighbourhood – and people don’t pitch huge fits. But not in East Van.

The three “groups” in order of formation are:

  • Friends of Grandview Park – A repugnant little group of homeowners who seem to think that their use of the park should trump everyone else’s. These were the same people who campaigned to get the Community Policing Center into the park (hotly protested at the time), and mostly they resent the fact they paid top-dollar to purchase a home close to a comunity park without checking into the fact that houses bordering parks are always subject to a higher property crime rate. Doesn’t matter what part of the city – this is just how it works (not unlike being within a kilometer of a skytrain). These folks belong in the suburbs but don’t want to admit it. This is not so much a group as an adhoc collection of angry neighbours to the park.
  • Defenders of Grandview Park – An equally annoying little group of people who apparently don’t know the history of the park and its many redevelopments. One of the group founders posted yesterday on the Facebook page that he doesn’t care about the specifics of park redevelopment, hasn’t been to any consultations about the park, and doesn’t see this as at all an issue because he is willing to do property damage in protest of the changes he knows nothing about. Specifically he is angry that the park will be closed for eight months and while he won’t burn down people’s homes, he doesn’t stop short of burning tires. (No, I’m not making this up, you can read that particular thread here). On Saturday night they called a demonstration that sounded pretty cool (public party/dancing in the park etc.) until they ended the night by smashing up the parole office and lighting some sort of a fire in the middle of the street while police watched them.
  • The People’s Front of Grandview – Which is anti-black block but pro-social and stands by a park for everyone. This appears to be two people with a Facebook group at the moment but seems to capture more of the generalist sentiment in the neighbourhood. Very few people ally with the angry homeowners, but probably even fewer are on side with the bottle-throwing kids. I’m not sure what the motivation is here though except to be a counterpoint to both of the original groups.

As someone who has lived directly across from both Victoria and Grandview Parks for several years (as a renter both times – now I own in Hastings Sunrise) I’m guessing people generally like the idea of some improvements to the park, aren’t happy about it being closed down for eight months, and while they don’t mind the pot dealers, they would rather see the crack dealers go elsewhere. (And no, please do not tell me the drug dealers in the park are only selling weed because I’ve observed othewise. On the other hand, it’s some pretty low-profile drug dealing and mostly people ignore it). The notion that the park has somehow gone downhill in the last five years (as claimed by the FOG) is ridiculous given that when I first hung out in that park twenty years ago the city was fretting about the crime problem in the park and homeless kids regularly slept there (I know this because I was one of them). On the other hand to claim that all park redevelopment is only about attacking homeless people is to apply conspiracy logic to the very standard city practice of updating city facilities.

At the heart of all this handwringing is of course a debate on gentrification – and the anti-park redevelopment crowd are right when they point to the effects of this trend around the area on rents, policing levels, and food prices (all higher as the median income in the neighbourhood has risen over the past two decades). And they are also right when they point out that the east end has over time become less accessible, giving low income people in the city little choice over housing location and cost. Following on a combination of government policy that slashed funding for all form of non-market housing (social and co-operative housing among them) and a real estate “boom” that drove prices through the roof faster than a new york minute — not to mention the loss of profit imperative in building apartment buildings when condos were so much more lucrative (check it out, no new apartment buildings have been erected since the 1970s) – Vancouver renters with and without jobs have been stuck with increasing bills and no way to pay them. Where exactly are people supposed to go?

For a long time, even as other parts of the city erupted in the economic frenzy, the Drive continued to provide a mix of liveability with affordability that made for an important refuge – and Grandview Park is the symbollic heart of of all that goes on there. So it makes sense that what happens is going to be a touchy issue. But unfortunately, the people making the most noise about it are probably the least representative of the community at large, and for the most part are totally missing some pretty key things:

