Is there an opportunity to redevelop the old police station into DTES Renewal Centre One?
What to do with the aging police facility in the Downtown Eastside is back in the news. Here's what CityCaucus.com wrote on this topic in October 2009. It's interesting that the VPD had to leave the building because of health and safety issues, yet groups are clamoring to re-occupying the building.
With news coming out of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) that they are lobbying to move to VANOC’s head office once they vacate in 2011, many assume this is just the police wanting to get out of the Downtown Eastside in favour of fancier digs. Regardless of their motives, this news has got more than a few people thinking of how it could positively impact the Downtown Eastside.
If you’ve ever visited the current VPD office located at 312 Main Street, you can see the building has not aged well – both inside and out. The police are correct in saying that all the new hires they’ve made over the last number of years has resulted in them bursting at the seams. Clearly this building is no longer suitable to house Vancouver’s finest.
I see the VPD’s move as a real opportunity for the Downtown Eastside’s slow and painstaking efforts at renewal. Just imagine if the City were to implode that decrepit building and decide the new structures to be built on the property would be named Renewal Centre One.
Similar to the old Woodward’s building, this site could offer hope for the future of this neighbourhood. Given that VANOC is not vacating until late 2010 and the VPD won’t move in until at least 2011, there is plenty of time to engage Vancouverites regarding what the future of that property should look like. Perhaps it could play home to a new venue for our Concert Hall? How about moving Vancouver's City Hall there and selling off the existing property at 12th and Cambie? We understand that the City owns most of the block, including the Erickson social housing apartment and the Four Corners Bank property, giving them even more options.
The possibilities are endless, and that’s exactly why we should support the VPD’s move out of their old building.
There will be critics of the VPD’s motives to move into fancier offices, but I actually support their proposal. Despite all our collective efforts, Main and Hastings remains to this day one of the scariest places to be in Canada, regardless of what some social activists want you to believe. It is ground zero in our failed attempts to decentralize medical care for the mentally ill and wage a war on drugs.
Clearly a lot more needs to be done to bring balance into the neighbourhood. The Woodward’s project was a good start, but even that was small in scale in comparison to the overall size of the problem. In addition, given the complex nature of how Woodward’s was funded and cobbled together, it is not a model for how future developments should take place. Rather, the redevelopment of 312 Main Street would offer us an opportunity to learn from the Woodward’s experience, and allow us to create something the whole community could embrace. It should also not take seven years to complete!
I would suggest in order to expedite the process, the Mayor should seriously look at creative ways of developing this project as much outside the current planning process as possible. Are there ways to bring in outside expertise to manage this process in conjunction with planning staff? Does the Director of Planning need to be signing off on every approval, or could an external consultant perform that task in conjunction with the City Manager? I know there would be a lot of developers eager to move forward on redeveloping that prime site, if they knew it wasn't going to be caught up in all the city's bureaucracy.
Moving hundreds of police out of the Downtown Eastside and moving in hundreds of taxpayers who want to take part in the renewal of the community is something that everyone should embrace. This is not gentrification, it's about healing a neighbourhood that desperately needs help.
Before we dump all over the police for their seemingly opportunistic move into VANOC’s swish edifice, let’s see what real opportunities it can bring to provide hope for Canada’s poorest postal code.
- post by Daniel