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Posted by: Erin Brown John on February 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm

 

 

Happy New Year! Wishing you lots of health and happiness in your year of the rabbit.

Favourite places. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation wants to know which places in the city are most important to you. They intend to place 125 plaques around the city to recognize important and previously unrecognized places.

Homelessness. The City has made great strides in providing new housing for the homeless but is projected to fall short of it’s goal of eliminating homelessness by 2015 unless more funding can be produced.

Cultural space. The City has set aside space at 688 Cambie for cultural use but the Vancouver Art Gallery must still demonstrate that it is able to raise the necessary funds to build a new building and operate and there are concerns that the City is trying to fit too many things into the same site.

Internet metering. Vancouverites are taking on the CRTC over the issue of usage based billing, plans by internet service providers to limit downloads and charge people for extra use. To date more than 400,000 people have signed the petition created by Vancouver-based OpenMedia. Another Vancouverite, David Beers, debates the issue in the Globe and Mail here.

Green design. re:place Magazine looks at Canada’s first Passivhaus in Whistler. Formerly Austria House during the Olympics, the building uses 10% of the energy a normal building would and shows the possibilities for sustainable design with wood.

Image: Carol Browne, via flickr

Posted by: Erin Brown John on January 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

During the display of the Home Grown exhibit, MOV hosted a series of dialogues about food in the Downtown Eastside with members of the DTES Kitchen Tables Project. The project aims to find practical solutions to improve the food security of the Downtown Eastside, through making nutritious, affordable food available and employing people to create and distribute it.

The series began with discussions about the issues that non-profits experience in their efforts to improve the nutrition in the DTES. Many lack the capacity to provide the nutritious food that their clients need, whether due to limited budgets or space or lack of staff. The panelists noted that while food security in the DTES is often discussed, non-profits rarely receive funding to feed people. Instead society must bear the cost of increased policing and hospital use.

Society’s attitudes are a huge barrier. They made reference to the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of basic nutrition and a minimum standard of living. Consequently, non-profits and the people they serve should be grateful for whatever they are given.

But as was discussed in an earlier post, donations of food are not always as helpful as they may seem. The food is often not very nutritious and non-profits have limited capacity with which to deal with the donations they receive. They are often put in the uncomfortable position of not being able to refuse donated food that they don’t need. Consequently food waste is a big issue.

Food programs in the DTES produce a surprising amount of garbage, food that is lost to spoilage, rodents, or simply cannot be used. Disposing of it can be expensive. In some cases, the money saved by accepting a donation of food was equal to the amount it cost to dump the surplus that could not be used.

With assistance from DTES Kitchen Tables, eleven community kitchens in the DTES are exploring ways to reduce their waste. Many are interested in composting but lack the capacity to do it themselves, opening the door to the possibility of creating a composting business that provides employment for DTES residents.

Still, composting costs money that many of the non-profits cannot afford. One proposed solution was to retrofit buildings and appliances to make them more energy efficient. The savings could then be used towards paying for composting. Reducing waste will save organizations money as well, as the cost of dumping garbage is expected to increase over the next few years.

Another waste they are looking to eliminate is disposable dishes. Many organizations in the DTES rely heavily on styrofoam to distribute food because it seems to be the cheapest option available. But once one factors in the cost of disposing it afterwards, it no longer seems to be the best option.

Purchasing food presents it’s own range of problems and issues. Many organizations in the DTES buy from large distributors, but are too small to take advantage of the savings that ordering in bulk would provide. Consequently buying local or organic is out of the question.

One of the roles the panelists envision for Kitchen Tables is as a facilitator for group buying. The organization could bulk order staple foods on behalf of community kitchens and contract with local farmers to guarantee a market for their produce. The food could then be prepared, packaged and preserved by Kitchen Tables on behalf of other community non-profits. This would allow them to produce healthier foods than are available for sale more efficiently than individual community kitchens can.

They are also seeking new ways of distributing food. Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House wants to see an end to line-ups in the DTES. The current system of distributing food is impersonal and dehumanizing. People wait in lines for long periods of time in order to sit alone at long tables or carry away some food. She envisions food as a way of creating community and fostering relationships that empower people.

