A Community Lost: Buried under the viaduct 1970.
CURRENT PLANS: The City of Vancouver mayor determined to tear down the Viaduct.
By Yasin Kiraga Misago
Political Scientist and International Relations (B.A)
University of British Columbia Vancouver
Historian and Independent Researches
Oct 8, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — On Tuesday, June 2013, the City of Vancouver presented a new proposal to tear down the viaduct that has been carrying vehicles across Main Street for close to 50 years, since the time of the dismantling of Hogan’s Alley and its black community. According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, senior planner Brian Jackson said that, “this is a turning point not just a small step” (Mickleburgh 2013). This quote reflects how significant this demolition will be to Vancouver. The city planners point out that the demolition of the viaduct would lead to expansion of the local Community Park and Gardens. This plan proposed involves the construction of 1000 housing units, including 300 to 400 subsidized apartments in order to revitalize a section of Main Street destroyed during the construction of the viaduct. When asked about the consequences to the neighbourhood and traffic after the removal of the viaduct, Jackson told councillors that “we are committed to do this, and therefore, it’s essential to put our money where our mouth is… and it’s essential to realise our opportunity in the future without the viaduct” (Mickleburgh 2013, page 1).
The City Mayor Mr. Gregor Robertson presented a similar point of view regarding the question of viaduct removal. He claimed that “this will give us a chance to take the dead zone and transform it into a volume of life and economic opportunity” (Mickleburgh 2013, page, 1). The Globe and Mail journalist Rod Mecklenburg also argued that, “The construction of the viaduct raised fierce public opposition from the activists and community members against the dismantling of Hogan’s Alley, a place known for black community” in 1950-1970 (Mickleburgh 2013, page,1) The community members still live with the hope for the return of a community centre for the black community. However, this will only be possible if the planners and the City of Vancouver are willing to accept the existence of a black community and its return to the Hogan’s Alley location. This suggestion would make sense with regard to the multiculturalism in Vancouver.
It was the destruction of this black community by Leonard Marsh’s discretionary urban renewal policy, which sparked off the displacement, relocation and dismantling of Hogan’s Alley. It has been close to 60 years since the black community was buried under the viaduct, ensuring that there was no hope for its returning to life. This paper will analyse the Leonard Marsh Urban Renewal policy and its consequences to Hogan’s Alley black community.
The process of Urban Renewal in the 1950’s
Urban renewal is the total process of replacing, repairing, and maintaining the various parts of the urban environment as required dealing with blight and urban decay, and to rebuilding the substandard houses to make the area more attractive, contributing to the improvement of the urban environment. The process involved both public and private funding when the urban components become deteriorated, obsolete and suitable for alternative use or are in danger of depreciating the condition (Bunge 1960, Page, 2)this process can either be carried on by private, government or corporation on the basis of the public agencies.
The process of Urban Renewal for Strathcona and Hogan’s Alley black community in 1950’s
For building a better neighbourhood, prior to 1950, the National Housing Act contained provision for grants in aid of surveys of housing conditions or blight and slum clearance projects awarded to any organisation or group interested in conducting these surveys. The Vancouver Housing Association took the initiative in seeking assistance from this source, both in preparing surveys and in the selection of suitable areas, and in outlining the type of demonstration study needed. The officials of The Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, both in Ottawa and the BC Regional Office, confirmed the possibilities of arrangements for the study, (Marsh 1950, page, 1). Prof. Leonard Marsh of the University of British Columbia released his Urban Renewal proposal to the city of Vancouver. In the report, Marsh recommended that the whole area of Strathcona be completely destroyed, including a black community, which he had confirmed was unlikely to be welcomed anywhere for relocation (Plant, 6). Marsh’s report depicted Strathcona and Hogan’s Alleys black community as slums, harbouring crime and, therefore, dangerous to city development. According to Vancouver history, this proposal was ignored because of this sensitive language and when Marsh presented his paper in Ottawa, it was ignored too, but later accepted for its Urban Renewal policy (History 2008). The final form of the survey was sponsored by the University of British Columbia, together with the third and fourth year UBC students of Architecture, who constructed a valuable scale model of the completed project. The preparation and publication of the report was done by Betty Marsh, Secretary to the Vancouver Housing Association and Leonard Marsh’s wife.
