Nathan Edelson was an urban visionary. He was a City planner who advocated for social inclusion and fought tirelessly for marginalized residents in the Downtown Eastside.
A long-time friend and former Board member of PHS Community Services Society, Nathan passed away aged 76 in September 2023 after a brief illness.
We’re remembering his commitment to inclusion and fairness through the creation of the Nathan Edelson Memorial Fund, inviting commemorative donations to support projects close to Nathan’s heart and work.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Edelson came to Canada around 1972 with degrees in geography and regional science. He began working for the City of Vancouver’s planning department in 1983.
His 25-year planning career will be remembered for his advocacy for co-operative housing and resident-focused revitalization of the DTES, and his commitment to preserving Chinatown’s heritage.
As a senior planner, he pushed for long-term decision-making that listened to community voices and grassroots activists in order to create inclusive, livable spaces.
He was of the generation of urban planners linked to the concept of Vancouverism. According to the City’s own definition, the term describes the city’s urban density that makes space for “light, air and views,” along with “parks, walkable streets, and public spaces, combined with an emphasis on sustainable forms of transit.”
Nathan always made it clear that his Vancouver included the DTES.
In a 2004 speech, he said: “One of the most interesting features of Vancouverism is that our downtown core, with its glass towers. . . is immediately adjacent to the city’s historic core and the Downtown Eastside.
“Much of Vancouver’s poverty, mental illness and addictions seem to be in plain sight of others, and it’s fair to say that the same forces that generated the towers was also involved in some of the despair that’s been right adjacent to it.”
Nathan fought to keep the DTES as livable and inclusive for its residents as other parts of Vancouver were for the people there. He fiercely opposed gentrification and the displacement of residents.
This view was established in the City’s 2014 Downtown Eastside Plan, a 30-year “people-first” policy to “make the DTES a more livable, safe and supportive place for all of its diverse residents” by containing commercial development.
Nathan, who retired from the City in 2008, joined forces with PHS Housing Director Tanya Fader to discuss the Plan in a public debate in March 2023. (Pictured above.)
Organizers Urbanarium had never seen so great an opinion swing in all their years of hosting debates. Polled coming in, only 15 per cent of attendees thought the city should stick with the DTES Plan; after the discussion, 55 per cent were in favour.
Nathan served on the PHS Board between December 2015 and September 2021, and is greatly missed by those he worked alongside.