That means eliminating the wait and bringing food to where people are. What if food was given out at clinics or laundromats or other places people gather and wait? There are important benefits to doing so. Hunger and the uncertainty of not knowing where the next meal will come from is stressful, and this can cause people to act erratically or with violence. People are calmer and easier to deal with when they are not hungry.

Food carts were another suggestion for distributing food, and an item that Kitchen Tables could get funding for. But some felt that the money could be better spent elsewhere. Why spend money on a cart when you can use it to employ people instead? If you pay DTES residents to distribute it it they have the opportunity to build skills, earn money and connect with their community, with far more benefit.

DTES Kitchen Tables is currently exploring the feasibility of starting a ‘food incubator’ in the Save-On Meats building. They envision it as a supportive space where people can learn how to start food businesses. People will be able to get professional advice and assistance and have the opportunity to sell their products in a storefront at ground level.

We would like to thank all the members of the DTES community who came to participate and lend their insight during the DTES Kitchen Tables dialogues. The discussion was fascinating and informative and the panelists’ dedication to bettering life in the DTES has been inspiring.

Posted by: Erin Brown John on January 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Disappearing lake. The park board is exploring options to preserve Beaver Lake. The lake has been steadily shrinking due to nearby construction projects, sediments and invasive pant species. Now they’re looking for public input about the project.

Underground chickens. Six months after legalizing chickens in Vancouver, only 18 people have registered their birds, and many more people are choosing not to register.

Social housing. Vancouver needs more affordable housing, but where to put it? The City may be backing off from it’s policy of requiring developers to dedicate 20% of new units in their developments to social housing. The property in question is the northeast section of False Creek. The developer, Concord Pacific has proposed that instead of building social housing there, it would give the City two properties in the Downtown Eastside.

Meanwhile activists are currently protesting a proposal to allow the construction of 7 new condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, something they claim will have a detrimental impact on rents and the affordability of housing.

Death at their doorsteps. Also controversial, plans to locate a hospice at UBC hit a snag as residents complained, citing their cultural values. Their concerns have been condemned by some as nimbyism, while others urge more tolerance.

Bike fashion. The Vancouver Observer looks at the colourful world of bike fashion in Vancouver.

Image source: feffef, via flickr.

Posted by: Erin Brown John on January 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm

A belated happy new year and welcome back to our weekly batch of things we’re following!

Van East. East Van is experiencing a renaissance as the cultural heart of Vancouver. It’s affordability is drawing a lot of independent and owner-operated restaurants,  businesses and arts spaces and for the past several years the neighbourhood has been shedding the stigma it once had

The eagles have landed. But there’s nothing to eat. Brackendale’s famous eagle count registered another disappointing turnout this year, blamed in part on a poor chum run.

Home sweet home. After much political wrangling, tenants are starting to move into the Olympic Village.

Roundhouse Plaza. The Park Board is revisiting plans to vitalize the Roundhouse Plaza, which since it’s inception has not been used by the public to the degree that planners had hoped.

Homelessness. 2010 saw a lot of progress made toward housing Vancouver’s homeless, with the creation of new emergency shelters and permanent housing. Yet in spite of all the efforts made in the past year to house the homeless, the number of homeless people grew this year, from 1500 to nearly 1800.

Remembering Gastown. The Globe and Mail looks at some of the early investors in Gastown who saw potential in the neighbourhood.

Our new exhibit SweaterLodge Unlatched opens this week!

Image credit: kennymatic, via flickr.

Posted by: Erin Brown John on December 20, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Food security. The city awarded grants to SOLEfood Farm and the DTES Kitchen Tables Network this week for their projects to create employment and food security in the Downtown Eastside. SOLEfood provides employment for DTES residents on an urban farm, while DTES Kitchen Tables is planning to open an incubator program at Save-On Meats that would help people learn how to start food businesses.

Supporting local food. The Tyee’s coverage of local food this week focused on sharing equipment and other solutions for supporting local food economies.