GENERAL POLICIES FOR URBAN RENEWAL.
Marsh’s urban renewal policies were eventually accepted by the City of Vancouver. The following are the general policy objectives used in preparing the land, property acquisition and clearance of Strathcona and Hogan’s Alley in the Urban Renewal proposals:
- To develop a planning concept for the reconstruction of the whole with shared community facilities such as schools, churches, nursery school, play space, health and welfare services and a community centre.
- To provide the physical improvement of the neighbourhood by redesigning the local interior street system to provide curbs, gutters and sidewalks; by creating pedestrian walkways; by installing new sewers, water mains, gas and electrical lines; by developing new parks, playgrounds and constructing school additions and other community facilities, as well as providing other required public amenities.
- To remove deteriorated and substandard housing and non-conforming industrial and commercial uses which have blighting influences on the area.
- To stimulate repair and renovation of commercial, industrial and community buildings, (which may be selected for retention).
- To promote the re-use of the redeveloped lands for future purposes that adheres to the planning concept for the area. These should be of sufficient size to create effective areas of improved conditions and an environment that will attract private development.
- Taking advantage of the land and removing the existing properties and constructing the chief community buildings, so that these could be planned well in advance of the development.
- To provide for just short of 7000 people (2532 duelling units) for accommodating families and hostels have been designed in the plan to accommodate 1640 single men.
- To provide suitable housing for all population in the area that desire to remain, and provision of adequate and private housing prior to displacement of people in the succeeding stage of acquisition and clearance.
- To provide a variety of living accommodation that will satisfy all levels of the future population, including those moving in and outside the area.
- To create a visually attractive neighbourhood by promoting good building design, creative renovation projects and by establishing imaginative street plantings, landscaping and well-conceived park and open space.
Key Actors in urban renewal
In order to implement the above urban renewal objectives, three levels of government worked together, including the University of British Columbia Professors and Architecture students and other institution that provided funds. Subsequently, the City of Vancouver, contributed one-sixth of the total fund required for the survey and report; and the cooperative response to the requests for information from several departments, the metropolitan heath committee and the planning committee. The Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation represented the federal government, for the research department and the finance resources it provided. The Provincial government also provided funding, which was not considered enough by the city of Vancouver. Other sources of funds were received from the fundraising and donations. The final report was preparation for implementation by Betty Marsh, wife of Leonard Marsh, “ (Marsh 1950, page,1) .
EFFECTS OF URBAN RENEWAL TO THE NEIGBOURHOOD
Three levels of government fail to support Urban Renewal
The federal government did not support the development and promotion of this Urban Renewal project but kept aloof of active engagement directly in dealing with the disruption expected with the Urban Renewal program. It was well known that the power rested in the hands of the provincial government, so the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation did not actively participate even with municipalities, claiming that applications didn’t meet standards for approval. Lack of coordination between the three levels of government was expected in designing and implementation of the Urban Renewal program, (Curtiscott 2013, page, 3). The United Community Service, a government national program which was very sensitive to the entire populations was not consulted which left these issues to the local officials. Such lack of appropriate actions could only add to the deterioration of conditions.
Displacement and Relocation of people
The Urban renewal planners created the loss of their family ties and separation of families as well as dispersion of the community. Some stated that displacement and relationships with local people from their original homeland may have contributed to the original problems of the day.
One historian responded to relocation in this way, “without adequate housing for the poor, critics will rightly condemn urban renewal as a land-grab for the rich and a heartless push-out for the poor and non-whites” Justin Herman, 1963. Older residents whose properties were being acquired felt that compensation was far below the value of their assets. The federal government, provincial and municipal government and all institutions involved were condemned for the failure of the Urban Renewal policy to plan for the replacement of homes and provision of relocation houses for the thousands of individuals and families displaced as a result of urban renewal policy. The Strathcona Property Owners and Tenant Association would have worked to save the lives of the entire population but they were powerless.(Bell 1975). Every time community advocates tried to raise concern about the evicted families and tried to provide alternatives, they were stopped at that point. The Non Partisan Association, the political party who dominated the City of Vancouver, advocated for development and promotion of better housing, yet the Urban Renewal promoters failed. Thousands of units of housing were destroyed and a lot of time passed before buildings were replaced or refurbished for use as low income housing.
