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B.C. architect building toward a solution for everyone

From Monday's Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — Gregory Henriquez is a Vancouver architect and author of Towards an Ethical Architecture. He designed the Woodward's building, a mixed-income development in the Downtown Eastside. The project is a bold experiment: When it opens later this year, the development will see wealthy condo dwellers living cheek by jowl with the poor, who occupy 200 subsidized units.

Tell me about the first time you saw the Downtown Eastside. What surprised you?

My father's architecture office was always in Gastown and as a child I worked there many weekends and every summer. Today, I am his partner and our office is just three blocks from the Woodward's redevelopment site. When I was young, it was safe to be sent off on errands to Woodward's or Army & Navy [discount store]. It just felt like the gritty part of downtown, it was exciting compared to Oakridge, where we lived.

 What is at the root of the neighbourhood's problems?

Poverty, mental health issues, drug addiction and lack of affordable housing.

Why has a decade of heavy spending by government failed to fix the problems?

These are not problems that are easily "fixed," but much has been done. I know the needed affordable housing has not been built. Homelessness can be ended, but it requires the desire to do so. We are a rich and talented society; surely we can house the homeless.

What must be done?

The first step is to end homelessness and provide all citizens with a safe, affordable home. The next step is to ensure the appropriate support structures are in place to help people who cannot help themselves. In concert, we need creative mixed-use developments, which bring real body heat back to the street that will open up the retail on Hastings again.

What must be avoided?

Gentrification without housing for everyone. Inclusive communities are meaningful only when the most disadvantaged are taken care of first.

Do you think the 2010 Winter Games will have a positive or negative impact on the Downtown Eastside and why?

Not sure. I do not think the Olympics are connected in any way to the Downtown Eastside.

How can your areas of expertise (architecture, private-sector development, education) help the neighbourhood?

All any of us can do is lobby our politicians to fund the needed housing. As architects, we can try to innovate and provide options, which create affordable alternatives, or inclusive communities (like Woodward's), which can inspire individuals to lobby for change and live together in peace and harmony.

If your proposals are followed, what will the Downtown Eastside look like in 10 years?

One dream is that all neighbourhoods in Vancouver include a broad section of socio-economic groups housed in beautiful buildings that suit their needs. The Woodward's redevelopment is a step toward this dream. It includes market housing, family non-market, single room occupancy replacement non-market housing, and 10 units of Vancouver Resource Society housing for [people with physical disabilities].

This vision is of a truly "inclusive city." In this future city, the most disadvantaged are taken care of and housed beside the rest of us.

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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 UBC’s 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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