Social housing. Housing activists are planning a sit in at the Olympic Village to protest the reduction in the number of units dedicated to social housing, a result of budget shortfalls and sluggish sales.

On a more positive note, the Station Street housing complex opened this week, the first of 14 new purpose-built social housing developments around Vancouver meant to get people off the streets.

Bliss? Posts from local blogs will no longer be included in the civic news round-up that is sent out to staff at City Hall.

Washrooms will remain open. The City has revised the budget for the Parks Board, making money available to reverse cuts to washroom maintenance and a decision to charge users of sports fields made last week.

Expanded Playland and PNE. But in spite of opposition from nearby residents for expanding the amount of space dedicated to Playland and the PNE, the Hastings Park revitalization plan was approved this week.

Image source: Gerry Kahrmann/Canwest News Service, NP

Posted by: Erin Brown John on December 13, 2010 at 4:49 pm

SOLEfood. A scrapyard on Hastings Street may be the location of the second SOLEfood Farm in the Downtown Eastside. The farm is run by United We Can and provides seasonal employment for residents in the Downtown East Side.

Big debut. The Vancouver Police Department inaugurated their new twitter accountwith a marathon session of tweeting every call they received in a 24 hour period. It just so happened that this allowed them to tweet about the lockdown at Gladstone Secondary but they say that they will likely only be using it for traffic and safety announcements in the future.

Hastings Park. The plan for the renovation of Hastings Park unveiled last week has come under fire from the local community for increasing the size of the PNE and the number of tradeshows hosted in the park.

Internet billing. City Council is voting tomorrow on a motion to oppose the CRTC’s approval of usage-based billing for internet service. The CRTC decision will likely result in increased costs for users, making access to information more difficult for those who can’t afford it. Council has no ability to change the decision but they want to raise the profile of the issue.

Powering the city. Scout Magazine takes a walking tour of electrical substations around Vancouver.

Red army. In the early 1930s the unemployed took to the streets of Vancouver and had their concerns largely ignored. Past Tense has a bit of interesting history about the political unrest at the time and the rise of the Communist Party in Vancouver.

Image source: Dan Toulgoet, The Courier

Posted by: Erin Brown John on December 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

East Hastings. The renovation of the Waldorf has been wildly successful and has developers and city planners looking at future development in the neighbourhood.

Changing behaviours. The Vancouver School Board is trying to save energy in a pilot project that has students controlling the thermostats. The project is aimed at changing the behaviour of building users and promoting good energy saving habits.

Earthquake. Insurance companies are warning that much of Vancouver’s infrastructure and buildings would not withstand a major earthquake. They state that the lack of government investment in infrastructure maintenance puts people at risk and would result in the disruption of business activity. There is a 30% chance that there will be a major earthquake in BC within the next 50 years.

Alternative energy. Finally some good news from the Olympic Village! The heat-from-sewage facility in the Olympic Village has turned out to be far more efficient and cost-effective than originally planned, so the City is able to offer residents power at a rate below BC Hydro while still making a profit.

Robson Square. There’s more talk at city council about the possibility of permanently closing off the street at 800 Robson to create a public square.

Image source: Kris Krug, via flickr.

Posted by: Erin Brown John on November 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Road safety. The Vancouver Sun reports on the most dangerous intersections for cyclist and vehicle collisions. But it’s not just motor vehicles that are in focus. The first pedestrian death resulting from a cyclist collision has been confirmed.

Local bounty. The Tyee continues it’s excellent coverage of local food. An article looks at the Southlands farm in Delta, a local site of conflict between the pressure to develop and the need to preserve farmland. Another article looks at the quota system for egg production and why the supply of organic and free-range eggs is not keeping pace with the demand.

Noise. The City is trying to mitigate the impact of increased noise from a new public plaza and the open roof of BC place in Northeast False Creek, considering more stringent soundproofing guidelines for developers and amending the noise bylaw to allow loud noise until 11pm.