Displacement of the black community:
Leonard Marsh’s statistics about relocation and displacement of black were skewed. At the beginning of his survey, Leonard convinced the City that the reason there was interest in Strathcona and Hogan’s Alley was due to rampant poverty, slum and poor housing conditions in Hogan’s Alley and Strathcona respectively. (Marsh 1950). However, his description of the characteristics of income and economic life of Strathcona and black seems to be very contradiction as there are no co-relations between better housing and poverty reduction. It was already known by the Urban Renewal promoters that no one would accept living with blacks in new communities, yet they had a suitably comfortable home if they stayed. But to achieve the main objectives of the policy, the black population had to go away, taking their culture and contribution to multiculturalism with them. By tearing down Hogan’s Alley, Marsh eliminated a large percentage of the Black African descendants known as earlier citizens of this place.
Many people displaced in Hogan’s Alley were, therefore, black of African descent. Under the Urban Renewal policy, there was no chance for local communities to redeveloped their land or modernise the properties they owned at the time. The price which was given to residents for eviction was less than the actual original price of their properties, as stated in Marsh’s report. Victims of this unfairness in business, many were compelled to leave their properties behind as a result of the Urban Renewal program. Even when alternatives for the project were suggested, the black community was chosen as the best site for the freeway and viaduct. The desecration of the black’s community was a sign of exclusion at a time of multiculturalism.
The fact is that when rating the quality of 1950 communities, blacks had a moderate life style with businesses compared favourably with some other communities. The City and Marsh project changed the ethnic makeup that had grown and developed in the overall area of Strathcona. It is not surprising then that the relocation also contributed to psychological problems for black residents. For example, Marsh claimed that there is prejudice because it is a small colony of Negros, who can be relocated anywhere but there, is no where they would be welcomed, (Marsh 1950, Page, 8). Having realized such a mistake, the black people were displaced from Hogan’s Alley, with no attempt made by the Urban Renewal program to provide better housing, or safety to settle them in their original homes. In fact, the report stated clearly that blacks could afford to live anywhere but they did not want to leave their Community, because this was like a spiritual and welcoming community.
In 1858, black neighbourhood of Hogan’s Alley of African descent begun to grow upon the arrival of people of African descent in Vancouver. By 1911, blacks had established this community where numerous small businesses thrived from 1911 till the 1960’s. Nora Hendrix, one of the strongest community legends, arrived in Vancouver from Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1883. She came to Vancouver in 1911 via Chicago and Seattle. One of her grandchildren, Jimi Hendrix, a world renowned guitarist who grew up in this neighbourhood where the Hendrix family had Vie’s Chicken and Steak house. When Nora arrived, there was no black church, though there were many black restaurants and clubs. She mobilised all community black members to buy a church located at 823 Jackson and Prior Streets. The family had businesses and places to live but the Urban Renewal left many people homeless and others were compelled to return to the United States as Vancouver had become a hard place for them to live. People were evicted from their original home to become tenants at high rent so they often couldn’t find a new home, leading to homelessness.
Relocation was personal reinforcement
Research shows it that relocation was based on intimidation of residents (Bell 1975). In Stratchcona, there were 3000 people all waiting for relocation. In the report, Marsh failed to indicate why the single occupancy rooms were not prepared yet nearly half of the population in Strathcona lived in such rooms. Even today, there are no specific places for single occupancy. Marsh claimed that unless the government prepared subsides for singles, they were unlikely to get places for relocation.(Marsh 1950). Federal Minister of Transport responsible for taskforce on Housing, claimed about Strathcona that, “I heard stories of hardship from residents in dealing with the city and emotional pleas for the preservation of the community and claimed that the case about redevelopment was effectively made and reinforced by what the taskforce had heard throughout Canada”, (Bell 1975, page, 12). The fact is that opposition was very much based on the relocation and social adjustment to new life from original homes and different conditions of life. Relocated families always find it so hard to adjust to the social life of a displacement community and blacks were unwelcome there.
