Abandoned buildings at the Little Mountain social housing project. Vancouver Sun photo.
Tonight I was at Riley Park Community Centre during the dinner hour, when I received a call from home. A building at the Little Mountain housing project was ablaze, I was told. Just blocks away, I decided to wander over to have a look, as did many others who were running up with cameras in hand to document the event. The flames were doused, but fire vehicles blocked the intersection of Ontario and 33rd Avenue.
I was glad to see that the fire had not spread beyond one empty building, on the far end of the site from where residents remain. The water from hoses poured into the gutters, and the whole area was extremely damp. The housing site sits at the edge of a bog on the east side of Little Mountain, or the border of Queen Elizabeth Park. It was a dark, soggy November night, and the fire was a sad twist to the saga of Little Mountain.
The Little Mountain housing project is an anomaly in the recent history of the Riley Park community, in that it is the one area that feels like it has been left behind in Main Street, and Hillcrest Park's, rejuvination. This is not to take away this important community amenity – social housing. But the homes, shops and community centre in this community are either well-kept or impressively new, and Little Mountain by comparison is dull, dated, and looks out of place.
Supporters of COPE are not the only people with strong feelings about whether public land should be turned over to private developers. This is an issue that has stirred up strong feelings within people of many political stripes. The expectation of voters on the left or centre-left presumably was that Little Mountain would somehow be "rescued" from re-development plans by Gregor Robertson and the Vision/COPE council. There doesn't appear to be much hope on this front, however.
On Friday, COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth was calling anyone in the media who would listen when bulldozers began tearing down empty buildings on the site. She was reportedly moved to tears by the image of these buildings being demolished.
Local activist Ned Jacobs and former MLA David Chudnovsky, who both have been strong voices on the future of the Little Mountain development, and highly critical of BC Housing and Minister Rich Coleman's plan, set out to get the public re-engaged in the political fight over the future of Little Mountain. A protest vigil was begun at the site.
The accord struck by Mayor Robertson and the Vision council with Minister Coleman was not greeted well by Chudnovsky and the others. It is even rumoured that David Chudnovsky may consider COPE's mayoral candidacy to help push the housing agenda in the 2011 election.
The Little Mountain site rests just within spitting distance of the Hillcrest Olympic Games facility. It would not be altogether surprising if opponents of the plan by Coleman and Robertson were making their concerns known through protests in the weeks before and during the event.
When Holburn Properties finally does realize its vision for the site, it will undoubtedly be an impressive and proud part of the Riley Park community. But until years pass and that day finally comes, there will remain some discontent from those, especially in COPE, who thought that by supporting a Vision council they would put the brakes on Coleman's plan. It will be interesting to see whether many re-evaluate that support in the months to come.