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Every Building on 100 West Hastings

by Stan Douglas

Long deemed by many to be Canada’s worst neighbourhood, and further degenerated by the infusion of cheap crack cocaine, most of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood has resisted all efforts at gentrification and reform. A block of buildings on West Hastings Street marks the boundary of this neighbourhood, and was described by one local columnist as an entry into “hell itself.” Renowned artist and photographer Stan Douglas photographed the entire 100 block of West Hastings and composited the individual prints into a massive panaromic view of the street that was displayed at a Vancouver gallery. Every Building on 100 West Hastings recreates the original 16- x 3-foot photograph, along with a number of essays and artistic works chronicling the street’s long history.

The photograph (reproduced as a folded colour insert) acts a kind of meditation point for the essays, which expand into a vigorous, politicized discussion on the history of Vancouver’s east side and its shifting but long marginalized inhabitants. Although the essays occasionally lapse into academic noodling, the book functions as an excellent primer on the reorientation of urban downtown cores from vital centers of industry, culture, and commerce toward “tourism, information, and producer and consumer services.”

The text also provides a revealing study of the continual demonizing of the poor and other “social undesirables” and the neighbourhoods they are pushed into. The essayists ultimately suggest that West Hastings remains in such poor repair because many residents of Vancouver prefer to have these social problems localized into a single, easily avoidable neighbourhood, a trend being reproduced in even the most gentrified downtowns across the continent.