Urban renewal targeted Hogan’s Alley black Community
In 1969 and 1970, another issue developed about the demolition of the Hogan’s Alley black community which energised the community members to oppose the City of Vancouver The city proposed a freeway project that will destroy the Hogan’s Alley block completely in the Southern part of Chinatown (Bell 1975). This action sparked off more opposition and strikes against the City action as it caused more conflicts in the Community. The battle to save Hogan’s Alley brought Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants association (SPOTA) to save the community against dismantling by the City. The demolition of substandard buildings was chaotic and this was the root of violence and failure of the urban planning. Formal consultation from the citizens was so important for the community and public engagement. Several researchers indicated that residents, represented by the SPOTA tried all levels from community to the government, to discuss about the development and welfare of the residents but were considered outrageous.
Psychological impact of urban renewal to black residents
Many residents I interviewed during my research believed that people who were relocated from their properties reacted to urban renewal as to the death of family member or a family friend tragedy in the community, (participant B). They experienced depression and withdraw as a result of loss of their properties and displaced in new locations. One resident claimed that black’s people came to Vancouver from United State, as a result of injustices and racial segregation. This experience is very similar to what happened in 1960’s in United States, (Participant A). I believe that there was a total failure for Leonard Marsh to observe this mistake which would have saved blacks from the dismantling of Hogan’s Alley.
It should be remembered that Multiculturalism and cultural diversity brings all communities together as a single family and we learn different cultures and understanding of other values. It is hard today for the black claim within multiculturalism and cultural diversity. The black community was destroyed and broken up, including all family connections and family ties. In every culture, kinship ties and length of residence account for the stable social relations. Urban renewal destroyed the entire kinship of black community and this is the reason why up today there is no single organisation that represents this kinship among blacks.
Urban renewal lacked clear direction
Urban renewal directed provision of better housing and attractive community but failed to stipulate how this purpose would be achieved successfully. The outcomes of these projects demonstrate the current problems of homelessness. Government gave money to urban renewal project developers and then property owners had to sale their properties at a price lower than their properties. There was no clear direction to resolve the problem of low income earners but proposed income assistance for job loss or unemployment. Land was to be condemned and sites were to be cleared for improvement or sold to private developers at a subsidised rate. For example, at Hogan’s Alley blacks who owned businesses and better living condition where evicted after relocation plans but the outcomes of the project at Hogan’s Alley reflect the current problems (Arshy 2010). In the last 40 years ago, there were many opportunities which would have been taken if the City listened to the people of Strathcona.
Urban renewal sparked of the loss of social Capital for the black Community
In the case of the Black Community at Hogan’s Alley, from the cost benefit analysis point of view, relocation of the black community led to the loss of the advantages of family and ethnic group associations, which is very important for the development. The black community became a centre for social interaction and dialogue for social communal activities, music and homes of the blacks followed by entertainment which today are ashes and buried under a viaduct. When the black community was destroyed by urban renewal, its residents moved around the city, the region, and the nation, the economic engine of the support systems of the community were eliminated; no relocation payment could compensate that loss. As one resident told me that urban renewal’s disruption of black community was a root shock. As plants have roots, human communities need roots, they are like plants and trees, they need tap roots, and they cannot produce their “crown” without massive network of connection that move nourishment from the earth to the entire organism of the group. It is almost 60 years now, since the struggle through the period of shock and transplantation, the black are struggling to plant a new community root. One participant concluded that,” so sad fact, Hogan’s Alley black community gone, a former great community neighbourhood lost: The black, the culture and the soul of the black community all buried under the viaduct and will never be revived no more.
