You can change a lot of things pretty easily. The identity of a neighbourhood is not one of them.
For example, in my own head, I can change the entire meaning of a song with an errant mental comma. If I take the first line from Wilco’s “Jesus Etc” (Jesus don’t cry/You can rely on me honey/You can combine anything you want) and put a comma after the word “Jesus”, the entire tone of the song changes from the placation of a messiah to the frustrated kvetching of a boyfriend ill-equipped to handle the anger of a jilted significant other. If you imagine that comma, you alter the identity of a song, but that doesn’t make it the definitive version, no matter how satisfying the change.
The Hastings North Business Improvement Association (HNBIA) recently decided to do a little housekeeping as far as neighbourhood naming goes, and their changes go far beyond a little comma usage. With the help of absolutely no community consultation or mandate from city hall (who has its own Naming Committee that seems to mirror the lack of action of our municipal government as a whole), HNBIA made the unilateral decision to change the name of an entire neighbourhood. Hastings-Sunrise will now be called The East Village, and if you don’t like it, you can suck a lemon.
Without arguing about the crushing pathos of aping a recognizable part of New York City (though some would argue a majority of the music coverage in this very magazine is dedicated to that very act), it’s a little sinister that an association of retailers and businesses can have that kind of power over an area’s identity. Surely these businesses add to the colour and texture of the neighbourhood, but taking their livelihood from the area cannot be more important than the people who simply live out their lives there.
The new materials for The East Village describe it as a “vintage neighbourhood with a progressive attitude”, but who imbues the area with those delicious buzzwords? Communications graduates to be sure, but even if those were objective characteristics of Hastings Village East Sunrise or whatever the hell it’s called these days, it wouldn’t be the sushi restaurants and Mobilicity franchises that make it as appealing as it has become.
It’s a cynical marketing ploy that has pulled the carpet out from under the neighborhood’s residents. While we here at BeatRoute are pleased as punch to be the first magazine in the brand new East Village, I’m flabbergasted that this change seemed to come out of nowhere.
I get that an endless consultation process is incompatible with the marketing aims of area merchants, but the HNBIA either made no overtures to discuss the changes, or they were so invisible as to elude a notice in the mailbox of our office, located right at Nanaimo and Hastings, the heart of their new neighbourhood. Not very neighbourly.
And we got off relatively easy. There’s now a section of Kingsway called Little Saigon, a wonderfully racial slice of idiocy that makes The East Village look like Coke Classic. A nebulous little region by Tinseltown (another failed experiment in modern Vancouver renaming) is now called Crosstown, and the poorest postal code in Canada has dropped the moniker Downtown East Side and has become the lovely Hastings Crossing.
While I’m happy for the developers that now get to pitch new condo buildings like they won’t be built on former drug corners, that name represents a sweeping under the rug of epic proportions. That association of businesses can’t convince anybody to give a shit about people living on the street, so they’ll gentrify it all away in a soothing mist of social media engagement and marketing smoke and mirrors. It will be like a Fresca commercial except inSite will lose their lease to an Urban Outfitters.
The East Village is a fine name for a community, a fact New York City has known for years. But the contempt shown for the input of the proles by the HNBIA is staggering. They’ve staked a claim and emblazoned it with their standard. They’re the lords and we’re merely tenant farmers in The East Village. We live here (or, more accurately, rent overpriced basement suites here), but we’re secondary to the economic output of the Hastings corridor. If that isn’t a bluegrass-worthy sign of the times, I don’t know what is.