03/24/2013 10:22 EDT | Updated 05/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Voices Rise Up Against Anti-Gentrification Protesters

As protests and public discussion over gentrification in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside heat up, some local residents want to make it clear that anti-gentrification activists don't speak for everybody.

Outside Pidgin restaurant this weekend, the site of protests in the past few months, local resident Steve Witherspoon stopped to say he wasn't opposed to the presence of the high-end restaurant.

"These guys' restaurants, whether their price is high or low still doesn't make a difference," he said.

He said he might never eat at the establishment, but nevertheless he isn't aligned with those who are trying to shame patrons who do.

"What they're protesting is not for me. There's no interest or no concerns of mine that they're looking out for," Witherspoon told CBC News.

Tine Defoe, who also lives nearby, said it was a shame that the signboard for Save On Meats, just down the block, was stolen by apparent anarchists, who took a photo of themselves with the sign and sent it to owner Mark Brand.

"All the other restaurants out here are just the same as he is. But he's helping the people down here. He's hiring them to work," Defoe said.

Room for growth, not conflict

Brent Toderian, Vancouver's former director of planning, says it's not the message, but the methods, of the protesters he finds concerning. Toderian has lived in the Downtown Eastside for the past four years and says the debate over gentrification is nothing new; however, some of the forms of protest create more problems than they solve.

"[They can be an] unnecessary and unhelpful distraction to a good conversation — a healthy conversation about how to revitalize," Toderian said.

"Frankly, their tactics aren't working and it's not going to resonate with the public in the way that I think they may hope."

Public response online sometimes mocked the so-called anti-gentrification actions. Photo memes making fun of the protests have been posted to the website Reddit.

The City of Vancouver says gentrification isn't pushing out low income residents from the Downtown Eastside. A city report released last month shows that even if it hasn't kept pace with a growing population, the stock of low income housing units has gradually increased in 20 years.

In a February 2013 presentation to City Council, the Mayor's Task Force on Housing Affordability said there are 12,126 low-income single room rentals, up from 11,371 in 1993.

Coun. Geoff Meggs said the neighbourhood is undergoing changes, but the city isn't trying to push anyone out.

"It's not about changing everybody who's there along with evolution of the neighbourhood," he said.

"We do want to make sure that people remain involved and that there's a good mix."

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