February 9th, 2011 Walking Home Projects + Emily Carr Students mapping the neighbourhood

On February 9th, 2011 Walking Home Projects had the special privilege of taking ECUAD Instructor Simon Levin‘s Walking As Knowing As Making Soc-300-S002-2011 class on a walk through Chinatown and the DTES.  The following are guest responses from the students.

Market Alley and Chinatown: an eye-opening experience

Guest Response by: Claire Odecki

The description of Walking Home Projects is that of a series of walks aiming to connect Vancouverites – especially youth – to their city.  I believe that was the difference between this walk and a tour because the connection, for me, was certainly successful.  I think this was much more interesting than an everyday tour because I cared about what was being said.  The walk was as emotional and sensory as it was interesting.  I spend a lot of time in the Downtown Eastside, going to shows and bars, and I always consider it an area that belongs to the dirty, n’er-do-well, down-on-their-luck “other”.  I always feel separate yet slightly intrigued when I walk past the occupants of the Downtown Eastside. Since they come from a place and shady history that I don’t understand, that makes the situation all the more removed, and all the more thrilling and dangerous.

Sawtooth Pattern in the Downtown Eastside reflect Vancouver's economic history (Photo credit: Indira Santos)

What I took away from the walk was even more respect and reverence for this part of town.  I found the Chinese history that was explained to be extremely interesting,  and perhaps it is the misfortune and struggle that makes it almost endearing.  As many times as I have ventured to the Downtown Eastside, as a young woman with any common sense, I always stick to the main streets and never go down the alleyways unless I’m with other people, and even then I’ve never been down an alley that brings the walker  face-to-face with the underbelly of downtown.  As with many things, I know that drug use and prostitution happen, but I’ve never gone to find out myself.  I think the most impact from the walk came from Market Alley, and the way that we walked down the alley with such a different mentality than the way I would normally approach it, like we had as much right and reason to be there as the drug users, that if an alley inhabitant talked to us, it wasn’t necessarily scary, it was with interest.  I think the sight of used needles, rig disposals, shivering bare-legged drug users and the stench of piss and filth really hit home.  When combined with the underdog story of the once-booming and thriving Asian market now home to filth, Market Alley was a very powerful experience for me.  I would like to say that as a Vancouverite, I’m used to it, that it doesn’t faze me, that I’m jaded and knowledgeable about it, perfectly comfortable with it, but I’m not.  I think the beauty of the history and the reality of the skid-row struggle really created a very visceral experience.  I really enjoyed it, and feel so much more connection and compassion for Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.

Decay and beauty in a DTES alleyway (Photo credit: ECUAD student Indira Santos)

When I hopped on a bus to go home I had a lot of things to think about, and in fact I got into a very memorable conversation with a drug addict on the bus… I don’t know how it happened, except that maybe I was feeling more open and for some reason this conversation just happened.  The man was very personable and friendly and talked about how he had once been a ski instructor but had gone on something of an indulgent binge with drugs and was only just recovering from it but believed that it had made him more aware and all the wiser.  He had sunken eyes and crack sores around his mouth but he was respectful and personable, and I really enjoyed the conversation.

Meeting on the corner of Carrall and Pender Street (Photo credit: ECUAD student Indira Santos)

I wasn’t exactly expecting Walking Home Projects to be what it was.  I showed up at Pender and Carrall open and a little confused as I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, even after Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn explained the project, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I learned a lot about a topic I was very interested in and it was the kind of experience that I didn’t really want to end.  Of course, a large part of this new appreciation can be credited to the delivery of the experience, and I think that Catherine’s delivery was so intriguing, unbiased, and you could tell that she was as invested in the story as the audience became.  If only the weather was a little warmer, it would have been that much easier to get fully immersed in the experience.

Claire Odecki

Guest Response by: Kathryn O’ Regan
Chinatown Walk Feb. 9/11

My personal experience of our Walking Home Projects mapping-walking through Chinatown resulted in an enriched awareness of both my emotional and sensory responses.  This walk tuned me into my surroundings and engaged me with this public space.

Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn constantly reminded us to note and remember the various orientation systems, i.e. heritage buildings, restaurants, streetcar tracks.  It helped us move more freely in the area.

Awareness was stimulated by Catherine’s challenges, for while we walked she urged us to search for distinctive cultural and architectural elements.  If we considered the neighbourhood as a living organism, then we were seeking to discover clues to its genetic composition.  Through Catherine’s guidance a window was created through which to view the layers of culture that are in danger of being obscured by decades of decay and rebuilding. She urged us to consider the perils and repercussions of our urban encroachment.

Catherine encouraged us to consider strategies for engaging this public.  However, I was acutely aware of invading what one may call a safe house.  I felt a voyeur entering this place Market Alley, where people estranged from the society-at-large seek refuge.  The inclusion of the people on the street is a specific need of this community.

