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Earlier Discussion

Aprodicio Laquian: The international development solution

Globe and Mail Update

Nearly $1.5-billion in public spending since 2000 and little to show for it — that's the story of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The Globe is pleased to introduce four experts who will lay out fresh solutions for the neighbourhood. Each will join us online to take your questions and participate in a live panel discussion March 24 at the University of British Columbia.

The forum will be hosted at 7 p.m. (10 p.m. ET) at UBC's Robson Square campus by The Globe, in partnership with CTV and the university. For tickets, call toll-free 1-866-545-0016.

Aprodicio Laquian is an emeritus professor of human settlement at the University of British Columbia and author of Beyond Metropolis, a book exploring ways to improve the lives of slum-dwellers in mega-cities such as Mumbai and Manila. In 1991 he moved to Vancouver from New York.

Read his thoughts on a "universal solution" for the Downtown Eastside.

Professor Laquian joined us online to answer your questions. Questions and answers appear below (remember to refresh your page).

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Brodie Fenlon, Thanks for joining us Professor Laquian. We appreciate your time. I'll turn it over to the readers.

Joseph Fry from Richmond writes: I read Professor Laquian's comments with interest and agree with his assessment of the difficulties of finding solutions for the DTES. One other influence that has contributed to the situation in the area that should not be overlooked is the forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians from that neighbourhood in 1942. Those properties in and around Powell Street were confiscated by the federal government and eventually created a disproportionate amount of social housing in the area, while destroying what was once a thriving and diverse community. The unfortunate fallout from these events likely couldn't be foreseen, but perhaps an equally impactful solution would be for the federal government to provide investment for property in the area to house artists-in-residence housing, cooperatives, and business incubators for the arts community that has already established itself here. Doing so could be a catalyst for positive change that IS predictable and can reverse the impacts of previous naive decisions. [Your thoughts Professor Laquian?]

Aprodicio Laquian: You are right in pointing out the erosion of a true sense of community in the Downtown Eastside by the forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians in 1942. However, the problems in the DTES were also caused by other factors such as people moving into the DTES after being displaced from other parts of Vancouver because of mega-projects, the availability of low-cost accommodation (like SROs), the attraction of illegal drugs, and the chance to lead an "alternative" lifestyle. As for the federal government providing the programs you mentioned, this may be extremely difficult because Ottawa has "downloaded" the responsibility for housing, health, and other relevant programs to provincial, city and municipal governments. The solution to DTES problems requires the combined efforts of the province of B.C., Vancouver City, Metro Vancouver, the private sector, civil society groups and the residents of DTES themselves. Public-private investments could be excellent mechanisms for supporting the artists-in-residence housing, cooperatives and business incubator programs you suggested.

Sandra Goth from Cobble Hill writes: I appreciate Mr. Laquian's article and it reflects the wisdom that has been lived out in other jurisdictions of Canada. There is nothing new in what is stated. Tamarack, an Institution for community engagement, has supported, showcased, and furthered great wisdom throughout our country particularly in poverty reduction and multi-sectoral solutions. I urge the understanding of what has worked in Canada rather than, as is the general response by Canadian governments, importing 'solutions' from other cultures. There is no magic bullet in dealing with the issues of the DTES and governments will need to slow down to speed up - plan well and commit to short, medium and large term actions. Make sure the majority of stakeholders consulted are those who live and work in the DTES. Question: What is uniquely Canadian in the DTES? What strengths can we work with and how do we best continue a discourse internally in our country so our mega-cities learn from each other?

