Friday, March 27, 2009

Windows on Vancouver

This is the Little Mountain public housing complex in East Vancouver.

My fellow X-Philes may recognise Little Mountain as one of the locations in last year's "I Want to Believe". It was used as the exterior set for the lodgings where Father Joe and other convicted sex offenders stayed, and was described by the character as a "hell hole". In the movie, the darkness and snow did conspire to make some of the scruffier buildings look like a less than desirable residence.

The "hell hole" description is horribly unfair to Little Mountain as a whole though. I cycle past it every day and have always thought that it looked like a really nice community.

See? By the park, mountain view, lots of trees and green spaces, places for kids to play, boarded up windows...

Wait, what?

It happened almost overnight. From lively community with children playing, parents barbequeing, and people tending their gardens and otherwise living their lives, to deserted ghost-town, the quiet disturbed only by joggers and geese.

I searched for a news story that day, telling me what had happened - but found nothing. Not that day, and not that week. About a month later I happened to pick up one of Vancouver's free papers, the Metro, and finally found an article about Little Mountain.

With a sinking feeling of inevitability, I learned that the city plans to tear the houses down and build a new condo complex. BUT - not for another two or three years. Even assuming that the development still goes ahead (the Vancouver condo market has taken a big hit recently), why move families out of what are apparently completely structurally sound homes? The former residents allege that they were pressured to move out, and understandably, they are not happy.

The city's policy is just plain crazy. Despite recent dips in the market, buying property here is still way beyond the reach of most people. On two decent salaries, Mr E Man and I could barely afford our own home, a small stucco box in a wee bit of a rough neighbourhood. And the vacancy rate for rentals is ridiculously low. Vancouver has a massive homeless population already, due to being one of the few places in Canada where people can survive a winter on the streets. Addiction and mental health problems run rampant. Why add to the problem?

I hope all the families of Little Mountain found somewhere else to live. And I hope our new mayor, Gregor Robertson, lives up to his campaign promises on tackling homelessness.


The former residents, joined by political activists, have chosen to articulate their feelings through art. It's an amazing expression of their grief for what once was; their wish to reclaim their homes and recreate their community.

Some people have created generalised illustrations of the concept we call "home";

while others have opted for a more personal touch;

and I've noticed more political statements creeping in recently.

It's so beautiful in there, so peaceful, and so heartbreakingly sad.


ETA: I found a website for a group called Community Advocates for Little Mountain, and signed their online petition. Just FYI.


  1. UGH. This kind of thing makes me so mad. WHY WHY would you kick people out of their homes for condos planned 2-3 years from now in the midst of a freaking global recession?!

    Who knows if they'll even have the money to finance the condos ever. Meanwhile those cute homes will go from cute to decrepit.


    Sorry, I'm a tad dramatic. I've been reading too much policy lately. Isn't it amazing how many bad policies governments can come up with?

  2. I KNOW!!!

    This all started before the recession, but even so, I just don't understand their thinking at all.

  3. Awesome post! I noticed the boarding up a few months ago (it is on one of my regular run routes) and it was heartbreaking to think of all the families that have been displaced. I had HOPED it was because they were going to upgrade the housing, but in my heart I knew it wasn't so.

    I was literally in tears one night as I ran past, and noticed that many people had had to abandon their pets in the move....some were still in the area and trying to get through the 'windows' into their old homes. I can understand that when a family gets involuntarily relocated they can't always worry about their animals, but it still got to me.

  4. How sad... It is always the people with little means that get hit the hardest...

  5. Mermaid, now it's even sadder than I'd realised (I haven't seen any pets myself since the homes were abandoned). I guess it's not really surprising though; rental vacancies are scarce, rental vacancies that allow pets even more so.

    SG, too true. And so unnecessary in this case.

  6. I don't get a lot of things... but this is one of those things I really really don't understand.

    It is just so cruel to make people relocate (to where? and what?) when the places they were living in weren't even that bad... or at least habitable...

    i am so sorry. I think I know where in Vancouver this is, form my time there... although I didn't run there...

  7. Money talks, and it sucks.

    Little Mountain is just East of QE Park, by the Nat Bailey baseball stadium.

  8. I don't get it. we have such huge problem in regards to the lack of affordable housing. why remove people from a vibrant community. Especially if nothing is being done for years..

    the x-files movies was so frustratingly stupid.

  9. That's just so dumb. The place I now live in badly needs such a scheme - I do mean moving people out of dilapidated, old, impractical housing and into something more practical and energy efficient and, well, nice. To do it where it isn't needed, simply dumb, especially for the condo market in the current economic climate.

    Affordable housing is a huge problem in the UK as well.

  10. Sad story, moving art they are making. I signed the petition; it didn't say anything about what country I was from! So I guess anyone can sign.

  11. SM: "Especially if nothing is being done for years.."

    That's the least understandable part of the whole thing, at least for me. Even if the market hadn't taken a hit, they weren't planning to start for another year.

    And yeah, the movie was very disappointing.

    Propter, I'm sure it is. These houses looked perfectly decent though - definitely better than the council estate in Northumberland where my Dad was born and his mother lived her whole life.

    SF, thanks for signing. I never know how much good that kind of thing does, but it's better than nothing.


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