A historical outline of the Hogan’s Alley Black Community
Those familiar with the history of the black community in Vancouver will point at Hogan’s Alley or the Georgia Viaduct as the home of the early black community. Before the arrival of many communities in Strathcona, black people had transformed themselves into a comprehensive and vibrant community in Hogan’s Alley as the area was popularly called. Every year, the black community attracted the media and tourists attention from different parts in and outside Canada. They came to hear and visit the home of world-renown rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who grew up in the Hogan’s alley black community. In summer, the shrine to his memory attracts close to two hundred people who come to visit the shrine every day. About four hundred visit other black architecture such as the Hogan’s Alley cafe, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel Church, Nora Hendrix and Jimi Hendrix house, Vies Chicken and Steak House and many other heritages sites of black community, “(Arshy 2010, Page, 1)Although the community is not officially recognised as a heritage site for tourists, its past achievements and legacy to community members compelled them to return to visit. These tourists include those from overseas, from countries where Jimi Hendrix travelled for World Tour shows. This culturally means that the space is still playing a vital role in Vancouver, and multiculturalism; and it still contributing to the social diversity of the city despite its desecration by the Urban Renewal policies. Imagine how this space could still play such a vital role in our society.
Hogan’s Alley is a spiritual and cultural centre for the black community
Hogan’s Alley was historically a cultural, spiritual and business centre for black Canadians of African descent that migrated into this community before 1915.It is found between Prior Road and Jackson Avenue, and Main and Union St, Vancouver. The black community established itself by the beginning of 1923, by which time it had grown into a large community with businesses and a Church. The historical Canada writers claimed that Hogan’s Alley, as it was popularly called, was a centre for the African Canadian population who were the first immigrants to settle in this place. Blacks chose this site for settlement because it was close to work. Many blacks who worked at the railway station in construction or as black porters found the close location of Hogan’s Alley convenient. Secondly, blacks faced rent segregation and no one would rent to them or accept them for permanent accommodation; hence the area became their permanent home. And this is the reason why it still matters that efforts be made to examine the viability of rectifying the effects of the Urban Renewal policy and its effect on blacks and the entire community Hogan’s Alley.
Given the inevitability of such redevelopment problems, it’s important to learn a lesson from them as our reflection for today as we think about the new development plans for our city. Change can occur in a gradual process and this requires trained experienced city planners and developers to work together with grassroots organisation to plan and improve the living condition of the Community. Quick plans always spoil the basket, this proverb is so significant to the fact that there is plenty of time for the City of Vancouver, Municipal and Federal and Provincial governments to resolve the problem rather than allow the desecration of an entire neighbourhood. At this time, new urban development in the East End needs to involve continual community planning and work with the City or any levels of the government to deal with development issues and this will minimize the previous problems that rose in the 1970s. Even today, the City planning to remove the viaduct would be better if it includes the lost community in the new development project coming to Hogan’s Alley.
Current Urban Renewal in Vancouver
The City of Vancouver returns to the urban renewal comprehensive policy, which desecrated black community and Strathcona residents in 1957 and 1970, would need recognition of blacks beyond plaques and stamps given to Hogan’s Alley recently by city of Vancouver and Canada post. Wayde Compton, a Vancouver-based writer and Professor at Simon Fraser University, claims that “this policy was brought by Professor Leonard Marsh of the University of British Columbia’s research on redevelopment t, blight making buildings and streetscape improvement that would attract new business customers, of inner city Vancouver (Compton 2010). Imagine bringing back a policy which had been considered a noble goal, land grab and socially and racially motivated the desecration of black community. The Vancouver city planners claimed that, “the main goal of current urban renewal policy is to mobilise the Downtown East Side and capacity building among residences, agencies and business representatives to address some of the known risk factors for involvement for crime and victimization and to do this in a cohesive and collaborative way” (Wendy Au June 20, 2008). Black people and all Canadians of African descent live with hope awaiting the return of a black community. I hope the City of Vancouver, and the Federal and Provincial governments will acknowledge the recognition of Hogan’s Alley black contribution to multiculturalism and diversity, and this effort to bring it back into life.
