What’s in a name? Study criticizes planning of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by examining place names

By Marina Wang

A new study uses critical toponymy, or the historical and political implications of place-naming, as a lens to critique Vancouver Downtown Eastside’s Local Area Planning Process (LAPP). The study examined how various naming conventions around the neighborhood has generated local territorial conflicts, depoliticized community activism and appropriated race and class-based displacements in the revitalization of “Japantown”.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has long been associated with crime, drug use and poverty, with various government planning programs attempting to mitigate the area’s litany of problems throughout the years. The study examined the Local Area Planning Process that occurred between 2011 and 2014.

“Participants began the planning process with hopes of generating a vision for a mutually beneficial, socially just community in the heart of Vancouver, and the consultation process was indeed able to engage a diverse cross section of residents in that important conversation,” reads the study. “Yet across a series of moments, it became clear to participants that the material and discursive assemblage of the Downtown Eastside was transforming in ways that were contrary to community led visions, and the LAPP (Local Area Planning Process) demonstrated to participants the planning intentions for the community and the inadequacy of the response considering the minefield of DTES (Downtown Eastside) concerns.

The article discussed three distinct occurrences within the planning process. First off, in 2011 the City of Vancouver released a map of a newly designated “Downtown Eastside Communities” that grouped Chinatown, Gastown and Strathcona together with the impoverished Downtown Eastside. This new definition served to destabilize local activist work toward maintaining a coherent community.

In addition, affluent neighboring communities such as Strathcona and Gastown opposed being labelled alongside Downtown Eastside. “When you think of Gastown you don’t think of the Downtown Eastside – you think like, cobblestone streets and high-end fashion, great coffee shops…They don’t want you to think IV drug users and Insite [supervised drug injection clinic] or like, people selling blocks of cheese and old jackets on the street,” said a Business Improvement Area representative that was quoted in the study.

Secondly, the area surrounding Main and Hastings was designated a “Community Based Development Area” within the “Downtown Eastside Communities” and was given a different development trajectory from its neighbors. According to the study, “this toponymic segmentation discouraged fruitful discussion around the shared future of communities and instead channeled conversation into turf wars and border patrolling, creating a situation where divisiveness pre-empted cooperation.”

Thirdly, the Local Area Planning Process included the formation of a “Japantown” within the “Community Based Development Area” in 2013. During consultations with Japanese-Canadian community members, “some became hesitant when they realized that their own history could be co-opted into an agenda that would lead to the dispossession of current low-income residents through gentrification,” according to the study.

The study found that eventually, a cooperative strategy was formed between some low-income residents and Japanese Canadian groups to restore historic buildings and fund social housing.

The study was published earlier this year in the journal Environment and Planning C.

2 Responses to What’s in a name? Study criticizes planning of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by examining place names

  1. nonconfidencevote says:

    Soooooo
    The marginalized, drug addicted, mentally challenged people living in the Downtown Eastside are supposed feel better if they can tell people they live in “Japantown” or “Gastown”?

    Give me a break.

    These people are worring about overdosing, starving, beatings, shelter, arrest, on and on and on.

    Another “study” that is absolutely ridiculous.

    “Topyonomic assembleages”…yawn.

    Well done. They must have googled Latin dictionaries for the most long winded BS title for their “study” on “Place Names”.
    What do they do at parties?
    Impress people with their ability to urinate University grants against a wall?
    Reminds me of the $400,000 “study” to determine why Pizza Boxes keep pizza warm.
    Or
    Why pink cars are the safest color of car to drive because they are involved in the least amount of accidents. ( seen a pink car lately?).

    Useless drivel inserted next to volumes of other useless drivel in the Library of the Inane located in the Academy of Sloth.

    Instead of pontificating about place names that mean less than nothing to a drug addict looking for his next fix…..

    How about a study on Real Estate Sales Monopolies?

    The eradication of the objectivity of “Fifth Estate”?

    Or, if you actually create a study worth reading…. will your University tenure/funding be yanked?

  2. Joe says:

    Who cares what the name is. As long as it doesn’t cost a million dollars.

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