In many North American cities, gentrification of inner city neighbourhoods threatens to dislocate people who have come to rely on these communities for less expensive housing and concentrated service accessibility – creating urban planning, service delivery and economic development challenges of the highest order.
Nowhere in Canada is this more apparent than in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country are juxtaposed against some of the wealthiest. Weakened by the stress of abject poverty, Vancouver’s inner city is under enormous pressure from private development and is struggling to withstand the accompanying forces of gentrification and displacement. Concerns are mounting that as development progresses, local residents and economies are seeing few benefits.
To reduce these pressures, there is a growing desire to explore alternative types of economic development. Local economies in particular have the potential to revitalize the social and cultural health of inner city neighbourhoods.
The Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab) is a place-based initiative which will generate, implement, and scale innovative community-designed and -driven ideas for a vibrant and inclusive local economy in Vancouver’s inner city. Delivered jointly by Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS SFU, the Lab is designed to help community organizations, local governments, and civil society work together to drive forward implementation of the community economic development policies set forth in the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan.
LEDlab will enable new cross-cutting mechanisms that encourage the co-creation of solutions that support inner city residents in improving their economic independence. This method will disrupt the historically siloed approaches of service providers, funders, and entrepreneurs for creating social impact in the DTES in favour of a collaborative and place-based model for economic development – one that can serve as an example in cities around the world.
We will work with community stakeholders to identify current challenges and potential solutions, then apply them in a rapid prototyping/assessment model. The Lab will provide 30 paid, full-time internship opportunities over three years for graduate students from across the country to supply research and prototyping support. By documenting and sharing our work – both successes and failures – we hope to advance the fields of social innovation and economic development.
RADIUS SFU and Ecotrust Canada have committed the next three years to stimulating community economic development in Vancouver’s inner city. RADIUS (RADical Ideals Useful to Society) is a social innovation lab and venture incubator based at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. Formed to help SFU and BC step forward as leaders in building the New Economy, RADIUS’s mandate is to strengthen impact-focused businesses and the ecosystem that supports them, develop and test new ideas for an economy that prioritizes people and planet, and build a pipeline of emerging social economy leaders.