What is the role of creative people who are moving into Chinatown?   Why do artists choose to live there?  What do these choices mean?   Should this be a concern?  In other neighbourhoods we are aware that once artists find a community interesting and affordable, there is a  desire for others to follow.  How do we integrate into this community without destroying the neighbourhood culture and avoid a cultural collision?

Kathryn O’ Regan

Walking through Market Alley at the backside of the Wing Sang Building (Photo credit: ECUAD student Indira Santos)

Guest Response by Christine Lynch

The Walking Home Project

Not to be super critical of the whole thing, but I’m not sure what I experienced.  I felt like I was in a walking tourist group, kind of like walking in Barkerville or something.  I’m not saying I didn’t find it interesting, but either I have missed the point or I wasn’t in the right head space for the walk.  I’m not going to go ahead and say I was fascinated and I thought it was wonderful, because I’d be lying and I think Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn will get more out of my critique if I’m honest.

My first major critique would be the meeting place.  I think meeting on  a fairly busy street corner wasn’t the most ideal spot.  When Catherine introduced the project I stood as close as I could get and I think I still missed 70% of it because her voice was too quiet in comparison to the rest of the noise from traffic and pedestrians.  I did read the blog and the blog’s “About” section, but reading a description and hearing  someone explain it are always two very different experiences.  So for that, a different meeting spot would’ve been nice.

Second,  for a “Walking Home Project” there was definitely at lot of standing still.  I couldn’t help but get a little antsy at the end because I had gotten so cold.  I Should have brought my parka!  I know being cold was mostly my own fault but I figured we’d be doing a lot more walking than we did; so maybe more physical involvement rather then a history lesson.

I did learn a lot about the area and it did force me to go down an alley I wouldn’t go down otherwise.  So, I’m not saying it was horrible because it definitely wasn’t!  I really enjoyed when we went into the Market Alley and had to smell and look.  I think its these moments in which we were invited be more involved with our atmosphere that make it a different experience from being on a guided tour.  Maybe I wanted my senses to be more intrigued, overwhelmed or excited by the experience, like they were in Simon Levin’s walk.  That’s why I’m saying maybe I was in the wrong head space for this because I came expecting something much different from what I got.

This was a good experience, because every experience is a  good one; thank you very much for bringing me on the walk and I hope my comments are useful and don’t get taken in the wrong way.  Written critiques are sometimes hard to read without the tone of voice.

Thanks again,
Christine Lynch

Standing on Keefer and Columbia Streets (Photo credit: ECUAD student Indira Santos)

Guest Response by Samantha Lefort

The walk gave me an intense feeling of longing, hard to explain, but once we started and were paused and reflecting at the various touch-points, all I wanted was more.  As an artist, a writer, and a designer, I am often questioning the ‘why’.  This was of no exception, I had so many questions and ideas going through my head.  It truly amazes me just how much the city landscape is reflective of the times in which it was created, there is always some reason or justification, and I just felt all at once that I wanted a greater grasp of this city, its history, its anthropological geography, and the use of space.

The Hastings Street area is not new territory for me.  What was new was the way I was looking and experiencing it, I felt more of an outsider looking in and walking through it than ever before.  I was not a tourist, flaneur, or situationalist – I was an outsider… which I find ironic because I have lived and worked and spent time in Chinatown and DTES several times since I first arrived from the East Coast nearing 10 years ago.

The feeling of being an outsider, and being “talked-at” while staring and attempting to absorb the information was an uncomfortable and un-settling feeling for me.  I did not like subjecting my gaze in that way, and having myself be subjected into others’ gaze in that way.  It was such an interesting way to move through space.  I am also not sure if the size of the group had anything to do with my discomfort, but I would have preferred perhaps 2 smaller groups – a more intimate way to share in the experience of the spaces and new information.

I was quick to want to stray from the group and explore the city’s landscape for myself, but then I wouldn’t have had all that wonderful information Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn provided, so it was a true Catch 22.

My awareness was drawn specifically not only to the architecture, but the maintenance of the architecture (or lack of, in some cases) and how that speaks to the overall image of the city.  I was especially intrigued to examine the green spaces, where and why they were there, and how few of them there were!  I really feel that the space would be radically changed if the distribution of green space was different.

I thought the walk was well-informed, excellently paced and planned, not raining (!) although a bit cold.

Samantha Lefort
BFA Student – Critical + Cultural Practice, Sustainability + Social Change
Communications Intern – Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University
Representative of the Faculty of Community + Culture – Emily Carr Students’ Union
Chairperson – Emily Carr Students’ Union
Student Representative – Emily Carr University Board of Governors

Noticing architecture in Chinatown on Pender Street (Photo credit: ECUAD student