Patricia McClarty’s left hand carefully manoeuvred her wheelchair through the crowd, as she distributed information cards to other visitors of the Pearson Dogwood open house in Marpole on Saturday.
McClarty is one of dozens of residents and neighbours who showed up on Saturday, Feb. 2 to have a closer look at the proposals and to have their voices heard. The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health started the public hearing process this week. The George Pearson Centre is a home for adults with a range of disabilities, and the neighbouring Dogwood Lodge houses seniors who require complex care. The plan is to demolish the existing buildings and create an entirely new complex on the block between Cambie and Heather streets and West 57th till 59th Ave.
“We’re mixing normal residential and community development with clinical development and that’s unprecedented in the scale we’re talking about,” said Vancouver Coastal Health spokesman Brad Foster. According to Foster, a mixture of condos, rental places, retail, social housing and the care facility will ensure financing the project as well as create a real community rather than a clinical environment.
Residents want to be heard
Patricia McClarty, 63, moved to the George Pearson Centre from Fort St. John two years ago after an infection of her spine left her partly paralyzed. She is actively involved in the Pearson residents redevelopment group, which strives to include residents’ wishes into the development.
“We don’t want to be an institution type place, more like a residential place, where we could have a little bit more privacy,” she said. “Our rooms could be a bit bigger and we’d like to be involved in the whole neighbourhood. We’d like people to come into the courtyard and have bistros and coffee.”
McClarty said, she’s optimistic about the changes. “We know that we have to, you know, keep up with the times. We can’t sit in the dark with our head like an ostrich, you know. We have to realize it’s got to be developed,” she said.
The resident group’s social liaison Sarah Wenman said some residents are skeptical. “One of the things we hope it’ll do is eliminate the isolation that residents are experiencing. . . . Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you have to live in a hospital environment. It’s not good for humans to live in that situation,” she said. The residents have started a blog reflecting their expectations of the redevelopment.
According to Foster, the renewal plan would support more independent living, keep wheelchair users in ground floor units and make the area generally more accessible for wheelchairs and pedestrians.
Three meals a day, a shelter on your head and that’s it
Paul Caune is skeptical that the developers and Vancouver Coastal Health have the interest of residents in mind. Caune, 44, who was born with muscular dystrophy and has used a wheelchair since the age of 26, does not have warm memories of his two-year stay at Pearson.
“George Pearson Centre is essentially a prison for people with disabilities, because you have no freedom here. You have no privacy. You only get a shower once a week,” he said.
He is also skeptical of the developers’ proposal to facilitate transitions from hospital care to independent living. “It may be on paper a place to transition. In practice, what it’ll be is a dumping ground for people from all across the province with disabilities,” he said.
Caune, who lived in the centre from 2005 till 2007, has since moved on, and is an active blogger and film producer focused on human rights of people with disabilities.
New Canada Line station at West 57th and Cambie
Stef Schiedon, project director at Fraser Health, said the development would integrate staff housing in the planning. While the time line may take 15 years to completion, a huge benefit for the entire neighbourhood would be an additional Canada Line station at Cambie and West 57th Ave., if enough funding can be found.
The idea of a new Canada Line station is music to the ears of Jeannie Bates, who lives three blocks from the centre. Bates walks 15 minutes to the Langara / 49th station and would appreciate a new station at West 57th.
Bates said she is excited about the plans. “It would be huge for the area. I would love to be able to walk to the grocer. I miss that,” said Bates, who added the only disadvantage of the quiet residential Marpole area is she has to drive for shopping.
Reported by Katja De Bock
In this video, directed by Angelina Cantada, residents of Pearson speak frankly about their hopes for the future.