Museum of Vancouver – How to make room in Vancouver for those who need it most

The GHETTO exhibition, now showing at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) until November 12, is “a theoretical rezoning project that proposes the development of housing for refugees through the transfer of wealth created by the sale of timeshare condominiums to American tourists.” The GHETTO concept is about innovative methods to accommodate new, rapidly growing urban populations by proposing potential solutions to numerous metropolises facing housing crises of different types.

Vancouver-based architectural studio Henriquez Partners Architects of Vancouver in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees originally exhibited GHETTO at the European Cultural Centre’s 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice. With tens of millions of refugees on the move worldwide displaced by the tragedies of war or disaster, the current exhibit brings the resulting conversations of housing and displacement to Vancouver.

What could this project mean for Vancouver?

Mauro Vescera, the CEO of the MOV says that GHETTO is the perfect fit for the museum: not only does it complement current exhibitions discussing design and community, but it has “its local manifestation here in our community [of Vancouver].”

The new GHETTO exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver shows how we can create space for refugees. | Photo courtesy of Henriquez Partners Architects

According to the exhibit website, Vancouver is a city with similar challenges to Venice, including “housing unaffordability, economic dependence on tourism, an influx of immigrants and the displacement of residents.”

To overcome the issues that face the project, such as inherent segregation in city-planning, GHETTO aims to promote as four “intentions”: inclusivity, advocacy, belonging and facilitation. As with any urban development within a city, the public is consulted and provided with opportunity to engage, which is where the Museum of Vancouver comes in.

The MOV’s role, says Vescera, is to provide a gathering space that provides a platform that “fosters connection, learning, and new experiences of Vancouver’s diverse communities and histories.” Vescera highlights the opportunity for two-way communication and conversation-building between the developer and the public with the museum as the platform.

“This mission lays the foundation for a more socially connected and participatory organization with exhibitions, and programming that emphasize MOV’s four thematic pillars: reconciliation through redress and decolonization; immigration and diversity; sustainability and environment, and contemporary urban issues,” says Vescera.

Sparking meaningful dialogue

Henriquez Partners proposes a development housing about 1000 displaced refugees in multiple locations throughout the city. The firm “aspires to spark a meaningful dialogue about the issues affecting all cities and our collective obligation to create inclusive and engaged communities where all are welcome and belong.

At first glance, the architectural project may appear to be a modernized take on refugee housing, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye. It lays the groundwork for a novel economic model that proposes a new way of seeing shared space.

As Henriquez Partners’ manifesto explains, the project would be funded through a condominium vacation home timeshare model, a sort of sharing of ownership rights and wealth. This would “leverage the power of the development community to provide social benefit to [those] who have less.”

The project would go by a 100 percent non-profit model, meaning that all the sales revenue of the condominium units would fund the refugee units. Mixed-use developments in Vancouver have been a running theme for Henriquez Partners, and GHETTO would be no different, providing compact housing for hundreds of refugees, complete with amenities such as banks, cafes, grocery stores, and even childcare spaces, which are desperately needed in Vancouver.

As Vancouver and the surrounding region is suffering from a serious housing supply shortage resulting in soaring costs, building more refugee housing and hotels can also ease pressure off local units, by reducing the need for short-term rentals and Airbnbs.

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