Coexistence Between Old and New Vancouver Businesses Could Help Slow Gentrification

A possible way to prevent destruction from gentrification is teaching newcomers and long-term entrepreneurs to adapt together

Developments around Vancouver are contributing to socioeconomic changes. (Aly Laube)

From people protesting it to defending it, urban gentrification has been a hot topic recently. 

The term gentrification basically means to renovate a place, usually to make it more middle or upper-class-oriented, while pushing lower-income earners and smaller businesses out of the way.

This “renovation” has been happening a lot in downtown Vancouver. The strips that once held family business are now being torn down so the new hip and expensive stores can be built over them. Some may think gentrification isn’t that big of a deal, and that it gives downtown Vancouver a more luxurious feel. That’s just not the case. This so-called luxury is costing small businesses that can no longer afford to pay for rent downtown anymore.

As gentrification continues, the cost of living and maintaining a small business in Vancouver rises. There was once a time when gentrification didn’t bother us; new shops were popping up and we didn’t see it as such a big deal. Then it continued, and our favourite little shops started disappearing.

Now it’s at a point where we no longer recognize the block that once contained local restaurants with tasty foods or convenient stores with reasonable prices. Slowly we are losing the community feeling we once had in this city.

When thinking about the pros of gentrification in Vancouver, we can see that many of the new pop-up stores are more environmentally conscious than mom and pop shops. While that is an excellent reason to shop at a new store, old stores can easily become more environmentally conscious as well by reducing waste and offering discounts for things like reusable containers. We could be encouraging that instead of forcing independent entrepreneurs out of their spaces.

New shops are trendy, but they lack the main thing that drew us to the family-owned business: the feeling that they’re part of the local culture.

I want to walk down my block and see a diverse range of businesses from restaurants to convenient stores and clothing shops. I don’t want to see clones of the same stores on every other corner, and I especially don’t want to feel like a stranger in my own community.

I encourage the creation of startups, especially when they’re run by younger business owners making their mark. But I want to be able to afford the goods they provide, and I want to be able to keep supporting the local business I’ve enjoyed for years.

I shouldn’t have to pick one or the other. I should be able to have both, because both businesses have the ability to do good for the community.

 The family-owned businesses can learn to be more conscious about what they produce and how it can affect the community, while the younger merchants can learn to stay down-to-earth and accessible with how they market and sell their products. Perhaps this could help drive support to smaller shops so they could afford to stick around, and allow customers with lower income to still enjoy shopping at shiny, newly opened stores.

Gentrification can be a really nasty thing. It pushes long-term residents out of a community they created. It’s not something we should yearn for. If we want to adapt to this ever-changing city, we should strive to do so without someone else—someone with less money—getting the short end of the stick.

Vancouver can “renovate” all it wants, but hiking up the prices and pushing the current residents away is where we need to draw the line. Coexisting in this challenging market is the only way to fight the growing problems gentrification is creating in downtown Vancouver.

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