Professor urges consideration of marginalized populations
By Colten Kamlade, Staff Reporter
Potential social problems of redeveloping New Westminster’s waterfront were discussed at the most recent Urban Challenges Forum, a series of events hosted by Douglas College.
The City of New Westminster has been working on a plan to revitalize the old industrial part of the city by making it more appealing to businesses and residents. This includes hosting festivals, creating greenways and parks, and connecting neighbourhoods to the riverfront.
Dr. Eugene McCann, a professor of geography at Simon Fraser University, raised questions of who might be included or excluded from the re-imagined riverfront. He discussed issues concerning homeless people, youth, and other groups. One of his central points was that public space is a resource for some of the most marginalized in society, and that it is undesirable to exclude them from it.
“Public spaces are also spaces of respite, they’re spaces of rest,” McCann said. “I was working on a project over the last couple of years with people who were homeless and marginally housed in Vancouver, and they talked about how the parks and the beaches of Vancouver were so important to them as places where they could just hang out and have a rest sometimes.”
McCann acknowledged some people’s unease with the idea of intentionally accommodating the homeless when redeveloping.
“Should we design all the discomforts out of public spaces, can we go too far in trying to manage all those discomforts, or is one of the fundamental aspects of public space that it is a space where we encounter difference?” he asked. “Public space tends to be, again ideally, a space where one encounters difference … whether that difference be ethnicity, class, or whatever.”
McCann finished by showing two pictures that epitomized two different approaches to urban development. One of a Camden bench, a piece of concrete street furniture that is impossible for the homeless to sleep on, and a RainCity Housing project that turned street benches into shelters for homeless people to rest under.
McCann said he was not accusing New Westminster city planners of trying to exclude the homeless from public space. He said his intention was only to raise questions he thought were important to keep in mind as the city goes through the process of redeveloping the riverfront.
McCann finished by reiterating his main point, that public space is something that is important to everyone.
“Public space, in that sense, is a resource for the most marginal, whether it’s by doing something like collecting bottles within the space, or doing other things that are illegal, it is nonetheless a resource, economically and socially.”