by Bruce Mason
The wisest words on Vancouver’s streets, “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” offer a strong medicine for healing the obscene growth for growth’s sake that’s killing us, our economy and the environment.
The seven-inch copper letters are artfully emblazoned across the front of the humble, 30-room Del Mar Hotel and tiny art gallery at 553 Hamilton Street, next to the skyscraper headquarters of BC Hydro.
In fact, the Del Mar credo did fundamentally alter the path of BC Hydro, in David and Goliath fashion. It’s a story that bears repeating in order to find workable alternatives to big developers’ vision for Vancouver and BC, a vision that saps our resources, robs our commons and prevent honest, affordable housing.
George Riste, former owner of the unassuming Del Mar, said, “I love watching people debate the meaning of “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.” But in her 1990 artist’s statement, Kathryn Walter clearly spelled out the intention: “It is directed at those who operate our free-market economy in their own interests, while excluding those interests that would be responsive to the needs of the community.”
In 1981, Hydro began their attempts at acquiring the property, the only domino still standing on the city-block of demolished ruins, on which to raise their edifice. Turning down hundreds of offers and a fortune in increasingly desperate bids, Riste said, “We’ve decided to keep this property for low-cost housing, and BC Hydro thinks we’re silly. But I really believe that we should try to put something back into society.”
And so, for once, the crown corporation had to modify and reluctantly re-design its grandiose plans, a victory for the integrity and mission the Riste family carries forward.
In stark contrast, a few blocks away, another building tells a much different story with “T-R-U-M-P” spelled out in large, gaudy, chrome letters, branding the 63-storey International Hotel and Tower.
Riste never forgot his childhood poverty in the Fraser Valley. Unlike ‘The Donald,’ George provided affordable rooms a few blocks from hellish skid row hovels. Riste explained, “We used to lease buildings, but we found the landlords were terrible people. So we went to the bank and managed to buy our own hotel. This is my life; this is what I love doing.”
One wonders what he would think of the recent count of 3,605 homeless in Vancouver, up 30 percent since 2014. Half have lived here for 10 years or more before becoming homeless. The numbers, like unemployment stats, don’t really add up. They don’t factor in borderline impoverishment, people in inadequate slums, squatting in structures, parks, and doorways, never intended for housing, couch-surfing with friends and family, sharing studio apartments and huge rents. The frequently reno-victed reluctantly flee the city of their birth, or choice, and its interminable housing crisis and near-zero vacancy rate. In May, the average price for a detached house in Vancouver reached a record $1,830,956, among the most unaffordable in the world.
Riste, who died in 2010, at age 89 would be appalled at the new luxury condos for “super cars” in Richmond. The 2,500 square-foot units boast options of luxury furnishings and decoration packages, featuring a mezzanine level, from which to guzzle something high-priced and choke back a hand-rolled Cuban stogie. Due for completion in 2019, two-thirds of the 45 units are already sold. Similarly, all condos in the 45 digs have been scooped up.
And if you search online for best deals for the ultra-rich, rooms at the Trump Tower are often fully booked, boasting that their ‘hyperbolic paraboloid’ triangular tower is the “premier luxury hotel,” featuring Canada’s first Mar-a-Lago brand, a 6,000 square-foot spa by Ivanka Trump.
“Never settle,” the Trumps post. But for the 10,000 locals who applied to serve, massage and clean up those for whom the “Sweet-tastic experience” is chump change, the advice is irrelevant.
As Trump is unhinged and Site C and Kinder Morgan are exposed for what they really are – in courts of law or through public opinion – what we need to know is “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.”
The check-out bill for the rich is overdue and it’s time for a stop-payment on Site C. Put the money into job-rich renewables and for-purpose social housing. While we’re at it, take down the T-R-U-M-P sign as the public did in Toronto. “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” must now be the litmus test to take to politicians at every level of government, and the street.
Del Mar’s motto provides the inspiration and awareness to Stop Site C and other highly questionable anti-social projects. Better to build the Commons on common sense, insight and wisdom. More Riste-like, not Ritz-like, within reach of those who do the actual work.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.