I’ve been refraining from comment, putting off what I know I need to say. Because it makes me vulnerable. First it was because of a possible job. Then it was because of the potential impact to my business. But this has to be said.
Maybe I’m the most intimidated by the thought that my opinion will mean little, and cost me lots. But there is an opportunity right now, to protect a special kind of culture, that I believe is important.
I own a business in Railtown, a tiny little district of Vancouver – four blocks in fact.
We’re making headlines right now, because of a proposed occupancy designation adjustment.
The city is unpopular in their legislation right now – and maybe it’s their job to make unpopular decisions about development, and the greater good. As mayor Robertson said to me once, the job of a city is to progress, and develop, and when you do that job, people hate you for it.
Railtown is a special and significant place, in our development ethos. We have so little cultural industrial space left – which makes sense, in a way. We don’t manufacture atoms anymore – we can’t. We can’t compete in that landscape. More, cheaper. Not the right perspective for a modern North American city.
The proposal on the table is about modernizing our understanding of production, to include digital products. To respect that we are making things, and maybe even more responsibly, when they don’t have a physical outcome.
The DEICT designation is designed to include virtually every creative product manufacture. From video games to photography, and everything in between – Vancouver is trying to create a definition that respects and includes every sector.
What they’re missing in their communication is what they’re protecting us from. I believe, after much consideration, they’re protecting us from homogeny. They’re trying to create a definition that respects the real creative work that is happening here, from the hungry appetite of property developers, who realize that there is an insatiable appetite for the next great thing.
Railtown is the next great thing. Because it’s one of the last great things, in Vancouver.
To get specific for a moment – developers and owners are pushing for outright approval of general office usage – not to protect the development of the tech sector in Vancouver. But to bolster their profits. It is undeniably the most efficient route to profit, to have one tenant, with deep pockets, occupy as much space as possible.
Don’t believe them when they tell you that the city involvement in this issue is a play at social engineering. Don’t believe that their objective is to prevent us from developing a thriving tech industry.
In this one, specific instance, I believe that the city is working to protect the extraordinary culture that has developed in this very small area of this rapidly gentrifying city.
It’s four blocks. Four blocks of cultural significance in a very young, very unexpectedly pivotal city in this conversation.
You need not be fooled. This conversation is about revenue, not culture. The people fighting against this designation are not the business owners – they’re the property owners. They have the most to gain from turning Railtown into yaletown. Fewer tenants, higher revenues. It makes a lot of fiscal sense.
The details: no building can have more than 25% general office, outright approval. Meaning that under this proposed change, the people here have to actually be making a proven creative contribution to justify their occupancy.
This creative production designation includes almost every imaginable combination. Video games, photography, 3D animation. What it protects us against is the inflated cost, payable only by the administrative pencil pushers.
The conversation should be about the unbelievable power of commercial property owners in Vancouver. Commercial tenants have no recourse for dispute, except legal, which ultimately we cannot and do not want to afford. We are beholden to these owners, the majority of whom, I hate to bring the spector into the room, are white men of privilege.
Because that’s who owns property in Railtown.
We’re squarely set in a class divide, that no one feels comfortable in addressing.
I’m a white woman, of privilege. I’m educated, of my own device. I am not of a class to own property. But I own a business. And so maybe I can stake a little claim.
A manufacturing designation controls the cost per square foot, it’s undeniable. I could not have started my business in a neighbourhood with unfettered office usage occupancy. Those neighbourhoods charge in excess of $30 per square foot. When I took my “basement suite” two years ago, it was $15 psf, with an operating cost of an additional $6. That has inflated to $9, uncontrolled in the last year. You shouldn’t know what that means, so don’t be intimidated. The main takeaway is that I’ve had an increase of almost $2000 a month that I had no way of accounting for, though I have a commercial lease.
As small business owners, how are we expected to survive? You want to talk about supporting the growth of tech – let’s start here.
Innovation is punished, by the incessant hunger of development. You need to grow more than 1/3 of a building? You have an entire city to do that in.
Companies aren’t abandoning Railtown for other cities. They’re moving to Mount Pleasant. That comes with its own issues, to be sure.
We’re suffering right now from a straw man argument. This is a battle cry. There’s almost no space left to protect for our creative industries. There is literally no space left to begin. Protect this area. It’s an area designed to begin in. Stand with me. Stand with us. There is no advantage to pushing the agenda of general office, except for lining the pockets of property owners. Do we really want that?
What else can I say, except that we have a unique opportunity right now. To speak to the city. To tell them it’s important to protect what we’re building here. Explain to them that we’re standing together, that we understand the importance of history, of foundation. The last thing we want is to create another area just like the others. I’m hopeful that we want to preserve one small pocket of history, while moving forward.
Protect this thing with me. It’s worth protecting. This is a moment where I feel that the city has our best interests at heart. Don’t let this moment pass you by.