Title first, title after, this was a title after, it started out as “Change”, then”Money Pits” “Knowing” “Knowing the money pits in your neighborhood” and “Smoke and Mirrors”, but i kind of like this one, and ode to the evil Barbara Streisand. It is kind of flippant, a little sarcastic, but i think i’m feeling a little crazy right now, so maybe ignore the title.
Over the years i have been a part of many discussions on how to improve the Downtown Eastside. Almost all of them have been about optics, the other ones have been about symptoms. The conversation that has been missing is the one about people. What do people need, what do we all need? There have been thousands of projects and programs designed to mainstream the Downtown Eastside, make beautiful, more like the rest of Vancouver. There are Lighting projects being proposed, similar to one in Montreal where they lit up the old city, tourist draw. Phantom Galleries, a project that started in Phoenix where they let artists use abandoned storefronts until they get rented for legitimate use, artist as gentrification bait. A kazillion community art projects, a number of which i have been a part of to uplift and engage, lonely, depressed and creative people. On some level i guess its all fine, like all the free stuff. People need it, we need it, we who need to feel needed and need work.
I think of all the money that has gone towards money pit projects, projects that fed a few reasonably well and many others insufficiently. I think of how the money could have been better spent, instead of blowing it on lighting and abstract video projects, beautification projects, temporary gallery/studio spaces for artists, and more employment training programs, that never seem to pan out for the people in them. What if we asked every single person living in social housing, SRO’s, on the street, and in the community centres, every where actually, if we asked everyone what they wanted to do. What are you good at? What do you dream of doing? How can we make this place safer, healthier, together? What are you willing to do to make it happen? What am i willing to do? What about all this money that comes here, what should we do with it? Maybe we should give it back for a while, moratorium on community art projects, no one gets paid, because it confuses things, sets up power dynamics. “I know what’s best for you, because i’m getting paid to know what’s best for you, how could you know what’s best? look at your life, look at how you’ve fucked up, your not well, how could you know?”
I would argue that we all know. We all know what’s best for us. There are about a thousand internal blocks inside of all of us to obscure our intuition so we don’t know, but when we can get quiet enough inside to silence the inner critics, the old voices, the media, i think then we can know what’s best for us. Extreme mental and physical illness is a whole other category, people clearly need support and care, but even in these circumstances, people still need to feel like they have some power in their life, the ability to make some of their own decisions. It is humiliating otherwise. Humiliating to be treated like you are powerless, a failure as a human being. Sometimes i feel naive, like maybe i don’t understand that this is how it all works, “survival of the fittest”. It still surprises me though, it surprises me that we think that we are so different from each other, and that we don’t get that we all need very similar things. We need to be loved and to love others, we need laughter, and purpose. The list could be longer of course, i could add a safe secure place to sleep, but sleeping under the stars in the woods near a beautiful clean lake isn’t always safe and secure, but there are millions of people every year who are are quite happy to do it. Other than that i think most people would also want a safe, affordable, warm, friendly, supportive, fun, active, neighborhood to live in.
Maybe i am naive, but it shouldn’t be this hard to make it happen, but I spin again, i spin in my thoughts, i chase my tail. Change is never clear, because people aren’t truly controllable, we may act like automatons, but inside we are all very human, and there are so many of us, with our own ideas of how we should be, how the world should be, and each of us only willing and able to do so much. Our priorities, as they should be, are with ourselves, keeping our houses in order, literally and figuratively, but what if the whole world is our house?