Comment 18033

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 05, 2008 at 22:19:47

I’m sympathetic to Ryan’s (and Tom Cooper’s) distaste for some of the crude prescriptions in the Downtown Safety report. However, the suggestion to reduce the number of half-way houses, addiction treatment centres and lodging and other services for the poor, mentally ill and homeless in the core merits deeper examination.

Currently, 50 of these facilities are concentrated in the downtown core, partly because the need is there, partly because real estate is cheap and partly because there is a tendency to concentration in all ‘businesses’. The result is that instead of being integrated into the broader community, vulnerable people are being ghettoized and (many) people choose to avoid the core.

RTH argues forcefully for a diversity of residents and a diversity of leisure, education, shopping and business opportunities in each neighbourhood. This is the essence of a healthy urban environment. Our aim should be to ensure a broad diversity of residents, and this usually requires some planning. For example, in Vancouver 10-20% of units in new condominium buildings must be reserved for low-income residents. Conversely, US cities like Providence RI have had to enforce a moratorium on social service providers in their downtown core to stop them turning into ghettos for the poor and mentally ill.

People may avoid downtown because they are prejudiced against the mentally ill and the poor, or (more likely) they simply dislike being hassled for change and feel uncomfortable when too many people mutter and act strangely. It’s sometimes necessary to enforce minimum behaviour standards on the street (e.g. prohibit aggressive panhandling). Otherwise, we risk abandoning the public realm to those who have no other choice. Those who do have a choice will choose the private (and tightly controlled) realm of suburban shopping malls and big box stores. Is that really what we want?

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