  • Park redevelopment and beautification projects generally follow gentrification, they don’t spark it. Homes sell for over a million dollars around the Drive, rents close to the park are as much as $1700 for a decent 2-bedroom. Park redevelopment is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other upward pressures on housing prices in the neighbourhood.
  • Park redevelopment isn’t a really great strategy for gentrification in any case. As soon as Victory and Victoria Parks were finished the original park users (including families, folks drinking beer and people who slept in the parks) all returned. It’s one thing to do the work, but if FOG and others think that’s going to dictate how people use the park then they better be prepared for a rude awakening within two days of the construction fence coming down.
  • This is not the first redevelopment, nor is it the first time the park has been at least partially shut down in the twenty years I’ve been familar with Grandview. It is unfortunate the renos are so extensive as to require a whole-park closure, but we are talking jackhammering out concrete structures and regrading the whole thing. I fail to see how this would be done in stages.
  • I know on the anti-side it really bugs folks that the FOG have raised drugs as an issue over and over again, but let’s be clear – most people don’t want crack dealers in their neighbourhood. Really. Doesn’t matter how anti-prohibition they are. You’re not speaking “for the people” to defend those who deal in death.
  • Consultations are aimed at bringing people onside. I noticed a commenter on the DOG Facebook page sneering that the bike polo people had gone on side with the renos once the city had heard their needs and addressed them, calling it “divide and conquer”. I would actually call it “effective and meaningful community consultation”. In fact it’s downright remarkable that the city actually listened to a group of about sixty people who wanted a structure for their specific purpose – and then designed a park around that. And finally,
  • As much as they would like to claim it (and as much as DOG would like to blame them for it) Friends of Grandview Park were not responsible for getting funding earmarked for the park. The funding was set aside for Grandview and a number of other projects by the NPA when they were in office and we are coming to the culmination of that particular round of park upgrades. It’s really normal for cities to upgrade their facilities and after this city has collected on the economic boom in the form of increased property taxes we should damn well expect a few nicer things like a park that doesn’t slough off all its grass every rainy season.

Are there things I’m unhappy about in this process? Yes, of course. Like, for example, we are losing the little stage we’ve been holding protests in front of forever. And I hate the idea of going one summer without Grandview Park being open for lolling about in. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure we can keep holding “illegal protests” without the stage, and Trout Lake is really much nicer on a hot day anyways. I don’t expect that every one of my needs will be met through a community consultative process and no one should – that’s the whole point of consultation. And no, I’m not denying that some people have more prominent voices in our society than others (and I am tired of the FOG-types in all our east end neighbourhoods), which is the struggle we need to keep having, but to suggest that burning plastic garbage (ie: tires) is an effective response to community consultations that don’t go your own way (and which you didn’t attend) seems devoid of any analysis about what it is that makes a community in the first place.

  1. John from the People’s Front of Grandview here. First off, the name is based on The People’s Front of Judea, one of the fractious groups from the Life of Brian. Yes, I know Monty Python references are not so hot anymore, but it really captured the goofiness of Eastside politics, so there you go.

    In a nutshell, we just want everybody to relax and get along in a nice new park. The 8 months shutdown blows, but it hits everyone pretty much equally. This whole stink is just so typically Commercial Drive that normally we would ignore it, but we use the park every day, AND I was super tired the night they kept me up till 3 AM, so I thought what the hell. Time to tell these guys where to step off, and cram some rational thought into their heads.

    To be fair, the revelers did not vandalize the kid’s equipment. More like some fat-assed drunk hipster from Main Street sat in the swing and ripped it apart. But they did leave trash everywhere, rip off the garbage cans, and vandalize the already nasty washrooms, so basically, in 14 years of renting near the park, this was the worst I’d seen it, pretty stupid for a group that is suppose to be the Defenders of Grandview.

    I think you’ve nailed it when you say this isn’t about gentrification. That’s been happening for years, and the park reno isn’t likely to make much of a difference in property values. You could just pave the thing and people would still have bidding wars to live there. We make good money by Canadian standards, but we’ve been priced out of the market, and the cozy dive we call home and have rented for 14 years is about to be pulled out from under us, renovated and broken up into suites, so I get people feeling pissed off.