RECOMMENDATION ARISING FROM THE REPORT
From my final research, I realised that urban renewal opened a new road map for redevelopment that is very relevant today, so that one can appreciate their contribution for responding to the global campaign. However, this method of redevelopment came with many problems which are difficult to deal with today. Therefore, I have revealed some recommendation that can be used to address urban renewal in modern Vancouver.
- I strongly recommend the City involve local community organisations such the Carnegie Centre, the Strathcona Community and the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association and the many local groups to address the root cause of the historical problem which engulfed this community, rather than carry out redevelopment of the neighbourhood without consultation and community involvement. Special emphasis should be put on the ethnic communities as well as identifying their interest and properties to avoid future problems.
- Discretionary power and decisions imposed on communities invite more problems and community protest, and disregard of the residents of the area when offering upgrading of their community could result in 1960-like confrontations. The local grassroots organisations are the voice the community. The city exists to serve the community; therefore, the interest of the community comes first in a democratic state.
- Ethnic groups and their community should have a place to set down roots and the government is responsible for the projects for such ethnic communities. This is the basis of the effort to reclaim the black community of Hogan’s Alley.
- Home ownership is vital to keep our culture, traditions, and kinship and family ties and to maintain neighbourhood. It is also the sources of community and civic participation and should be part of residents’ involvement in the affairs of their community.
- Decisions affecting the future of the neighbourhood should not be prolonged, but should be timely and promptly implemented.
- for any local community planning policy to have success and better outcomes, local community members should not only be involved in the planning but also should be involved in the implementations.
- I recommend that City planners should be advised to understand well the areas and the character of the community they propose for redevelopment. It seems that Leonard Marsh was unaware with the community he proposed for change. Community life style should be studied before intervention.
- Local ethic people need experts to represent them when they are dealing with government and given all the necessary support to deal with the problem. The SPOTA tried so many times to deal with the state but they were at some point ignored.
- Every group of people with similar culture need representation in the community as a source of social capital; this is the blueprint for every community to prosper.
- Multiculturalism and cultural diversity is the inclusiveness of all different cultures, understanding each other and respecting all cultures avoid prejudices.
- How will you know my culture if it is not represented in multiculturalism? All communities need to be represented fully in the community. Since the destruction of black diversity, we only celebrate black history in general, but without a local community.
- Rehabilitation is better than urban renewal because it’s cost effective where community and property owners can get involved together. Those who own properties should be given loans to maintain their properties. They can be encouraged to work together, providing their own labour for maintaining, refurnishing or decorating properties, yet reduce the costs.
- The government and the City should make every effort to rebuild the black community through funding and the direct involvement in the reconstruction of the church, the development of a community center and encouraging the return of businesses to build a community.
“Thousands of units of affordable housing have been developed, and there has been a lot of investment and economic development but none of that has been able to make up for the tremendous sense of loss the people who lived in the Western Addition feel in terms of the cultural fabric” (Fred Blackwell). From this quote, it would seem that the urban renewal plans were intent on the removal of blighted houses and substandard buildings but the research indicated that in most cases, it was intended to desecrate the black community. Despite the removal of blacks, the Viaduct is still to be thrown away. Of the entire community, the Chinese suffered a similar situation when several times the government attempted to deport them and many other nationalities faced the same problems. However, Blacks faced severe problems; there have never been any reconciliation or any attempt to return the community. It is true that years have passed yet blacks are mostly excluded in multiculturalism efforts, every community in Vancouver is represented and they have large community places but blacks are still struggling with the results of the relocation plans and have failed to find a space of their own.
A heritage centre is needed for the black community because they deserve it and all that they have done testifies to the need to have a heritage centre and their presence in Canadian history and in the formation of British Columbia should not to be forgotten. The only way to keep blacks and black history is to have a central place, a permanent historical community centre where we keep our history in Vancouver, where we perform and act and gather for community dialogue. The church was eventually identified as a permanent home but today it is a condo. The black presence and Black history need to be remembered and recognised with a community centre.
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