Vancouver’s annual celebration of Japanese culture will take place this year on side streets around the Downtown Eastside, instead of its usual site in Oppenheimer Park, where an unusually high number of people are living in tents.
The Powell Street Festival, a celebration of Japanese arts, food and culture described as the largest of its kind in Canada, has been held every August long weekend for the past four decades.
With only a few exceptions, it has taken place in Oppenheimer Park on Powell Street, the historic heart of the local Japanese Canadian community until its forcible removal by the federal government during the Second World War.
But with Vancouver’s homeless population at record highs, according to last month’s annual count, the number of residents living in Oppenheimer Park has soared. So the festival plans to go ahead this year mostly outside the park.
This year’s festival, which includes live music, martial arts performances and food stalls, will mostly be held on side streets in the Downtown Eastside, including Alexander, Jackson, and Dunlevy streets, said the Powell Street Festival Society’s executive director, Emiko Morita. In previous years, festival representatives would generally be in the park doing preparation in the lead-up to the event, Morita said, and Oppenheimer residents had voluntarily moved to near the perimeter of the park for the duration of the event.
But event organizers started making alternative plans last winter, when park board rangers told the festival society that the number of people living in the park was “unprecedented” for that time of year, Morita said. The city has been supportive, she said, of the plan to use side streets this year instead of the park.
“We understand that we’re guests in the park, that we come every year, and we’re a bit of a disruption for some,” Morita said. “This year, the difference is that housing crisis is having a palpable effect on the park.”
There have been two years in the past decade when the festival relocated, Morita said, once because of a tent city in Oppenheimer and once because of park renovations.
This week, members of the Carnegie Community Action Project counted more than 100 people living in the park, said Elli Taylor, an assistant at the Project.
Taylor said Project representatives had met with the Powell Street Festival, and appreciates their efforts this year to avoid displacing park residents.
“The festival is being awesome,” Taylor said. “It’s the recognition that people need to stop being displaced. There’s no place to go.”
“As a community that has experienced forced displacement, we refuse to continue this pattern of dispossession of vulnerable people in this area,” the Powell Street Festival Society’s president, Edward Takayanagi, said in a statement on Thursday.
“In respect for the current residents and the occupants of the park, they have designed their festival and program to ensure the people in the park are not displaced while providing a rich cultural experience for festival goers,” his statement said.
The Powell Street Festival takes place on Aug. 3 and 4.