A potpourri of displacement

In 2016, an officer with VicPD’s Community Services Division responded to “concerns with trespassing, open drug/alcohol use and drug paraphernalia/needles/feces etc. at 836 Yates Street” — specifically the walkway connecting Yates and Johnson — by suggesting they install every piece of defensive architecture the officer could think of.

Security patrols and “No Trespassing signs”? I think the police were late to the game on that one — according to Google Maps, the building had some of its existing signs up in 2015. What about trimming plants or removing them so people didn’t feel as comfortable using that space? Hey, now that was an idea!

VicPD suggested 836 Yates remove its plants as a form of defensive architecture.

VicPD suggested 836 Yates remove its plants as a form of defensive architecture.

Looks a little empty, no? Not to worry — the police moonlight as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Designers, and by golly they knew just how to pretty up the place: “filling the planters with concrete and rocks,” so no one could use the newly-empty planters for anything. And as long as they were building a monument to displacement, how about a bonus anti-sitting fence? That wasn’t part of VicPD’s initial suggestions, but later that same month VicPD said 844 Johnson should “Install low, wrought iron fencing along the top of [a] low concrete wall,” which is exactly the technique seen here to keep people from sitting on the ledge.

VicPD suggested 836 Yates put in concrete and rocks to stop people from using a ledge.

VicPD suggested 836 Yates put in concrete and rocks to stop people from using a ledge.

This month the building acted on VicPD’s last idea from 2016, “restricting access to the corridor after hours (i.e. securing the area, making it only accessible by swipe card).” There are now locking gates on both sides, with a “No Public Access” sign slapped on the gates in case people get take the point. It appears that the gates may be locked at all times, not just “after hours.”

Locked gates and a “No Public Access” sign have been added to the cut-down plants, concrete-and-rocks, anti-sitting fences, and “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs at the 836 Yates walkway.

Locked gates and a “No Public Access” sign have been added to the cut-down plants, concrete-and-rocks, anti-sitting fences, and “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs at the 836 Yates walkway.

A lot of energy has gone into making this walkway the most transparently hate-filled in the city (step aside, Odeon Alley!), but it’s not just awful — it’s also a little strange, because officially, the condo development next door was going to build up the existing alley into an even wider public walkway.

A new 2017 right-of-way at 848 Yates Street, right next to the 836 Yates walkway.

A new 2017 right-of-way at 848 Yates Street, right next to the 836 Yates walkway.

In response to comments from city council and the city’s Advisory Design Panel, the developer for 848 Yates — the terribly-named “Yates on Yates” building — promised “widening of the midblock walkway … ; removing existing planters and changing the elevations to create a level public space defined by consistent material, new lighting and barrier free access.”

That sounds decent, and entirely out of step with the defensive architecture and displacement that 836 Yates has been pushing, right? So maybe this is all just temporar— hahaha, my bad.

Silly me for thinking this space was slated for public use: the drawings for 848 Yates include six-foot high “decorative metal gates” that are eventually supposed to block off the entrances to both the existing alley and the new addition. The Downtown Residents Association recommended those gates be locked at night “to reduce potential loitering, noise, drug use and vandalism and improv[e] livability of the townhouses facing the walkway.” This is all sanctioned by the city in keeping with its “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” policy.

Here’s an aerial drawing of the new design. The existing alley runs between the two horizontal red lines, and the new right-of-way is above that:

Plans for a wider, fenced-off walkway. Image source:  City of Victoria  (large file size).

Plans for a wider, fenced-off walkway. Image source: City of Victoria (large file size).

Right now, the 836 Yates walkway is a veritable potpourri of displacement, with signs, rocks, metal fences and locking gates all installed to displace people. If the new right of way for 848 Yates holds up, the walkway might re-open during the day when that development is finished, and the rocks and mini-fences might be torn up. But the “decorative” fences are just a prettier form of defensive architecture, so the new occupants don’t have to look at the aggressive rocks and risk thinking about the people who were displaced to improve their “livability.”

“Decorative metal gates,” six feet high, will block access (or at least overnight access) when the new 848 Yates development is complete. Image source:  City of Victoria  (large file size).

“Decorative metal gates,” six feet high, will block access (or at least overnight access) when the new 848 Yates development is complete. Image source: City of Victoria (large file size).

Condos at “The Yates on Yates” are priced at $469,900 to $2.1 million.

“Welcome to the soul of the city,” the developer says. “You belong.”

Stephen Harrison