News / Vancouver

High-end restaurant across from Pigeon Park meets daily protests

Protesters have vowed to continue rallying twice daily at a restaurant that opened at the beginning of February next to a Downtown Eastside park known alternately as a community hub and a site of illicit drug and alcohol abuse.

Pidgin, a name that refers to the dialect that evolves between people speaking two different languages, serves up high-end dishes such as sea urchin and beef tataki at chic tables overlooking Pigeon Park at Hastings Street and Carrall.

Residents say it is a sign of gentrification and unsettling voyeurism in an area that needs more low-income housing.

"I don't want no $6 pickles and I don't want no fois gras on my table," shouted longtime community organizer Tami Starlight at a lunch hour protest Tuesday, "and just because I can wash dishes doesn't mean they're going to give me a job."

The protesters are calling for city policies and senior level government funding that will lead to the creation of more low-income rental stock that those on welfare and disability can afford.

Ivan Drury, a researcher and organizer for the Carnegie Community Action Project, said the restaurateurs may not themselves have control over government housing policies, but they are benefitting from them.

"The cultural gentrification is intimately tied to the economic gentrification," he said, "and that's because restaurants like this create the Downtown Eastside as a marketplace for a different class of people."

Pidgin co-owner Brandon Grossutti said he and his partners sought out a location in the impoverished neighbourhood because "all the best food in the city is being done down here," and that he thinks the stark contrast between rich and poor is jumpstarting a much larger and necessary conversation.

He said he employs two Downtown Eastside residents, and is investing in the neighbourhood by making use of local services such as recycling, window and linen-washing, and interior cleaning.

He also plans on putting out a table of food at next Sunday's Carrall Street Market in partnership with the Rainier Hotel women's treatment program to try to give back to the community — but insisted it has nothing to do with the protests.

Sitting across the street in Pigeon Park, Joseph Desjarlais said he has not been paying much attention to the rallies, which are held each day at noon and 6 p.m., but he can see both points of view.

"It just seems like the west is moving slowly east, that's all I know. It's kind of invading our territory, in a way," he said.

"Everybody has a right to be anywhere they want to be, as long as they don't infringe on other people's rights."

Mayor responds

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson gave his thoughts about gentrification in the Downtown Eastside at a press conference on Tuesday.

"I'm hopeful... that we strike a balance overall, investing in a neighbourhood [while] accepting that there's going to be people of all different stripes," he said.

When asked if he would dine at Pidgin, Robertson dodged the question.

"I haven't actually seen their menu," he said. "I wish them all the best but it's tough to see them having to deal with people harassing them."

-Liam Britten/Metro

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