955 East Hastings a 12-storey, 352 unit complex – needs special design for sex trade workers

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Vancouver Coun. Louie made safety request for planned 12-storey building

Mike Howell
Van. Courier

In his 30 years of designing buildings, architect Stu Lyon admits what he is expected to incorporate into a 12-storey project slated for a strip of East Hastings is a first for him.

His challenge: To design the building at 955 East Hastings “with particular regard for the safety of sex trade workers present in the area,” according to one of the conditions outlined in a rezoning application approved by city council Oct. 30. “We’re as interested as you are in finding out exactly what these ideas are because it’s a bit obscure to us,” said Lyon of GBL Architects, which is working on behalf of Wall Financial Corporation.

The 12-storey building will occupy a strip of East Hastings next to rail tracks and across from Ray-Cam Community Centre. The 352-unit complex will include 70 units for social housing, with one-third at welfare rates. Space for a possible grocery store and production, distribution and repair businesses will be part of the project.

The location of the development happens to be in a neighbourhood used for decades by sex trade workers, one of whom spoke during the public hearing on the project. Concerns about safety was what prompted Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie to ensure design of the building incorporate “crime prevention through environmental design” principles with regard to sex trade workers.

But what does that look like, exactly?

In interviews with Louie and Mary Clare Zak, the city’s director of social policy, that’s a question that still can’t be fully answered until the architect, developer and city discuss modifications or improvements. Louie and Zak both mentioned the possibility of additional lighting but beyond that they’re not prepared to speculate.

“I can’t at this point give you any definitive, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen,'” said Zak, adding that she didn’t anticipate dramatic changes to the design. “We can’t expect the developer to make sweeping changes at this point. It’s more, ‘What can they do that would mitigate any harmful effects and hopefully make the design better for everybody in terms of safety?'”

Kate Gibson, executive director of the WISH drop-in centre for sex trade workers, said she is encouraged city council has prostitutes in mind when designing a building. Although Gibson couldn’t recommend specific improvements to the building, she suggested the design ensure the parkade be at the opposite end of the block where sex trade workers are present.

“Maybe that would diminish people’s whole interaction with one another so that people won’t be irritated with one another,” she said.

Sex trade worker Susan Davis, who belongs to an advocacy group for prostitutes, said concerns about design could be alleviated by allowing sex trade workers to live and work in the building. “I would like to see that sex workers are openly allowed to bring their customers in to visit with them and I would like to see sex workers at the top of the list in terms of being a priority for housing,” Davis said.

If that is not accepted, she said, then the rights of sex trade workers and their presence in the neighbourhood should be written into the building’s strata rules. An open parkade with good lighting is another recommendation. “There has to come a time when we all learn to live together,” Davis added.

The discussion about the new complex comes as Zak’s department is developing a way of assessing how new developments in the Downtown Eastside such as the Woodward’s project affect low-income and vulnerable people such as sex trade workers.

Lyon, meanwhile, said his firm still has to submit a development permit, go before the urban design panel and then to the development permit board before the project will proceed.

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