Aprodicio Laquian: Knowing how other countries deal with their urban problems broadens our outlook so I don't see anything wrong in learning from their experiences. I agree that the blind adoption of "solutions" from other cultures will not work in the DTES but there are ideas and models from many countries that may help — provided they are adapted to the existing situation in the DTES. I don't see too many things that are "uniquely Canadian" in the DTES — abject poverty, physical and mental illness, drug addiction, and the mix of multi-ethnic and multicultural groups in a community are all found in other cities of the world. Some major strengths in Canadian society are: the willingness of ordinary people to get involved in community and public affairs, the excellent communication system that makes it possible to exchange good ideas, the ability of citizens to exert political pressure on politicians, and the aversion to graft and corruption. Most Canadian citizens are already engaged in learning from each other through various initiatives. In fact, in many countries all over the world, the planning and governance of Canadian cities are held as models of efficiency as well as participatory democracy and Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities. This is why it is so disappointing that these Canadian strengths have not been effectively applied to solve the problems of the DTES. While I agree that the majority of stakeholders in the DTES should be consulted, limiting the consultation to them will be counter productive because what happens in the DTES affects the lives of residents in Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and other parts of Canada. The problems in the DTES cannot be solved within the area alone.

Robert Harris from Canada writes: Is the first priority co-ordinating the efforts of the three levels of government? Considering that there are 175 social support agencies spending one million dollars a day, should one level of government take overall responsibility? Who should we put political pressure on to take control of the situation?

Aprodicio Laquian: While solving the problems in DTES requires coordinating the efforts of three levels of government, the primary responsibility lies with the City of Vancouver. Since Mayor Robertson campaigned on the basis of his program to solve problems associated with homelessness, public security and environmental sustainability, the Mayor's office is the logical point for political pressure. The bulk of resources for dealing with DTES, however, are under the control of the province of B.C. and the federal government and the City Government should lobby mightily to gain access to these. One must also remember that the private sector (domestic and foreign) has the capital resources and technical expertise for investing in housing, commerce, tourism and other employment generating and income producing ventures that may accelerate the development in the DTES. The dedicated efforts of volunteer groups and civil society advocates are also valuable resources that should be tapped.

Jason Dyck from Saskatoon writes: What are some of the new protocols and or procedures that could be put into place to help those that have substance abuse issues in the Downtown Eastside?? Please explain?

Aprodicio Laquian: The main issue in this area is institutionalization or re-institutionalization of people who have substance abuse. The old approach has been to treat addicts in hospital or other confined environments. Under the harm reduction program launched in Vancouver, safe injection sites were opened in the DTES. Based on the partial information available, the results of this initiative have been quite mixed, with claims being made for and against the effectiveness of the program. One effective approach used in various countries is the opening of relatively small treatment centres that are staffed by doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counselors, physiotherapist and other professionals to treat drug addiction and rehabilitate addicts until they are able to join mainstream society as productive members. The Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, for example, has 140 staff members to serve about 100 individuals afflicted with substance abuse. Admittedly, this is an expensive approach but if the financial, social, economic and environmental costs of substance abuse in the DTES are fully considered, the approach can be cost-effective. I understand that the B.C. provincial government is pursuing similar programs and it is worth mentioning that they are not confined to the DTES area.

D C from Toronto writes: I'm curious about the effectiveness of the safe-injection site(s) opened in Vancouver. Obviously, it is a controversial idea and I want to know how effective these sites really are. I understand the sites are meant to protect both the general public and the users from theft - turning to crime, physical violence, disease, etc. I am sure if we built drunk driving lanes with heavily padded barriers on either side, there would be fewer injuries to the general public from impaired drivers and probably fewer/less severe injuries to those intoxicated when they drive - yet we don't do this. I can understand the argument (pro the sites) if we were seeing tangible benefits, but it wouldn't seem to have been overly effective given this line of stories. What stats are there to show decline in crime, prostitution, HIV infections, etc. since the program started and how many people have managed to kick their habit since the program has started? Are these sites really doing something materially more than giving an addict a clean needle?

Aprodicio Laquian: As far as I know, there has been no comprehensive and thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the Safe Injection Site program. Supporters and advocates claim it has been effective and have lobbied to continue the program's funding. Detractors share your view that it has not been effective. Personally, I believe that a more thorough evaluation of claims and counter claims that provide statistically valid answers to the questions you raised has to be done by the city. What is obvious, however, is that if economic, social, housing and poverty reduction measures are not implemented in the DTES, the safe injection site program will only have limited effectiveness because drug addiction is only a part of the overall problem in the area.

