Jim Green died peacefully at dawn on February 28 in his home above the Atrium of his beloved Woodward's project, surrounded by members of his family, after a two-year battle with cancer. Less than 48 hours before, he had been awarded the Freedom of the City, Vancouver's highest honour, by Mayor Gregor Robertson in a music and joy-filled gathering at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1943, Jim worked as an ambulance driver and farmworker organizer while beginning studies in anthropology that included graduate work at the Sorbonne. In 1968, he moved to Vancouver rather than serve in Vietnam. This city became both his home and his life's work; Jim loved Vancouver.
Jim worked for a number of years on Vancouver's waterfront, both as a shipyard worker and longshoreman, forging lifelong ties with the members of the port's maritime unions. Those friendships resulted in the publication in 1986 of his book Against the Tide, a history of the Canadian Seamen's Union. During this period he got to know Bruce Eriksen, one of the founders of the Downtown Eastside Resident's Association (DERA). As DERA's main organizer during the 1980s, Jim helped the residents of the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona and Chinatown unite to protest a wave of evictions that hit those communities in the months before Expo 86. His experiences during this period, including the death of elderly logger Olaf Solheim in the course of one eviction, laid the groundwork for his dogged and ultimately successful efforts to ensure the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games had firm commitments to social sustainability.
Jim led the DERA Housing Society in the construction of hundreds of social housing units including Bruce Eriksen Place, the award-winning Four Sisters Co-op, Olaf Solheim Place and many more. In 1991, he led a community development unit for the provincial government that produced more social housing and created Four Corners Community Savings, an innovative banking institution to serve the needs of the city's poorest residents.
For many years a university lecturer, Jim helped create Humanities 101, a free tuition program of university-level courses for students from the Downtown Eastside. This built on Jim's work to found BladeRunners, a skills and job-training program for street youth that has launched scores of young people into careers in construction.
Jim was devoted to the arts. Each of his developments featured murals and careful design, and he served for a number of years on the board of Vancouver Opera. In 2008, he secured capital funding and city approval to save and restore the historic York Theatre for the Cultch.
Jim sought elected office on four occasions, but was unsuccessful until 2002 when he was elected to Vancouver city council in the COPE sweep that saw Larry Campbell elected mayor. As councillor, he was able to accomplish his proudest achievement: the redevelopment of the Woodward's block with social housing, market housing, university facilities and cultural spaces. After his defeat in a second mayoral bid in 2005, Jim began a consulting business from office space in a heritage building overlooking the Woodward's site.
In recent years, Jim's achievements have been widely acknowledged. He was made an honourary member of both the BC Architectural Institute and the Planning Institute of BC. In the week before his death, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities named him to the FCM Honour Roll. Jim was also adopted into the Haida Nation.
Jim is survived by his younger brother Paul; beloved partner Heather Redfern; daughter Geneva Biggers with Nancy Green; and daughter Alexandra Rutherford (David Cookson) with Jacqueline Henry. Jim also spent more than 20 years with Roberta McCann, and is survived by her and her children Matt, Cathy, Kelly and Kevin Hawken.
He is also mourned by grandchildren Tyson Green and Simone Biggers, Brenna, Jade and Connor Van Velzen, and Tandia, Aiden and Maya Hawken.
In accordance with Jim's wishes, his body will be cremated in a private Sikh service. Details of a Public Celebration of his life will be released soon. Condolences and memories may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Those wishing to make a donation in Jim's memory are asked to contribute to The Cultch - The Jim Green Fund, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver V5L 2H6.