“Today cops came to the whale wall when no one was there with a garbage truck and took many supplies of the camp. They are now down to only five tents when 6-20 people sleep here per night on average and are desperately short on linens, sleeping bags, sleeping mats. This is a constant issue at the camp, where cops wait until only one or two people are around and then steal everyone’s stuff and trash it. People have lost all of their clothes, possessions, important personal items, and the things they need to sleep warm in these cold nights. This is threatening the lives of people, who are exposed to extremely cold weather, wind, and rain. It is a brutal and inhumane response of cops.” – report from Reeson Park, March 18, 2017
Public spaces aren’t here to service luxury developments
As a response to rapid gentrification of downtown, the City of Victoria is preparing a “new vision” for Reeson Park, also known as the Whale Wall. This park has for many years been used by members of the street community. It is one of the few public spaces left in downtown where people who are homeless can shelter at night and rest and socialize during the day. The City is proposing to turn this area into a highly controlled, managed park that prioritizes the needs of tourists and people living in luxury condos next to the park. This initiative is part of the ‘Johnson Street Gateway’, a combined effort of the City of Victoria and private developers to gentrify and rebrand the area around the Johnson Street bridge. In the architectural plans shown in a 2015 presentation by the Downtown Residents Association, Reeson Park is an extension of the 114 luxury condos planned for the ‘Northern Junk’ site. Homeless people don’t fit into the plan for luxury housing. “Nice designs, but until you get rid of the clientele currently frequenting Reeson Park, it won’t attract anyone in their right mind. Have you been down there on a Friday night? Nice little camp ground its turning in to.” – Simon H, in Vibrant Victoria discussion about Johnson Street Gateway development
But Can’t Everyone Use A Park?
No. Stigma and discrimination towards the street community means that people who look, dress and act a certain way are unable to use ‘public’ space and are treated poorly when they do. During construction, the people who currently rest and camp in this park will be displaced, with nowhere else to go. Also, a City Bylaw preventing camping near playgrounds means that this park would likely be exempt from 7pm-7am allowable camping and be permanently off limits for those who are seeking shelter in a housing crisis. The language of parks and playgrounds, deliberately appealing to children and families, masks the intentional displacement embedded in this design proposal. The reality is that people who are deemed undesirable will face more stigma, surveillance, and criminalization if this park redesign goes ahead.
No Gentrification Of Reeson Park (The Whale Wall)
Stop turning Victoria into rich people’s playground
Why Is This Happening?
The City of Victoria’s Downtown Core Area Plan talks about supporting a “socio-economically inclusive community”. But what’s actually happening is a very different reality: low-income people, especially people who are visibly poor and socially marginalized, are being driven out of the inner city in the name of economic development. Cranes fill the skyline as real estate developers, seeking to capitalize on the explosion of housing prices in Vancouver, race to build luxury housing and commercial buildings. Whether a new build, demoviction or renoviction, renters are being displaced into a market of 0.5% vacancy rates and no affordable housing. To create the vision of a progressive city attractive to business and residential investment, the City must erase the visible signs of poverty and homelessness. People who are sleeping outside are subjected to daily displacement, harassment, and seizure and destruction of personal belongings. Shelters and other services used by people living in poverty are being pushed out of areas considered desirable to developers into more remote industrial areas. High-end businesses are replacing more affordable stores and services. Public spaces that were once open to everyone are being turned into highly managed spaces hostile to people who don’t conform to middle class norms. The City requires buildings and public spaces be designed with elements that dissuade homeless people from sitting, sleeping, or taking refuge, such as spiked surfaces, gated alcoves, and benches-for-one. It’s clear who is and who is not included in the City’s “new vision”.
Oppose The City’s Plan.
Fill out the survey on the City of Victoria website (due March 31): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/reesonpark and send letters to: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Encourage them to talk with the people living in the park about ways to provide infrastructure that supports rather than displaces homeless people.