29 July 2007

Nurturing the Weeds

How do you go from a single weed in the garden to a whole mess of weeds? Easy - you create all the conditions necessary for them to thrive:

When the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver, visitors will find one of the most alluring cities in North America, a green and vibrant port to Asia brimming with diversity, skyscrapers and West Coast cool. But if they take a wrong turn, they will enter Downtown Eastside, a 16-block area teeming with drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and panhandlers.

The side alleys are open markets for crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The streets reek of urine. Rates of AIDS and hepatitis C are at Third World levels. Those who don't have rooms in some shabby flophouse sleep on the pavement. A U.N. report last month called the area "the trouble in paradise."

Now, social agencies run programs in Vancouver that would raise eyebrows elsewhere. The provincial health department has a storefront office where addicts come to safely inject themselves with drugs. Another program gives out methadone. Another provides free sterile needles. The mayor is pushing a plan to distribute prescription pills to substitute for illegal drugs.

But his Olympic assurances are greeted with skepticism on the grimy streets of Downtown Eastside, where many expect the worst.

Culturally, socially and politically, Vancouver is the San Francisco of Canada. Like American its American counterpart, Vancouver is finding that no amount of happy thoughts can cure very real civic decay issues.

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