Deep breaths. They are very necessary for me today. After what was a mostly peaceful morning (with the exception of a totally random and successful cockatoo rescue from the side of a busy road in Motueka) I checked my newsfeeds. I felt the way one would if they were out of town on holiday and found out by accident a close friend had a stroke and was hospitalized. Something that was out of the blue and an affront to our cultural well-being at home in my beloved city of Vancouver. The Waldorf Hotel, I found out by way of online magazine, is now closing. You can read Metro News online posting for further details, but the gist of it the owners want to sell the land to a condo development company. The loss of this venue to the artistic community and the people who run the venue in Vancouver is staggering.
The reason (beyond the obvious loss of venue) made me nauseous. With 60 people suddenly out of work, countless performers, festivals (the New Forms, TD Vancouver Jazz Festival, the Cheaper Show, the East Side Culture Crawl, the Polaris Music Prize, the Presentation House Gallery, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Accordion Noir Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival and other community arts shows and events that have lost a great space now needing another home it’s heartbreaking. The growing pains were cited for the sale, though it’s a hollow excuse at best. But despite this, it hit close to home for me. Really close.
I am a true minority: I was born and bred in Vancouver. I have lived here all my life and watched the glass rise and the landscape shift and sway in my thirty two years. When I was young, my granddad always used to take me walking through a heavily forested area. Like anything else in a city that’s in the throes of suburbanization, the trees fell to backhoes and subdivisions were built. I remember being four and seeing that and crying until I feel asleep that this special place that bonded my grandfather and I, as well as all the other strangers who used that green space was gone. All of a sudden a special place was privately owned and I was forbidden access. Like any child who goes through a trauma, I still mourn the loss of what I considered to be a sacred space. It’s the reason when I see old buildings ad artist’s spaces cleared for overpriced condos I still want to hurl myself onto my bed and cry until my eyes have nothing left to leak out of them anymore.
But I have a message for the developers: I was here first. These places, before they came up on your radar were regarded as dive bars and wastelands. The artists, the artistic community, and the people that support it and created the buzz for you to come in, buy up the fruits of our hard work and line your own pockets with it will still be here, after you declare bankruptcy. I refuse to be a cultural refugee, forced from arts spaces in my own city by developer greed. And when you see that ripping out the heart cannot feed an empty body, maybe then you’ll see that your approach is faulty. I truly hope one day someone takes something that means something to you the way your taking something that is meaningful from our community. Like, maybe your Swiss bank account gets hacked or you get thrown in jail for fiscal fraud and either way you lose what you value most: money. Jerks.
However, after I read the Scout Magazine article and first alerted me to this, I had to do something with my hands. Currently, I’m on 22 acres in the South Island in New Zealand on my parent’s farm. The land is full of dense clay and the landscape is, er, barren. But my folks have planted trees and plants so I went out and worked in the garden til it looked like I had been mud wrestling with someone twice my size. I noticed a book in the shed called ‘Companion Planting In New Zealand’. I picked it up looking for something to draw my mind away. The first thing I saw was the term ‘allelopathy’.
“Allelopathy means growth inhibition as the consequence of the influence of one organism on another. A delightful American humorist once put her finger right on it. ‘Contentment,’ she said, ‘is a matter of whom’s with who.’ That is what allelopathy is all about.”
Companion planting is based on the idea that certain plants help each other grow, where you put others together and both things come out stunted. Mayor Gregor Robertson said in this statement today:
“The Waldorf closing is a big loss to Vancouver’s growing creative community. They built a great culture hub, and it’s my hope that they’ll be able to re-launch and return in some form in the near future. Supporting Vancouver’s dynamic arts and culture sector is a top priority of our City Council, and the City is exploring ways to support the Waldorf continuing as one of Vancouver’s most unique and vibrant cultural spaces.”
Additional background from the Mayor’s Office:
The site at 1489 East Hastings is currently zoned for mixed-use commercial purposes, not residential development. Any change in zoning would require extensive neighbourhood consultation and approval by City Council. So perhaps, just maybe what the developers need to look at is some companion planting. I’d like to suggest rather than condos (which nothing will grow alongside on East Hastings and will potentially stunt the area) that they take what the land is zoned for, see what would compliment the already thriving Waldorf and grow something SUSTAINABLE for the area, rather than uprooting everything.
It might work. Or else I’ve been spending too much time tending the trees, giving them water. But if the developers can’t see the cultural value, perhaps this will help them see it in terms they can comprehend: dollar value.
I love you, East Vancouver. I’ve not given up hope yet.
Little Miss Risk
(PS Please don’t break my heart again Vancouver; I don’t want to think my love for you is a toxic relationship)