Survey says: Opinions about Commercial Drive change little over 20 years

Vancouver Courier

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Much has changed in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood over the years — from housing prices to densification — but much has also stayed the same when it comes to people’s opinions about community issues, according to results from the latest of three surveys conducted over a 20-year period.

About 730 people living in, working in or visiting the East Side neighbourhood were first surveyed on 30 questions about crime, safety and quality of life in 1997, then a similar number were polled with the same questions, in roughly the same locations, in 2007, and finally in 2017. Findings from the third survey were released Feb. 28.

Commercial Drive Vancouver BC Canada neighbourhood
Eileen Mosca: “There was a sense in the comments [in the survey] that people very much want it to stay the way it is — not in terms of housing prices and things like that, but in terms of community feeling. It’s a very different vibe around here. It’s not that you can do whatever you like on Commercial Drive but there’s a lot of allowances made for eccentricities here.” Photo by Dan Toulgoet
The study, produced by the Grandview-Woodland Community Policing Centre and SFU professor emerita Patricia Brantingham, found that across almost all 30 questions and all demographic groups, the responses in 2017 were remarkably similar to those given in 2007 and 1997.

Questions addressed subjects such as street vending, graffiti, sex workers, street musicians, unleashed dogs, drummers playing in Grandview Park, passive and aggressive panhandlers, skateboarding on city streets, promotional posters, drinking and smoking pot in public, traffic, outdoor café seating, public art, and condoms and needles on the ground.

Results include:

Street musicians soliciting donations. Acceptable or completely acceptable:

  • 2017: 62 per cent
  • 2007: 63 per cent
  • 1997: 65 per cent

Smoking pot in public. Acceptable or completely acceptable:

  • 2017: 33 per cent
  • 2007: 33 per cent
  • 1997: 35 per cent

Drummers playing in Grandview Park. Acceptable or completely acceptable:

  • 2017: 58 per cent
  • 2007: 61 per cent
  • 1997: 55 per cent

Graffiti on public property. Unacceptable or completely unacceptable:

  • 2017: 70 per cent
  • 2007: 68 per cent
  • 1997: 62 per cent

Aggressive panhandling. Unacceptable or completely unacceptable:

  • 2017: 85 per cent
  • 2007: 84 per cent
  • 1997: 82 per cent

Litter. Unacceptable or completely unacceptable:

  • 2017: 91 per cent
  • 2007: 92 per cent
  • 1997: 91 per cent

Aside from gauging opinions, the survey also asked respondents if they’d seen the activities in the Grandview-Woodland area over the previous six months.

The executive summary underscored respondents’ ability to deal with certain activities, but not others.

“People in the Commercial Drive area have maintained a tolerance for a number of things (including passive panhandling, drumming in the park, skateboarding on city streets) that might be viewed as problematic in other neighbourhoods,” it noted.

“Activities that are seen as completely unacceptable to the majority of respondents include aggressive panhandling, litter, discarding syringes and condoms on the ground, and sex work in residential areas or near schools. Although these things would be considered unacceptable in almost any neighbourhood, what is significant in this survey is that a great many respondents report having seen them with the past six months.”

Longtime Grandview-Woodland resident Eileen Mosca, vice president of Community Policing Centre board and one of the two writer/researchers on the survey, said she was amazed to see such similar opinions over the years.

She was also pleased to see that 86 per cent of the 2017 respondents enjoyed living in the neighbourhood despite dealing with realities such as skyrocketing real estate prices and the fact one in three had experienced property crime. In both 1997 and 2007, 79 per cent enjoyed living in the area. Respondents experienced similar levels of property crime during those years — 43 and 44 per cent respectively.

“I think what [the study] shows is people who choose to live around here like it. There’s a high tolerance here for diversity. People like that it’s artistic. It’s the kind of place where — I wouldn’t say anything goes, that’s not the point — but there’s a lot of scope for different opinions and different ways of living around the Drive. I think the study shows that that kind of quality has remained,” Mosca said.

She added that those surveyed represented a wide spectrum of the population — from people in banks to panhandlers to people waiting by the Broadway SkyTrain Station. She’s not aware of any similar survey done over the long-term in any other community. Mosca said it provides an interesting look at the neighbourhood because it’s not a sociological study with opinions about the community — it’s actually the community speaking for itself.

In terms of surprises, Mosca said one was the number who saw discarded needles in the latest survey.

“One of the more disturbing aspects was — I think it went from 65 per cent to 63 per cent — was the number of people who had seen a discarded needle. In spite of all the measures that have been taken [by Vancouver Coastal Health] to prevent this, it looks like it hasn’t changed very much,” she said.

While Mosca acknowledges the Commercial Drive area is different in many ways from when she arrived almost 40 years ago, she said it’s also changed for the better in certain aspects.

“There are a lot more amenities, there are a lot more community groups. The changes have been pluses and minuses, but I’ve always loved living here and still do. I’m happy to see that 86 per cent of people feel the same way,” she said.

“There was a sense in the comments [in the survey] that people very much want it to stay the way it is — not in terms of housing prices and things like that, but in terms of community feeling. It’s a very different vibe around here. It’s not that you can do whatever you like on Commercial Drive but there’s a lot of allowances made for eccentricities here.”

Survey results can be found on the Grandview-Woodland Community Policing Centre site HERE.