Hogan's Alley Society calls out city's 'egregious absence of response' on land trust proposal
Hogan's Alley is seen in this photo from 1958, courtesy of the City of Vancouver archives.
VANCOUVER -- The group spearheading the protection and rejuvenation of the former heart of Vancouver's Black community says it has been left waiting in limbo for the city to respond to its calls for a community land trust on the site.
Stephanie Allen, a founder and board member of the Hogan's Alley Society, says the group has still not received a response to the draft memorandum of understanding it submitted to the city in April 2018.
"I think it's an egregious absence of response when other proposals in this city continue to be moved forward and communities continue to be worked with, and we've had absolutely no work with our group on this land trust," she said.
Hogan's Alley, the former heart of Vancouver's Black community, was demolished with the building of the viaducts in the 1960s. At the time, the viaducts were supposed to be a critical part of a plan to build a freeway system through Vancouver, a plan that was eventually scrapped, but not before the neighbourhood's residents had already been forcibly displaced under the guise of "urban renewal."
"Think about a place that you have loved living. And what did you love about it? What was so great about where you lived?" Allen said. "And most people say, the neighbours. The connection. How they felt in that neighbourhood. The sense of community that they had…and that's what this neighbourhood was for people of African descent."
The community itself was born out of discrimination because of restrictive racial covenants on housing titles and discrimination towards renting to people of African descent in other neighbourhood, Allen says.
"It was a low-income area. It was a racialized area. And it was an area that the city didn't invest in on purpose," she said.
The area was home to many thriving Black-owned nightclubs and restaurants, including Vie's Chicken and Steak House, which was open for more than three decades, as well as the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, which is now a private residence.
"It was completely lost forever," Allen said. "Along with all of our other community assets, along with the restaurants that black women operated and ran for decades, the places where communities would meet."
When residents were forced to move away from the area, they scattered throughout the city, instead of relocating together.
"That targeting, that discrimination, and you think about the violence that's embedded in putting a freeway overtop of a community that people loved, in a neighbourhood that they wanted to be in, and where they found those community connections, it's really an outward manifestation of the systemic racism that we have had and that persists unfortunately to this day."
Vancouver city council voted to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in 2015, and three years later, the city approved a plan to replace them as part of a strategy to open up the Northeast False Creek area for housing and recreational space.
The proposal for a land trust came out of consultations with the Black community as the city started to talk about the redevelopment of the area, and an opportunity for redress was recognized, Allen says.
"The community was really clear about what Black people are looking for in this city and in this region," she said. "Affordable housing, accessible public spaces, cultural spaces, spaces for children, for families, for elders, spaces for small businesses and non-profits."
While Allen says the city did engage with the society in the design process, the community's focus remains on how the land will be stewarded and remain affordable.
"We were very intentional around this proposal and about what it can do in the long-term to not only build a place and a heart again for people of African descent in this region, but also to build an inclusive community for all people in Vancouver," she said.
In December, the city told the Vancouver Sun staff planned to meet with the society to continue discussions in early February, but Allen says that has not happened yet.
The City of Vancouver has not yet responded to CTV News' request for comment on the matter.
Hogan's Alley Society has received expressions of interest and support at the federal and provincial levels over the proposal, Allen says, but the City of Vancouver has left them to "wait in limbo" for it to declare its intentions.
"We need an unequivocal commitment that our community land trust proposal will be adopted and will happen," Allen said. "It would be a gross injustice for the City of Vancouver to contemplate selling any part of land that they came to acquire through the displacement of Black people in this city."
Allen says she's encouraged to see the large attendance at anti-racism protests and the recent spike in interest in the Hogan's Alley Society, as well as organizations like Black Lives Matter and the B.C. Community Alliance, but she hopes that the momentum continues.
"What we don't want to do is see this as another blip and then go back to status quo," she said. "We have to move ourselves forward as a society."