    My wife has suggested that this isn’t about new benches and grass, or even the poor, so much as a feeling of helplessness in a city gone development crazy. The fact that promises keep being made and broken has driven people a little nuts, so it’s understandable that the less rational are unable to reason things out.

    I have no idea what we hope to achieve with the group (now up to 25, woot!) other than to say that yes, we can be inclusive, and yes, we can have a nice new park, and we’re pushing for a few changes to the plans, namely that a stage be added at some point. The park hosts enough events, both legitimate and “illegitimate, that it makes sense.

    Hopefully at some point everybody pulls their heads out of their collective asses, and chills out. Far nicer that way.

  2. I would also like to add that the “party” in the park was “cool”, at least until midnight. But they blasted music until 2am, all under the protection of the Black Bloc twits. The only reason the party kept going was because it was clear that a riot in a sleeping residential neighbourhood was not a great idea, and when I called the cops to complain, they made it clear that they couldn’t shut it down for safety reasons. When I went out to ask the bloc if any of them were from the neighbourhood, or if they could explain why the reno was a bad idea, all they did was gawk at me. I love parties, I’ve been the reason for a few noise complaints myself, but this was a big FU to everyone who lived nearby.

    Hardly a way to build community.

  3. Hey John – Thanks for the thoughtful comments and explanation (I corrected my post on the vandalism point). I, too was priced out of the Drive, but you can take some consolation that just across Nanaimo is Hastings Sunrise which is where everyone else who used to live in Grandview Woodlands went. I joined your Facebook Group earlier today and totally support a stage in the park! Not only have I protested there many a time, but my former band played our first gig ever in the park and many subsequent times as well.

  4. That’s right John. Everybody cool it, but don’t you forget that drug dealers, the poor,and indigenous homeless people are, quantitatively, multiplying at an incredible rate. They are a political force now, and growing by the minute. And,not only that, they are not really led by anyone. The beauty of poverty is that it mobilizes through suffering, after which a lonely soul often wakes up claiming consciousness for the first time, and shedding his/her clothing (rehabilitation, from the French), especially if they’re in a penitentiary, like, for instance, St. Vincent de Paul,or Mission.
    The only difference today from let’s say 2 millenium ago, when Jesus was born,is that barbarism has become a dirty word. Thank G-d at last. They usually have no hope in hell, and 0 political voice except for Jean Swansen at Carnegie Centre. They are impossible to track due to the nature of CBD (Chicago School)radiating hub crime rates (1930’s studies, Chicago,gangster city: consult Paul Brantingham).Hmm……. Sound familiar,history resounding repetitively eh ? During this recession that some so-called “yuppies” (Isn’t that what most politicians are to a dishevelled,hungry,homeless lost soul battered by misinformation, false Christian right “prophecies” and heartless (remember Kitty Genovese), angry-looking pedestrians caught up in the corporate turnstyle, forgetting that it could be them today, you now ! You could lose your home through no fault of your own. You could easily become me ) In fact, I believe the worse is yet to come:welfare office bureaucrats overwhelmed with applicants (When they’re not protesting wearing their B.C.G.E.U. hats), wife battering behind closed doors, open gangsterism,not as bad as Wall Steet white collar crime pyramid/ponzi schemes

