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2006 Maxwell Studentship Recipient - Cory Dobson

Curbing gentrification
Cory Dobson spent the past year exploring the quirky shops, cafés and historic homes in the Grandview-Woodlands area of Vancouver. A recipient of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Maxwell Studentship in Human Geography, he is studying how the east-end neighbourhood retained its unique character and kept gentrification at bay.

Gentrification, which involves the replacement of one social group with another, has traditionally meant the ousting of the working class by the wealthier middle class. While gentrification may bring increased property values and the perception of lower crime rates and safer streets, it often does so at the expense of affordable housing, independent businesses and support services, such as drop-in centres.

Despite Grandview-Woodlands’ proximity to downtown Vancouver and the influx of young residents, the area has diversified without reducing its base of affordable housing units. “We’re seeing what appears to be a successful community resistance to gentrification,” says Dobson, a master’s student in human geography at the University of British Columbia, “probably because the residents want to preserve the diversity.”

Historically, the area is no stranger to change. At the turn of the 19th century, it boomed with British tradesmen. Following the First World War, Chinese, Italian and eastern European immigrants transformed the area into a multicultural community. Today, it is one of the most vibrant market regions in Canada, with a mixture of industrial, single-family and multi-family residences. Commercial Drive, the 15-block-long spine of the neighbourhood, supports 300 eclectic businesses, most owner-operated. “One of the strengths of Commercial Drive is its diversity,” says Dobson. “We’ve always had a great mix here.”

Vancouver developers may pay a penalty when tearing down or renovating singleroom units in the downtown core. Montréal and Toronto are encouraging builders to designate at least 20 percent of new projects for affordable housing. But Dobson says these strategies are not enough. By comparing heavily gentrified areas in Vancouver, such as Kitsilano, with communities like Grandview-Woodlands that not experienced thesocio-economic shift, he hopes to identify factors that will help communities retain affordable housing.

“There is a lot of pressure for development in Vancouver, but it’s getting to the point where there is no place for people to live,” says Dobson. “When society places an emphasis on preserving affordable housing, it can have a huge impact.”

— Andréa Ventimiglia

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