A little bit of Vienna in Vancouver

Vancouver real estate prices continue to skyrocket into unprecedented levels | Photo by Maxim Adshead

A touch of Vienna social housing is coming to the Museum of Vancouver. Starting May 17,the Vancouver Viennese artist collective Urban Subjects are collaborating with Austrian curators Wolfgang Förster and William Menkin to install a new two-month long exhibit at the MOV. The Vienna Model: Housing in the 21st Century will present a glimpse into the Vienna’s groundbreaking approach to social housing and hopes to inspire discussion around Vancouver’s ongoing housing situation.

Vancouver housing has reached a critical point,” says Jeff Derksen, a member of the artist collective the Urban Subjects.

According to the newest survey by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Metropolitan Vancouver’s vacancy rate for purpose-built rentals has fallen to 0.7%. Renters and homeowners alike are finding it increasingly difficult to locate suitable housing in the city that was recently ranked the 3rd most unaffordable in the world. The Museum of Vancouver’s new show The Vienna Model: Housing in the 21st Century touches upon a subject relevant to Vancouver, as the traveling exhibit aims to share innovative housing solutions from the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Vienna and Vancouver have been respectively ranked 2nd and 3rd in the Economist Intelligence Units Global Livability ranking.

“Vancouver has a lot to learn from Vienna, the livability in Vancouver comes from its relationship to nature, whereas in Vienna it comes from its relationship to stability and home,” says Derksen.

According to Förster and Menkin, Vienna has achieved extraordinary progress with regard to social housing; today about 60% of the population lives in municipality built, owned or managed housing. Vienna’s Municipal Department owns more than 22,0000 apartments – over one-quarter of the city’s total housing stock according to the governmental studies in 2015.

The exhibit’s curators trust in “equitable housing rather than an unattainable system determined by marketable conditions” and believe the city’s model could have a real and positive impact on the future of Vancouver housing development.

Prior to its arrival at the Museum of Vancouver, the travelling exhibit will have already visited several major cities including New York, Istanbul, Hong Kong and Berlin.

“The Vienna model had quite a public effect in New York, provoking dialogue that influenced New York social housing policy,” says Derksen, who helped curate the exhibit at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City. “The exhibition form itself even has a history, developed from Viennese public exhibitions in the 1930s, used to transfer general information to the people of Vienna, creating a visual language to keep its citizens informed.”

The exhibit contains a combination of texts, images, and video materials that help illustrate the eight principles of Viennese housing: social mix; development of new urban areas; diversity and integration; civic participation; environmental and climate protection; urban redevelopment; suburban development; usage and design of public spaces; and the role of art in housing construction. It is this final trait, the role of art in housing construction, that Urban Subjects emphasizes. They hope to incorporate local art installations into the exhibit.

The collective

Comprised of Derksen, along with Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber, Urban Subjects has been providing courses, events and exhibits on urban issues for over a decade. After meeting at an artist residency in Banff, AB in 1998, they moved to Vancouver to “join the debate on whose imagination gets to shape a city,” says Derksen.

The Vienna Model exhibit is only the latest of a long history of confronting urban issues through art; it was a central idea to collective’s formation.

“The idea of artistic research, art as a social function, as not just informative, but critical and optimistic, ignites the fundamental questions of social justice and society,” says Derksen.

Urban Subjects hope the exhibit will not only provide information for its audience, but that it will also spark a widespread dialogue between Vienna and Vancouver, and inspire Vancouverites to help take part in shaping the city.

For more information, please visit www.museumofvancouver.ca.