There’s nothing like a discarded hypodermic needle lying in the grass to symbolize a public space being lost to the community.
And at Victory Square, on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the telltale signs of vagrancy and drug use don’t just reveal themselves in the past tense. On a recent tour of the park, I witnessed one man openly smoking from a crack pipe, while others were peddling dope in full view.
So much for an urban sanctuary. And that’s a shame, because there’s potential for this site to be a real gem. Afterall, its constituents come from all walks of life — from students to seniors to bottle collectors. Mind you, children and stroller moms are in short supply. But it’s still a respite from the gritty urbanity of the surrounding neighbourhood.
The same park is home to Vancouver’s war memorial, the Victory Square Cenotaph, and by extension is a focal point for Remembrance Day services on Nov. 11.
While the city will make sure the park is in tip-top shape for next Wednesday’s memorial, you would think this green space would be afforded more respect year-round. I don’t care how the bleeding hearts in this city justify what goes on there — in my view there is no place for criminal activity in any venue honouring Canada’s war dead.
I feel badly for Vancouver’s bureaucrats on this issue. In recent years, they have tried to chase out some of the social disorder by redesigning the park and introducing street furniture, public art and enhanced lighting.
They’ve also made sure that the park’s underground public toilets — which feature full-time caretakers — have not turned into shooting galleries.
None of this, however, has alleviated the problems at street-level, which are a manifestation of the social ills that still plague the adjacent Downtown Eastside.
But there’s good news to go with the bad. Not far from the park, the glistening Woodward’s highrise — perhaps the city’s most important redevelopment project this decade — serves as a symbol of rebirth not only for a block, but for an entire neighbourhood.
And like Woodward’s, Victory Square can strive for a future free of ghettoization or, conversely, yuppification — but one that reflects the entire community.
In other words, it should be a place for all — and one that pays fitting homage to the war history for which it is named.