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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban revitalization and healthy public spaces, a critical discourse analysis Haber, Rebecca


In the past decade, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) has been the target of the Vancouver Agreement and the DTES Revitalization Program – two programs aiming to revitalize the neighbourhood and create a healthy community. Planning interventions in public spaces have a unique position in this environment. Public spaces should be accessible to all; however, in the process of revitalization, low-income or otherwise marginalized residents are frequently excluded. The purpose of my thesis was to critically assess the way revitalization efforts in the DTES envision healthy public spaces and contribute to (in)equitable conditions in the area. I have done this by describing how the language used in urban revitalization planning compares to the dialogue of low-income residents in representing public spaces in the DTES. The use of language (i.e., discourse) contributes to understandings of places and their inhabitants. Features such as grammar and sentence structure reveal what issues are highlighted or suppressed, what assumptions are made, and how actions are justified. I used critical discourse analysis to analyze two sets of texts: 1) planning documents from the Vancouver Agreement and DTES Revitalization Program and 2) 6 interviews and 1 focus group with local residents on healthy and unhealthy places in their neighbourhood. My results show that while the planning texts present revitalization outcomes as uniformly positive (e.g., economic revitalization, participation, and visibility of public spaces), resident interviews highlight aspects that serve to marginalize individuals (e.g., displacing homeless people) or eliminate activities that currently fulfill everyday needs (e.g., buying goods from street vendors). The planning texts combine the goals of community health and increased economic activity in the DTES; however, interviewees separate these goals and identify ways they are incompatible. In this way, the planning texts do not acknowledge inequality, and low-income residents do not recognize revitalization’s purported benefits. Community health and local planning are connected, but the goal of improving health may not be compatible with some planning imperatives. This highlights the need to exercise caution in integrating health and planning efforts and ensure that community improvements are equitable, prioritizing people who need them most.

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