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How Beauty Creates the Beast in the Downtown Eastside: The Role of Aesthetics and Ambiance


Social Research Design Proposal

Simon Fraser University

Nov 29 2013

Written by Nadia Secreto 

Professor: Chris Atchison



A. Proposed Study 1.0 Introduction


Beauty is all around us and even nature has its way of seducing all of our senses. From the trees to the architecture of a building we are inveigled. I am a sculptor and an important aspect in sculpture is the understanding of the object, body and making space. The space I am interested in is the space that exists inside and outside of the body. When I was a child we use to drive on the weekend to my aunt's place that was in a remote area outside of Calgary. Driving back home was always uneasy for me because my family and I would drive through a period in absolute darkness, a place that felt very quiet, absent from the urban city chaos. I felt uneasy with the little or no lights in the space to guide the driving. It was quite primitive at that point. As time passed, from fear and uncertainty, I grew into looking forward to my drive back home, as it forced me to be in a place that was in complete darkness. Not knowing exactly where I was in the moment of ten minutes seemed long at the beginning but because I had no choice but to endure the time, I learned to enjoy the internal silence that this space allowed me to be in. It was in this moment in the car where I would force myself to drive and let go into the darkness.


And so, the body is a space to be endless, to be objectless, and to be without dimension; this is the space that contradicts beauty and the space it is in because aesthetics is traditionally conceived with some form of object and material tied to it. But this place of the human space, the social space is the internal space I am interested in understanding how brand names can significantly mold spaces and the relationships of the people in it . My research proposal will examine, compare and contrast brands, labels, and private businesses in the Downtown Eastside and Gas town, Vancouver BC.


2.0 Research Problem


Brands, media, and advertisements are manipulative tools for the system to employ people to consciously or unconsciously migrate into particular spaces. If this is true then space could have the authority to invisibly control and categorize contrasting social and economic classes. Furthermore, distinct degrees of capital flows can mobilize from the emotional and psychological landscape to the physical one and certain labels and/or stores initiate spending, shopping, addictions, homelessness, and related dysfunctions associated with unequal distribution of capital and social injustice.



3.0 Research Purpose and Objectives


The proposed study aims to address social inequalities for those who are marginalized and concentrated on East Hastings Street. So, by studying East Hastings Street and comparing it to it’s sister street Gas town, the problem of embedding certain labels on certain streets is that it responds to social consequences and reflects capital flows. Thus, the proposed study will address the role of aesthetics and how certain labels and businesses indirectly shape the urban built environment.


Moreover, the proposed study is a critical theoretical examination of comparing and contrasting, privatized businesses and their spatial relationship to the Downtown Eastside and Gas town. This study is important because it will address the responsibility private business’s play in shaping and embedding particular ambiances in spaces. The ambiance I speak of reflects the sorts of people whom migrate into certain places because that is what they can afford and/or feel comfortable in.


Additionally, the proposed study will investigate the mobility of capital in the urban built environment because this can determine and reflect the economic and social ‘success‘ on the street from one building to the next consumer. The ‘success’ I speak of is not in the buildings, it is in the people that encompass the spaces. Moreover, this study will compare and merge the relationship between capital flows, aesthetics, and ambiance in order to address poverty, addictions, and unhealthy living situations that marginalized (homeless) people face in the DTES.


Furthermore, the proposed study will make contribution to knowledge in various ways. It aims to engage and encourage awareness in society to understand how consumption patterns and capital flows are not natural processes. Being aware of how certain brand names framework our perception of people in the space is the point we need to emphasize. It seeks to develop propositions around aesthetics and ambiance through the psychological and emotional lens. By approaching this issue theoretically, we can identify, challenge, and establish an understanding of space and how people are not naturally flocking to particular brand names, but are operating and performing under capital frameworks.