    What’s this all about, really, huh ? History ? The history of human relations hasn’t really changed much: capitalist vs. communist or whatever euphemism you choose. Visible (street people) vs, invisible (anyone who has a job is rich to someone lying in the gutter), all the way up to the top) crime.Why do the police, who are better informed than I am, target the poor many ask ? They are plainly visible, that’s why. And, they are repugnant to the State’s sensibilities, though the rich often claim to represent them. How can anyone “represent” anyone else anymore. You see why people don’t trust each other these days. They have lost their compassion in this often heartless, hopeless,
    devastatingly contradictory global village, from Commercial Drive, to Toronto, the streets of any American city to Jerusalem,the woods where skinheads, bikers, and evangelists, eco-environmentalists and W.H.Y. propagate. The sheer numbers of applicants or welfare claims never hit “us”,especially the Darwinian fit entrepreneurs in Point Grey, Langley or West Vancouver, ie. the remaining State at this moment. (and even a cursory analysis of criminological research, ie.socio-economic, political economic,psychological,commercial,etc. (try S.F.U.’s school of criminology website for example)will shed light on the need for meta analysis of interdisciplinary studies, which any computer ( a model for man of course)is well capable of doing these days. The web is the cake, and “we” (wishful thinking on my part I guess. Blame my sister)are the misled bakers, unless we read everything we can get our hands on, which is what any decent politician will do, and have the scholastic tools,critical analysis, to unmask the veneer of propriety behind often misinformed, spin-doctored lies about political-economic reality. Being all things to all people is, for the State, often an impossible task during the age of 1 second video/sound bytes, and as the history of both good and bad,ie, warfare and peace,has no doubt instructed us all,we assume our sides according to our material circumstances (Marx simplistic yet tasty basic theory, that materiality determines ideology, the foundation for the N.D.P. and social democratic movements world wide. As opposed to Hegel’s claim that it is the other way around (tell that to Bill Gates or VanderZalm))So just accept everyone’s interpretation of reality,don’t go nuts doing it, and educate yourselves about this moment in world history. The time, the moment,praxis,is finally here ! So, the shadows become lucid, crisp, the contradictions pop
    up like perogies in a vat of boiling water, and Tolle’s critique of ego alters our collective consciousness so suddenly, that only the esoteric few are capable of grasping it. Somewhat like the top and bottom 5 % on the bell curve, except the Internet has negated the validity and reliability of such ancient rituals, and has uncovered a basic flaw in the State’s often formal assumptions. The Bell curve was created using a mainly white middle class
    random sample, and as we all know, they are a world-wide minority.
    In fact, substantively, the poor really make up about 70% of B.C.’s population when official and unofficial stats are considered. Quite a huge constituency for an opportunist like me. (Google my name and u will see that I presented a brief to the Human Rights Commission’s Evelyn Wu about 20 years ago, based on the B.C. government’s own stats alone !)
    The moment has come for Manchurian candidates everywhere. Some will shoot bullets, others words. The Internet, like any fairly new C.I.A. invention, cxan be used for devastation like 911, or to get Barack Obama elected. People in general are better educated, informed and connected as a result of it, and of course, if you think about B.F. Skinner, Watson, Wundt (obscure cognitive psychologist who mapped the brain in the 19th century)(Read the bible, or Mein Kempf, the Torah, Mohammed’s Koran, or W.H.Y.. It doesn’t really matter, does it ? It all comes down to one thing, as I listen to the sirens outside while I type comfortably,securely, from the bastion of my subsidized enclave, having walked the good earth and the bad, felt the heat and cold, witnessed first-hand the horrors of subjection, the alienation of being a “Jew” on the street. Whose side are u on ?

    Stephen Blumstein

  5. Steve B,

    I’m on the side that seeks to benefit the most people in the least invasive way possible. This park reno isn’t about any of the things you are talking about. It’s actually not a complex issue at all. It’s about restoring the decaying infrastructure of a public space. That’s it. There is not hidden agenda here. There is not secret cabal of home-owners wringing their hands in greed.

    The only people most locals want to see pushed out of this park (if anyone) are drug dealers, and those who behave in a violent or intimidating manner. That’s it. And I stand by that. This stuff has no place in a public park. These individuals are of course welcome to use the park like everybody else, but they have to leave their business and attitudes elsewhere. If you want to call that fascist, go nuts. To argue that drug dealing in parks is okay, is just extreme left goofiness, and it’s no more rational than far right goofiness.

    The other issues you mention, and they are very serious, are not the domain of the Vancouver Parks Board. The people who are wasting their time fighting new benches would be better occupied calling on the city to restart it’s funding of housing co-ops, and trying to figure out a way to get more housing into the rental market. (Incentives, or penalties to investors who are happy to leave their condos empty).

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