Residents fear they'll be kicked out of The Quarters

Mission ThimChoy Journal

Thim Choy, president of the Boyle Street Community League, talks to Emil (no last name given) at the House of Refuge soup kitchen.

Photograph by: Rick Macwilliam, Edmonton Journal

Thim Choy's cash-register store still holds the smell of wooden pews from the church he attended 40 years ago, then bought and converted into a shop.

It's a landmark in the Boyle Street neighbourhood, and it sits just across the street from another landmark he owns, the House of Refuge soup kitchen, where window signs warn passersby: "Ye must be born again. Remember after death judgment."

New development would change the face of this neighbourhood, but Choy swears the soup kitchen is one place that will never close, not while he's alive.

"We're not trying to drive the homeless from the neighbourhood. We want to work with them," says the property owner, who's also president of the Boyle Street Community League.

"We need to keep some of the historic values."

Residents of Boyle Street - now called The Quarters - have been watching the city's plans for redevelopment with a mixture of fear and hope - hope for new opportunities, fear of being displaced.

The community league is determined any new development will be inclusive, a healthy balance of rich and poor, of new and existing residents who blend on the busy pedestrian streets to make everyone's life richer. But there's doubt in the House of Refuge.

Developers of high-end towers and the homeless will be told to move on, says Carl Perteet, who grew up in the area and now works off and on at a machine shop. He came to the House of Refuge for dinner as he tries to find a new, cheap place to rent.

"People will get angry if they're told they can't even be downtown," said Perteet, sitting at a busy table. "It's just depressing to see they won't have a place to call home anymore."

John Serving

John Pasturs at the House of Refuge soup kitchen

Photograph by: Rick Macwilliam, Edmonton Journal


Back in the kitchen, John Pasturs doesn't think the homeless will be forced out, but also doesn't think businessmen and those just scraping by will mix well, either.

The Quarters will still be a ghetto, says Pasturs, who sleeps in the river valley and co-ordinates cooking at the House of Refuge.

"There will be highrises for wealthier people, but it will all be gated. You see the people in there?" he says, motioning toward the dining area. "What other community is going to take them?"

New condos will have 24-hour security to chase the homeless out of the Dumpsters, he said. "It's going to be a gated community and the rest will be low income."

The City of Edmonton started work on the sewer lines this spring as the first step to redevelop the 18 blocks between 97th and 92nd streets, 103A Avenue and the top of the river bank. With a $56-million initial loan, the city plans to turn 96th Street into a new park and pedestrian zone, spurring new development in an area dominated by gravel parking lots.

Developers hope to start construction on a new 27-storey condo tower and high-end hotel before the summer ends.

Most people welcome the development, "but there's also a feeling that this might not be home anymore," says Eva Marie Clarke.

Plus, property taxes could increase as the area gets more valuable. "That's the other thing that will force people out," said Clarke, the community league employee working out of Choy's cash register store until the new community hall is complete.

To help keep a mix of housing, The Quarters bylaw specifies five per cent of all new development must be affordable housing. Plus the city is hoping an artists co-op will build on 96th Street, and construction is well underway on the Boyle Renaissance project, 240 affordable units for seniors and newcomers to the city.

The community hall, with its daycare, badminton courts, a theatre and meeting rooms, will be key to integrating new residents into the neighbourhood, said Manon Aubry, development officer for the league.

It will also have outdoor washrooms and an amphitheatre, says Clarke, who is responsible for writing grant proposals and planning activities at the hall.

"It's a place where everyone should be able to feel welcome and safe instead of segregating," Clarke said.

The other key will be paying attention to the architecture, making sure condo towers have welcoming shop fronts at ground level instead of fences, said Candas Jane Dorsey, vice-president of the community league.

"Architecture makes a difference between whether a building feels like it's simply plunked down like a spaceship or whether it's interactive," Dorsey said.

"It's attitude, social and architectural," she said. From the start of each project, builders and community league members need to ask, "How are people going to interact with the main floor of this building? Where are the coffee shops going to go? Are we going to have a space for the Chinese bookstore?"

People who want a community where they interact with others will be attracted by an open building, she said, and the community needs to fight for that. "You do it one project at a time."

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
The House of Refuge Mission is an Christian based independently run Inner-City Gospel Mission located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Our focus is to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and through our faith provide food and assistance for people who are suffering in many ways.        

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