4.0 Literature Review


Evident in the literature are three conceptual areas of relevance to this study. These are concepts of ‘Aesthetics’ in the urban built environment; empirical research into the ‘Management of Capital Flows’; and empirical research to ‘Ambiance’ and the psychological landscape. These areas will now be discussed;


4.1 Aesthetics in the Urban Built Environment

Aesthetics in the urban built environment hinges the visible substances that seduces the objects, persons, places and/or things in the space. According to Mark Crinson, aesthetics are historical urban memories that define urban patterns between history and illusions. Thus, colonial and capitalistic residues and behaviors lends itself to todays modern cities. (Crinson, 2005) This conceptual take on history is important, because when the role of aesthetics are considered, these modern cities that Crinson speaks of, reflect the illusion of what is considered ‘valuable’ in a space to what is not. Aesthetics gives space and buildings a sense of character. (Tornqvist, 2004) This character articulates a representation of who we are as society and where we belong as individuals- economically and socially speaking. (Goss, 1993) Thus, the analysis of form, function, and meaning in stores is important and relevant to the role of aesthetics, because of the effects media has on shaping society. (Goss, 1993)


Media reflects capital flows, from the building, to the viewer and into the space. Moreover, aesthetics lends itself to concepts of imitation. Imitation is an important concept for the idea of aesthetics, because is the unspoken dialogue between the media and the viewer. (Goss, 1993) Thus, the media is dependent on the viewer. (Goss, 1993) By conceptualizing the relationship between different brands, media, and images, we can visually see how this embeds itself to the character of the space and the people in it. The viewer in space conceptually lends itself to theorist Slavoj Zizek. ‘The Parallax View III’ speaks to a philosophical perspective between human emotions, psychological complexities, and to the object. What is important here is to acknowledge the role of aesthetics as a psychological one. (Zizek)


Aesthetics and the psychological landscape is a dimension that is often overlooked and needs to be considered. So, aesthetics are manipulative strategies to seduce the viewer into the branding, and capital flows in the urban built environment. Different branding, media, and capital levels target certain groups of people, depending on the value of the capital flow. (Goss, 1993) Furthermore, the focus here is to understand how aesthetics imitate the space and the people in it. (Siebers, 2000)


4.2 Management of Capital Flows

Management of capital flows are invisible structures that move in space. It can define the landscapes framework and the relationship between the built environment and the people inhabiting it. Direction and management are roles that become the manipulative art between the control of the state and societies consumption patterns.(Scheld, 2003) Walter Benjamin speaks of these patterns as a way for capital flows to produce and reproduce its self in order to sustain mechanical reproduction. Colonialism, Capitalism and Industrialism, all contribute to the design of the landscape, and use people to sustain it.(Walter Benjamin) This brings forth the issues in management where capital flows from one building to the next. Economic and social values in the built environment raises the main concern; Who really walks in the shoes of the people? The concept of footwear lends itself to the invisible way management of capital flows are controlled. This is explored by observing the everyday walkers and the kind of shoes they wear. (Scheld, 2003) The shoe is a common reproductive commodity that invisibly effects the spaces the walker is in. The aesthetics of the shoe is a metaphoric symbol to critically examine the role of aesthetics and the ambiance of space.(Scheld, 2003) Capital management is then more often then not a fixed and fluid form of capital value. This value transcends from one space to the next.


Thus, certain brands and the process of wearing the shoe, reflects the physical, emotional, and mental attributes of a space success’s. The role of capital management plays a major responsibility to homelessness and urban exclusion.(Scheld, 2003) Furthermore, brands and media are managements of capital flows. This determines who belongs and who doesn’t in particular spaces. This raises the issue of the relationships between the value of spaces, societies relationship to space and the production and reproduction of urban aesthetics in the built environment. (Tonnelat, 2008)


4.3 Ambiance and the Psychological Landscape

Siebers (2000) refers to aesthetics as a process of modification roles through the body’s internal and external beliefs, values, and norms within space. The psychological landscape and the role of the body to its space is important because it identifies the complex roles and contributions brands and media have towards the overall ambiance in the environment, and this effects the people who mobilize in it. (Saville, 2008) Saville and Stephen (2008) argue mobility of emotion is a psychological and emotional one. Thus, different appearances will have different feelings towards functions and dysfunctions in the psychological landscape.

