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'Gentrification and the City' lectures aim to educate and expand horizons

Gentrification, the process of urban redevelopment that can carry the consequence of displacing lower-income residents, takes many forms. And it's happening in many more places than the inner-city neighbourhoods that tend to draw the most public attention, says Peter Hall, a professor in Simon Fraser University's Urban Studies department.

Last week, The Tyee reported on the controversy around Pidgin, an upscale restaurant in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood that's become a focal point for a social housing push in the province, in particular by the Social Housing Coalition of BC campaign which aims to make housing a key issue in the 2013 provincial election.

While Hall acknowledges that current local discussions about gentrification in Vancouver tend to zero in on the Downtown Eastside, he says such focus can limit public understanding about the complex social and economic forces that spur urban change.

As part of efforts to broaden discussion and understanding of the causes and consequences of gentrification, Hall and his colleagues are launching a year-long lecture series, "Gentrification and the City," that will explore gentrification through the perspectives of international experts in human geography, urban planning, and housing.

Hall says he hopes the series will help people get beyond what in some ways is a very narrow discussion about gentrification in Vancouver.

"People obviously get impassioned about the issues confronting them here and now and today, but we can take a step back and say, there's a longer cycle of urban change this form's part of. Whatever we see today has a history. And there are lessons to be learned from other places."

Hall says there's a tendency to look at the City of Vancouver as a closed system. "But if you take a more regional perspective, then in many ways, what's going on elsewhere in the region is a kind of fallout from what's happened in central Vancouver," he says. "The focus on displacement in the Downtown Eastside tends to ignore the concentration processes that brought people to the Downtown Eastside in the first place… of course there are people in the Downtown Eastside who were displaced from somewhere else."

The Gentrification and the City series begins Thursday, March 7 with a public lecture about gentrification and the arts from Norma Rantisi, a Concordia University geography professor. Other lectures this spring will examine gentrification in the suburbs and the role of gentrification in social inclusion and exclusion.

Gentrification and the City convenors are also planning a set of three additional public lectures in fall 2013, which will feature a housing expert, a talk about waterfront gentrification, and the legacy of the late cities-for-people advocate Jane Jacobs.

Jackie Wong reports on affordable housing for The Tyee Solutions Society.

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