Anti Fascist from Canada writes: How to fix the Downtown Eastside? Why not give Canadians a guaranteed standard of living so that the people who reside in the DTES can afford to go back to the places they came from to live. I think that would be a start. Remember the residents of that area were not born in the DTES, they come from everywhere, from Cornerbrook to to Kyoquot. They come because it's warmer, you die on the street in winter elsewhere in Canada. [Your thoughts Professor Laquian?]

Aprodicio Laquian: In Canada where freedom of movement is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedom, there is no way we can make residents of DTES return to their original place of origin and stay there even with a guaranteed income and standard of living. This is why changing the situation in the DTES is important so that it will not become a magnet attracting these types of migrants.

George Smiley from Canada writes: Improving the Downtown Eastside is not the same as changing the behaviour of the current residents of the Downtown Eastside. The real estate/community problem is simple, the people problem is probably beyond any currently known solution. The current population will likely be moved along, while the DTES becomes gentrified. I recall it happening in areas such as Tribeca and Soho in NYC, and in many areas of London.

Aprodicio Laquian: You are correct in observing that a solution to the problems in the DTES is not the same as changing the behaviour of the current residents. However, how can one improve the conditions in the DTES if some of the current residents are not moved along? Is it more humane for Canadian society to keep the homeless, the physically and mentally ill, and the drug addicted to continue living as they currently do in the DTES? Contrary to what you said, there are some known solutions to the people problem but they are vilified as "gentrification." Solving the DTES problem will require the in-migration of more people to make it a more "balanced" community in terms of age cohorts, gender, income levels, educational attainment, employment, family composition, etc. It will also mean changing the types of housing in the area as well as commercial activities, employment opportunities, social services and other factors that make for a more livable and vibrant community. The examples of Tribeca and Soho you mentioned are replicated in inner city redevelopment projects all over the world (the Tokyo waterfront, Shanghai's Nanjing Road, Hanoi's Hong Khiem Lake area) as well as in Toronto's Cabbage Town, Vancouver's Yaletown and Coal Harbour, Boston's Waterfront, New York City's Times Square, etc. that are all cited as very successful urban redevelopment projects.

Grampa Canuck from Belleville writes: I'm pleased to see the item about improving the lives of slum dwellers. Most urban 'renewal' is just an activity in evicting the impoverished to make way for the yuppie classes, without a thought about where the poor will live, if anywhere. The poor have been a class that we want to keep invisible and off the radar, so most development is aimed solely at making them go away.

Aprodicio Laquian: Urban renewal does not necessarily mean driving the poor away to make room for the yuppies. Many successful urban redevelopment projects I know improve the lives of the poor where they live. This can be done by providing affordable housing, basic services and amenities in the improved area. Considering the high value of land in the DTES, redevelopment can generate enough resources to cross-subsidize programs to help the current residents stay there. Many of the poor people who can live independently will find a better life in a safer, cleaner and more economically viable DTES that is an integral part of a livable Vancouver.

Brodie Fenlon, We've used up all of our time. Thank you again Professor Laquian. Readers can continue the discussion here on the comments thread to the main article.

Recommend this article? 14 votes

Return to Canada’s Slum:The Fix

Speak your mind

With the 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver, the eyes of the world will be on the city's Downtown Eastside. The millions poured into the neighbourhood seem to have had little impact on its squalor, its people or their problems with addiction. What should be done? Where would you start? How would you fix Canada's slum?


Public Forum:

On March 24 at 7 p.m. PT, The Globe, in partnership with CTV and the University of British Columbia, will bring together experts with fresh solutions for the Downtown Eastside at a public forum at UBCs Robson Square campus.


For tickets, call toll-free 1-866-545-0016.
Update (March 6, 2009): Tickets are now SOLD OUT


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