Moreover, colors, brands, and media are political and psychological. Various studies demonstrate how the experience in the neighborhood is registered through ambiance, and this effects the space physically and emotionally. If the ambiance is low and not attractive, then this unattractiveness brings forth the question whether or not political and economic strategies are designed to highlight marginalized spaces, so this implements and creates fear into the people. (Guano, 2003) Guano (2003), examines this notion of creating fear through the poetics of the spatial experience in a Buenos Aires Neighborhood.


Thus, the spatial experience is dependent on the ambiance of Capitalism. Harvey (2006) theorizes the concept of Neo-Liberalism and examines this economic ideology as a way to perpetuate fear of not consuming enough in society. Thus, indirectly, the ‘creative destruction’ process speaks of the ‘perceived’ freedom in the urban built environment. However, little, if any research has examined the role of emotions and ambiance as the initial substance that ignites the capitalistic umbrella. Furthermore, In

the absence of the ‘umbrella’, the psychological landscape, undergo’s ways to process the states ghostly ego and behavioral processes.(Pinder, 2001) This permits distortion, of the physical landscape and shapes the Global and Local perceptions of what values are good or bad in society, thus, the role of ambiance becomes an ethical responsibility, not an economic one.(Monmonier, 2005)


B. Research Plan


5.0 Theoretical Framework


The constructivist epistemology will be the underlying framework to support this proposed study. Constructionism suggests that the mental construction actually constructs and explains the sensory experience people have in the natural world. (Piaget, 1967) Furthermore, this proposed study will explore ambiance and aesthetics as a inherited construction. This philosophy lend itself to understanding social and economic roles with human interaction.

Moreover, this proposed study intends to incorporate interactionism as an approach to explore interaction processes with the space and the objects. According to Blumer (1969) a prominent figure of this concept, understands human behavior is based on these three core principles; Meaning, Language, and Thought. However, this proposed study will look at these core principles and merge social interaction to the psychological one. This will examine ‘interaction’ through the aesthetic lens. However, the proposed study will focus on the meanings brands have in the space and on to human response to the interaction.

This proposed study’s research questions are focused on theoretical research to Aesthetics, Capital flows, Ambiance, and the Psychological Landscape. The constructivist epistemology and interactionism perspectives will also be incorporated.


5.1 Research Questions


This proposed study will seek to answer this central research question:

How do residents reflect to their surroundings spaces and does the space reflect the residents?


In addition the following guiding questions have been formulated in order to support the data collection process.

a) To what extent can spaces be strategized to promote particular sentiments among the people inhabiting the space?

b) What role does the temporal dynamic play in how people experience the urban built environment?

c) How do the people inhabiting the space react to shifts in the aesthetics of a space?

d) In what ways does the role of space inhibit interactions between the people and space?

e) Is this public space created as a strategy to represent ‘fear’?

f) If gentrification is associated with marginalizing and outcasting characteristics, then can this be resolved with the BID?

g) In what way do privatized businesses shape the relationship and interactions in space between Gas town and DTES?


5.2 Research Design


This proposed study intends to use a longitudinal case study design. This method will give insight to the analysis of observing the space in the DTES and Gas town. This proposed study will be a repeated daily observation between the people and the built environment. The longitudinal case study approach, focuses on the buildings, people and space. Additionally, this cross-case analysis compares the details of aesthetics, ambiance, brands, and media, and examines whether or not these variables effect homelessness in the DTES.


In this proposed study, the collective case for observation is defined as ‘ambiance’ as the individuals positions in space is in from the DTES and Gas town. These collective spaces may or may not have similar themes or characteristics, however the understanding of these collective spaces is expected to lead to a general hypothesis from the data that is collected. The researcher is aiming to identify common themes and point out significant differences that may emerge from one street to the next. In addition the researcher, intends to generate propositions regarding the interactions of aesthetics and ambiance with the residents on the street daily.


