After nearly three years of community consultation, surveys, public meetings and planning the Hastings Crossing BIA (HxBIA) is in full swing. Though it represents only one quadrant of the DTES, it’s the last piece of the puzzle in this historic part of the city, filling a longstanding geographic gap between Strathcona BIA, Gastown BIA, Chinatown and Downtown Vancouver BIA. HxBIA began out of a sense of necessity in one respect and out of the realization of the incredible potential a BIA could bring to the overall community picture if it was founded with creative but sensible ideas and respectful intentions.
As an organization that represents the business community in our area we aim to bridge the needs and wants of those businesses and property owners with the capacity of nearby residents to provide a host of valuable services and products. We also aim to better connect businesses to each other and the numerous community organizations, non-profits, social enterprises, arts groups and post secondary institutions that we work with to create mutually beneficial opportunities. We support and create initiatives focusing on the health and resilience of the local economy, the management of the built environment, stewardship of the natural environment of which it is intertwined with, and the cultural and social development of our area.We represent businesses as an organization that values, promotes and advocates for a healthy and robust local economy but is also inclusive of the broader community in which we operate. Strong partnerships with social enterprises and non-profits plays a prominent role in helping us achieve this. It’s written into our business plan, and even our constitution and bylaws. We also work closely with the City, it’s staff and planners, and the other 21 BIAs in Vancouver on areas of shared concern and opportunity.
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a truly fascinating and important place. Fascinating because of the diverse range of people who live here today and who have in the past, because of its amazing history and because of the many businesses, social enterprises and artists who make this their home and have invested in this area.
As one who has lived and worked in the area for the better half of a decade I can say from my own point of view that the Downtown Eastside is truly a community of communities. What do I mean by that? The DTES is home to a low-income community, an artistic community, an Aboriginal community, a Chinese community, a young professional community and a business community, among many others. All these communities have their own interests, their own goals and hopes, fears and concerns. And between all of them there are opportunities for partnerships and collaboration to reach shared goals; of which I have always believed there are more of than competing ones. One can be a member of more than one of these communities at once I might add.
It’s important, for many reasons really. Any community is important if you care about people, but this one is particularly important because it’s a crucible where the pressures put on urban communities and the fragility this causes are crystallized. It exists at the crossroads between the creative potential that the free market offers, enabling ideas to flourish into businesses and into entire economic sectors, and the damage that this same system can do to any and all who experience the often merciless externalities it produces. Whether these be from calculated risks taken by large corporations, unforeseen consequences, or caused by the dynamics of supply, demand, and/or speculation, communities around the world have experienced the profound and often sudden impacts of the capitalist market system in varying forms.
In a highly concentrated urban area like Vancouver’s DTES (and there more around the world every year as we continue to live in an increasingly urbanized world) this has resulted in changes to employment sectors, namely automation of the resource and manufacturing sectors, the increasing importance of service based jobs and the rise of the information or creative/quaternary sector, rising costs of living, influxes of outsider investment, migration, mobility and a host of other phenomena. These can all create imbalances and other socioeconomic impacts as communities adjust.The DTES, like many other North American inner-cities, was not spared from such trends. But in the past several years some amazing entrepreneurs, non-profits and community leaders have worked with multiple levels of government, foundations and other stakeholders to revitalize much of this area in a way that strives to be inclusive of the existing population. And it’s shown. Some of the city’s most talked about businesses call this area home, and are now members of the Association which represents it.
But I’m not here to write another thesis on the DTES, there have been plenty of those done already. I’m just trying to frankly and honestly introduce this awesome BIA that has been thoughtfully assembled by business and community leaders whom I’ve had the privilege of learning from and working with in the past two years since I became involved with its formation. It would be much easier to write a 500 word post saying we’re open for business, share with you a list of the incredible restaurants, shops, galleries, schools and parks that we as an association support and promote, and tell you that this is a great place to shop, dine, catch a gig, an art opening or go for a drink after work. And it definitely is! But being that this is the first post on our blog I thought it appropriate to be open and up front. We’re pro-business, but we’re also more than that.
Vancouver’s DTES is not some island set apart from the province, the country or even the global economy for that matter. The hardships and triumphs the various communities at work in this area experience are connected to an increasingly complex web of flows, competing interests, values and ideologies that all influence the economy, public health and safety, families, the elderly, and an increasingly multicultural urban demographic. What we can do as a BIA is limited when considering the magnitude and complexity of all the factors that influence, impede or accelerate urban development, but this being said there are many things we are excited to be a part of. There are initiatives that we’re excited to champion. There are events we are excited to support. There are a host of people in our BIA and throughout this incredible city that we look forward to partnering with. In fact we’ve already begun, in earnest.
We hope that you’ll work with us too as we discover the potential we have to evoke positive outcomes here in our historic and colourful corner of the city, support the health and development of our local economy and celebrate the incredible cultural capital at work here. Come down and visit us if you’re not already here and see for yourself.