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Collateral damage: Spartacus Books fight against Vancouver's incessant gentrification

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It's election day in B.C., an electoral bout that has seemingly come down to, yet again, voting for the perceived lesser evil and trying to get some change a-brewing.

In this case, it seems like there is a hard push among the progressively minded to first and foremost get the Liberals out by means of putting the NDP in. As many have noted though, the NDP are not a cure all solution for what ails B.C., particularly in the housing crises and ramped gentrification of Vancouver and the DTES area, but it begs the question: So, what is going on in Vancouver?

Vancouver is seeing an increased attack on independent arts and culture outlets in the city and though electoral voting can lessen an immediate danger, it unfortunately is not the magic solution nor can it foster the change necessary for a city to start believing in and supporting its citizens and local independent businesses.

As reported by Michael Stewart, the onslaught of gentrification in the recent weeks in Vancouver has been particularly intense: "It seems impossible to count, but here is a far-from-comprehensive catalogue: Rhizome, Spartacus Books, VIVO Media Arts, Dan's Homebrewing Shop, John Production Studio, and The Junction." The Mainlander also published an article about the larger trend of gentrification and how it will affect these groups. Arts and culture businesses, along with the inhabitants of the DTES, are becoming an afterthought and byproduct of this amped up gentrification movement.

Spartacus Books, issued an eviction notice for July 31 2013, has been down this road before.

Spartacus Books had been pushed out of their previous location across from Victory Square and have now had their lease terminated at their current location. Speaking with Jeff from Spartacus Books about the sudden eviction he said: "[Our landlords] didn't give us any reasons, but they have been renovating the building and raising the rents -- so basically, we are being renovicted so that the space can be rented out at a higher profit. The other commercial tenants in the building have had similar experiences: one of our neighbours had their rent tripled, and another has decided to move out before the same thing happens to them."

This new term "renovicted" perfectly represents the growing trend in Vancouver, especially in the Gastown, Mount Pleasant and DTES areas: big companies move in, grab up any property they can, and force the existing people and community out.

Jeff mentions "[Spartacus Books'] eviction is part of the ongoing gentrification of the DTES (and Vancouver generally). Rents are going up on our part of the Hastings corridor and throughout the DTES. Property owners and developers want to draw a more affluent population into the neighbourhood because they can make more money off the middle class than they can off the existing population."

The ongoing Pidgin restaurant protests are a direct result of this ramped up gentrification and lack of concern for the existing community and businesses. Upscale businesses like Pidgin are touted as reviving the area, while business like Spartacus Books, a part of the community for 40 years, are washed away with higher rents along with the community that patronizes them. "The end result," Jeff says, "is that low-income residents are excluded and displaced form their neighbourhood. Spartacus' eviction is collateral damage from that process -- DTES residents and community groups like us are considered less important than rich people's profits."

What does this say about a city that prides itself on trying to be a progressively minded and a culturally inclined city in the "best place on Earth" province? How can something be the best when it doesn't value things like shelter for all its citizens, public creative space for its artists and social centres for its community?

"We're an independent alternative bookstore, a resource centre and social space for our neighbours, and an organizing hub for Vancouver’s radical community," Jeff says. "We want to make people aware that we are being evicted as part of the gentrification of the DTES, and that the process threatens lots of different community groups."

All that is represented by Spartacus Books sounds exactly like what Vancouver is trying to tout itself as, so it again begs the question: Why is Vancouver's image of itself so distant from its reality? And, what does this mean for the businesses that are being pushed out?

Spartacus Books undoubtedly provides a social space for community organizing and engagement as well as a climate of alternative media and books that is being swept away in the larger trend of Canadian independent bookstores. So what do they do -- do they fight, can they fight and will this fight do anything?

Spartacus Books is choosing to fight and they're making that fight public.

They've issued a request on their Facebook page to help "support your local radical book store" and "help us stay alive" and an eviction announcement on their website to spread awareness of the ongoing gentrification of Vancouver and to help them out in their cause.  "We want Spartacus Books to still exist three months from now, so our immediate concern is to cover the costs of moving to a new location and books sales and donations are the best way to do that."

With moving the only viable and logical option, Jeff continues "We are actively looking for a new space. Rent is obviously a big concern -- most bookstores struggle to get by these days, and rent in Vancouver is ridiculously high. We are definitely planning to find a new home and keep on doing what we do. We have free computers and internet, a free public phone that's available 24 hours a day and we're an open and inclusive space for everyone. That's something that our friends and neighbours value about us. If we have to leave the neighbourhood there will be one less public space for people in the DTES."

So there it is. Vancouver's charming ultimatum to existing DTES businesses and communities: Pay the high rent or get out. For a city wanting to be the next big cultural "it" place, it sure seems to be alienating the existing community that got it on the map in the first place. If Vancouver is not careful, it will whitewash over every unique aspect of a fledgling city and end up with a cookie-cutter version of itself.


Image courtesy of Spartacus Books' Facebook page.

Spartacus Books is being un-evicted! Check out their statement for further information.

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