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Critics, admirers unite in praise of Jim Green

Jim Green as Executive Director of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association fighting for CRAB Park in 1985.

Kris Olds for The Globe and Mail/kris olds The Globe and Mail

Jim Green left a trail of divisiveness in his wake, with at least one critic for every admirer as he was labelled a dangerous utopian and a visionary, a radical and a sellout to developers.

But when news of Mr. Green's death broke early Tuesday morning, it brought together a wide set of friends and opponents, as they paid tribute to his work as a poverty advocate, housing developer, councillor, culture lover and ideas generator.

Friends and colleagues such as NDP Leader Adrian Dix, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Geoff Meggs praised him as a tireless activist and champion of social justice.

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They weren't alone.

Former mayor Sam Sullivan, who once described the leadership style of his one-time political opponent as "not very consensus-oriented," acknowledged Tuesday that Mr. Green's bullheaded insistence on turning the Woodward's building into a megaproject that combined social and market housing, a university building, shops and offices gave the city a unique legacy.

"Jim Green was right and I was wrong," Mr. Sullivan wrote in a special message to mark Mr. Green's passing.

Premier Christy Clark, whose B.C. Liberal Party relentlessly attacked the NDP-supported Four Corners Bank he created for the poor in the Downtown Eastside in the 1990s, praised him in the legislature and said Mr. Green's passionate leadership "made our province a better place."

And Jean Swanson, the Downtown Eastside activist who hired Mr. Green in 1980 to run the Downtown Eastside Residents advocacy organization she helped found, said the hundreds of units of social housing he got built during the 1980s created a critical permanent asset for the neighbourhood. That's even though she later became one of his most severe critics, saying that the Woodward's development had spurred gentrification and speculation in the area.

Mr. Green died at 6:15 a.m., surrounded by family in his condo at the Woodward's development he loved, where marketer Bob Rennie had leased him a unit at a low rate to allow him to live in the community that was his creation.

Mr. Rennie was one of several in the development community who stepped up to give Mr. Green work or a break after he was left with no job and a minuscule pension after his unsuccessful run for mayor against Mr. Sullivan in 2005.

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Mr. Green's death came a scant 36 hours after a special gathering for him Sunday at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, where he was presented with the Freedom of the City award by Mr. Robertson.

It shocked many that his end had come so quickly. Friends were in tears later that day at the Vancouver city council meeting that went ahead as scheduled, and hundreds in the city had a story of his life and its impact.

"Jim gave everybody the impression he was this big, tough guy. But underneath, he was a man with a very gentle, soft heart," said NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, who got her start in advocacy and politics when Mr. Green hired her as a housing advocate in 1994. "He would fight tooth and nail but he got hurt along the way. There were a thousand cuts. But I got the honour of seeing how you become a champion for things you believe in."

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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