Mission Group unveiled their vision for the block of Bernard that was once home to The Bargain Shop. The one acre of land has sat dormant since the store closed in late 2010, and the large block building that is still standing there today has been long overdue for a repurpose.
This week, advertising went up around the deserted building, as did the website for the development, and Mission Group is calling their brand new building “Brooklyn”. Brooklyn of course has been historically known as one of Manhattan’s many “other side of the tracks” (or, home to millions of immigrants and working class Americans). In the last decade or so however, this lively borough has undergone massive change. Due to factors too complex to get into here (sky-rocketing and limited Manhattan real estate meets a culture obsessed with lifestyle) it has been subject to probably the greatest gentrification seen in North America, rendering the name Brooklyn nearly synonymous with gentrification.
Hipsters took over the borough and brought their fixies, single origin coffee, and artisanal donuts; and yuppies scooped up roomy brownstones, and rents went off the charts. Quickly after, the condo people came, rendering the skyline near unrecognizable in parts. It pushed those living there on basic wages out. Affordable housing all but disappeared. Of course this was not just happening in Brooklyn – this uniform hipster look was simultaneously establishing itself across cities everywhere – but I think it’s safe to say it was considered the mothership.
It wasn’t enough for many in the diaspora to remain content with their reclaimed wood and signs, Tolix bars stools, and cutting board plates, and pretty soon eateries, bars and stores would pop up with the name “Brooklyn” in them. Lazy cultural shorthand for cool I guess, but really a sign that the shit had gone off the rails: using the name of a foreign place to signify a local diy culture betrays the superficiality of it all.
In today’s marketing-fuelled times, the half-life of a trend is extremely long. So while you can still expect this “aesthetic” to kick around for a while, it’s a bit on the nose and weird for Mission Group to straight-up celebrate the idea of gentrifying Kelowna. What’s a name though really? Maybe we’re getting a little too easily offended by the tackiness and should just be happy that the city is building up instead of out right? Maybe all of this is inevitable and all we can do is laugh at the silliness of thirsty late capitalism.
But it will be more than a name. Apparently, according to Mission Group we’re getting “Brooklyn-inspired architecture”. I wonder what they are referring to? Are we getting the largest brownstone ever? Or are designers inspired by the condos along the Williamsburg shore that are way too expensive for anyone except perhaps the set departments of Bravo reality tv shows? This marketing line is about as empty as a Kelowna condo in winter.
Mission Group’s president Randy Shier was quoted earlier in the week, saying “I love the creativity and outside-the-box thinking,” referring to reactions of Kelowna residents imagining what would suit the area best when everyone learned the building was finally sold last year. “It’s wonderful to know that the community wants to see something happen and our hope is we do the right thing. We may not make every one happy, there may not be a bowling alley or a roller rink, but we’re going to try”, Shier said. To start, you should have let these same Kelowna residents name your building. Anything would have been better than “Brooklyn”.
Gentrification is well known for pricing out businesses and residents, and to be fair, it can bring a lot of interesting economic activity into depressed and underused spaces, and one could argue this block of Bernard could use the love. However, I don’t think that a rich urban fabric will be the result when these units are first and foremost advertised as “zoned for short-term rentals”. Says Randall Shier:
“The ability to offset the cost of your investment by renting it when you please is a game changer. First-time homebuyers and working professionals will love the flexibility offered by the option of earning money while they are away from home.”
Isn’t this what BC’s speculation tax is supposed to curb? If the only prospective buyers that Mission Group thinks they can attract are those that wish to buy, and then rent their units out for short term intervals at potentially exorbitant rates, how is this not speculation? A developer needs investment capital, and relies on selling lifestyle dreams to hundreds of real estate-horny investors who in turn can’t really afford it, and so rely on Airbnb hustling (which could all come crashing down with the stroke of a regulator’s pen). The marketing of “Brooklyn” is part of the engine, but is seems to me like they’ve exposed just a bit too much of how the sausage is made (they should have called the condo “Sausage Factory” lol).
In my opinion, this is the last thing Kelowna needs – a glorified Airbnb tower. We have too many of those already.