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From "contested space" to "shared place" : options for public realm enhancement in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Franks, Jennifer Anne

Abstract

The primary objective of this thesis is to examine the opportunities and constraints for transforming "contested" public space into "shared" place in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. This examination is informed by: a literature review of public space theory; a review of City of Vancouver policies pertaining to public space conditions in the Downtown Eastside; a case study of community-driven public realm initiatives in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington; personal experience both working in, and observing conditions in the Downtown Eastside, and a review of current initiatives in the area that are working towards improving the public realm in the area while building consensus between opposing community groups. This research indicates that public spaces play an important role in the everyday lives of city dwellers, particularly for those who, due to homelessness and poverty, rely on public space for recreation and socialization, and in many cases, to live. However, as the central city is becoming an increasingly attractive place to live for middle and upper income households, conflicts can ensue over who has the "right" to use the public realm. What often occurs is the exclusion of the poor and marginalized segment of the population to "make way" for amenities that serve higher income residents and visitors. Conditions in the Downtown Eastside have deteriorated, yet at the same time, development both within and around the area has created distrust and hostility between different community groups. However, recent initiatives are working to make improvements while building trust between different, often hostile community groups. Ideally, planning for the public realm should have a significant amount of community involvement and control. The case study of Pioneer Square indicates that this is possible, although a sufficient amount of trust and consensus is needed from the outset. While the Downtown Eastside possesses many attributes which provide opportunities for public realm improvements, planners from outside the community should play a significant role in any initiatives, due to the lack of consensus and tension between community interests.

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