Makoto Ono, star Canadian chef, recently opened his latest restaurant in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Located by Pigeon Park, the place is aptly named Pidgin.
It is, by all foodie accounts, a fantastic new addition to the Vancouver culinary scene but there are those within the neighbourhood pulling out the cry of gentrification.
Daily small-scale protests have taken place outside of the restaurant for a week and it seems they’ll continue into next week.
The issue of gentrification has taken new life in the downtown eastside in the past year as shops and restaurants that would traditionally find a home in gastown bleed out past Carrall Street for the cheap rent and the “authenticity” of doing business in a “dangerous” neighbourhood.
The reality is that many residents of the eastside are not mobile. If their neighbourhood turns into condos and cafes, they have nowhere to go. Perhaps rightly so, many people in the community are deathly afraid of becoming obsolete in the name of development.
Perhaps this post by the Carnegie Community Action Project back in 2009 best explains the fear. It’s not an uncommon fear for the Lower Mainland, that development will destroy existing communities. We’ve seen it an all sorts of neighbourhoods.I grew up in Steveston where double lot houses routinely turned into seven or eight townhouses. Steveston today is now close to million dollars for a routine house, certainly not what I grew up around.
So, are the protests against Pidgin justified?
Well, I can imagine there is a bit of anger about a restaurant that opens up kitty-corner to one of the eastside’s most popular hang outs, co-opts the name and offers big windows so the patrons can watch the street action. It doesn’t exactly make me feel right either. At the same time, more business within the community can be a mutually beneficial thing if done correctly. I have no idea what the owners of Pidgin intend, so I can’t speculate.
But I feel like they realized this week that to put in to the eastside, you also have to give back.