Mapping transit. A very cool Google Maps app allows you to see how far you can get on transit from any location in Metro Vancouver within a given period of time. It’s fun to play around with, though the distances displayed in the suburbs seem a little optimistic.

Science park. A proposal went before the development permit board and advisory panel today that would see the installation of outdoor exhibits about sustainability in the park near Science World.

Millennium Development. The development company that built the Olympic Village is facing more financial difficulties this week after defaulting on a loan for another of it’s properties in West Vancouver.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Though not a Canadian creation, it was the illustrations of a Burnaby man that propelled Rudolph into international stardom.

Image credit: Burnaby NewsLeader

Posted by: Erin Brown John on November 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Sne’waylh (teachings). There are only 10 remaining fluent speakers of the Squamish language. Orene Askew is trying to change that with her current affairs radio show on Co-op Radio. She begins each segment with a language lesson and invites important people from the First Nations community to speak.

Why rent when you can own? That’s what many small retailers are asking themselves. Rental rates for retail space in Vancouver are rising, forcing many businesses, even profitable ones to close or move to other areas. In response to this gentrification, a growing number of small businesses are purchasing their retail space.

Rest in peace. This week marked the passing of Vancouver historian Chuck Davis. Tributes are pouring in for a man who spent the better part of his life researching, writing and educating about Vancouver’s history.

Olympic Village. The developer of the Olympic Village has gone into receivership and the City of Vancouver has taken over the management and sale of the properties and some other assets.

Hungry. Food bank usage is rising across Canada and people are now visiting at the highest rate since 1997.

Mount Pleasant. The new Mount Pleasant community plan was released, outlining priorities that include affordable housing, encouraging, pedestrians, cyclists and transit, and improving public space for events and activities.

Photo credit: Cindy Goodman, for Vancouver Courier

Posted by: Erin Brown John on November 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Wednesday’s post about the DTES Kitchen Tables Series dialogues covered the poverty mentality and food donations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the majority of food distributed in the DTES is purchased by non-profits from businesses, and some of the discussion focused on the issues they face in sourcing good food for their clients.

Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre shared a bit about how she goes about purchasing food for the meal programs in her organization.

When she first took on planning meals for the Centre, food orders were made through a large distributor, and due to the low volume of their orders and the supplier’s minimum purchasing rules, the supplier would only deliver once per month. She was concerned that she was unable to know where the food had come from and how it was grown and wanted to support local and organic growing if it was possible.

She began to look for alternative sources and ultimately settled on another large distributor. In the end, price won out as her main consideration.

Searching for alternatives

There are several organizations that are working in the DTES to provide better access to food. One that was mentioned was Quest Food Exchange, an organization that works with restaurants and grocery stores to divert food that would normally be considered waste toward people who are in need. Some of the food is donated to local charities while much of it is offered for sale to low-income people and non-profits at below cost.

Inglis mentioned that while she was interested in purchasing food from Quest, uncertainty about what goods would be available was a disadvantage. Their stock and prices fluctuate, making it difficult to budget and plan meals, and food may be at the end of it’s shelf life, making storage an issue.

For her organization right now, going with a large commercial distributor is easier and makes more sense.

Large distributors are not necessarily bad. Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUDcontributed some thoughts about distributors and sourcing ethical food. SPUD lists the location that the food it sells comes from so that consumers can make informed choices. Other distributors don’t do this. This is because many other larger distributors are so big and have so many sources that they may not know where their food came from and it is not yet part of their corporate culture to make note of it.

However, this is not to say that it is not possible. SPUD’s decision to list food where food came from was a direct result of consumer pressure. Large distributors have greater capacity and are more efficient at sourcing and purchasing. They would source more ethical products if they felt there was consumer demand.

Kitchen Tables Project

Rock’s vision for the Kitchen Tables Project is a resource that enables easier access to food for organizations in the DTES.

These organizations are small and often acting in isolation from each other. There is a need in the DTES for an organization that helps coordinate communication between different organizations about their needs. This organization could help facilitate collective purchasing directly from farms or from suppliers to drive down the price and support local producers at the same time.

Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will beMaking Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.

To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org

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