5.3 Selection of Participants and Population


This proposed study intends to use random observational studying. The researcher is basing this proposed study theoretically, so the information obtained from longitudinal case design will support the research question and the thesis. However, there will be a temporal selection as the participant. The population consists of all units from the space. The spaces represented within the boundaries of Gas town, the DTES, and human interactions that occur in the researchers observational studying.



5.4 Sampling Frame, Sampling Techniques, and Sampling Size/ Procedure


The researcher does not require a sampling frame because the researchers sampling is not determined by the human subjects in space, rather it is focused on the urban built environment and the ambiance in the area. Thus, the researchers methods are primarily used through observation and literature. The researchers sample is concentrated on the built environment from East Hastings street to Gas town.


The researchers proposed study sampling technique will use Non-Probability Sampling: Convenience and Purposive. The researchers proposed study sampling procedures will be determined by these selected spaces; The researcher will walk from ‘East Hastings St and Adanac Bikeway’, to ‘Franklin St and E Cordova Street’ , and then reach to ‘East Hastings Street’. The researcher will then return back the same way to its final destination at East Hastings St and Adanac Bikeway. The total distance observed is 8.2km. These spaces are chosen to lends itself to a repetitive linear perspective in studying the selected built environment. This will compliment the researchers longitudinal case study design as it requires to repeat within the same spaces.


By concentrating on these chosen spaces, the researcher will have the opportunity to collect and observe data consistently within controlled geographical boundaries. The researcher is required to stop at each block for one hour, to observe all units within the space; this includes but is not limited to- building units, branding units, media units, residents behaviors, residents interactions with the building units, residents interactions with residents, residents aesthetics, aesthetics of the building units, landscape units, street dynamics, signs units, and street design. These elements in the space are determined because this encompasses the complexities ambiance has on these spaces. These elements shape each block and thus will direct the proposed research study to understand the effects and diversity in each space.


5.5 Solicitation Procedure


The proposed study will secure its participation through temporal strategies. Observational study will begin with flexibility at nine in the morning to six in the early evening. The researcher is dependent on these time dynamics in order to sample spaces and observe the interaction of all sampling units. The researcher is the external observer and will not enter inside the building units. And as a external observer, the researcher will not require to communicate to the residents in the area. However, if the opportunity arises, the researcher is required to answer any questions the residents and gatekeepers might have and will respect the requests.


By establishing a honest dialogue from the researcher to the residents and gatekeepers, the access of space is secure because trust has been established.


However, if a conflict arises, the researcher must oblige to the requests of the space and the people in it, and must relocate from the space.

The researcher will communicate the project and its observations clearly. The researcher will explain the research objective, question and purpose to the residents and to the gatekeepers of the space if needed. Because the nature of this proposed research, spaces of observation are not always public, however the researcher is not collecting specific data that identifies certain people, so ethically speaking, the observed residents identity are not being digitally recorded nor will the researcher require to obtain personal information from the residents in the space. Additionally, the researcher will use its own mobility to control and secure its participation in space. By observing one hour at a time in each block, gives enough temporal space for the residents and all of the units in the space not to feel uncomfortable. Thus, time and timing in each space is essential for the researcher to sustain and secure it’s participation within the space. Moreover, it is mandatory for the researcher to respect the dynamics of the space and to also be aware of her own safety using her own judgement.


6.0 Methods and Operationalization 

6.1 Data Collection


In this proposed study, the primary source of data collection will be through the use of theoretical literature. Supporting data will be collected through observations in DTES and Gas town. Thus the observations in which the researcher will act only as a non- participant observer and reflective journals will be maintained by the researcher.

This proposed study intends to gather data through in-depth research of the theoretical literatures, which are sourced at the references below. This enables the researcher to have background in the proposed study. This gives the researcher flexibility to respond immediately to the issues raised by the residents and gatekeepers of the space. Being well informed on the researchers study is imperative to ground the researchers position in the space.


6.1.1 Observation

In this proposed study, data will be collected weekly for one month on every Monday to the following schedule:

March 3, 2014- Observation and Journaling 1 March 10, 2014- Observation and Journaling 2 March 17, 2014- Observation and Journaling 3 March 24, 2014- Observation and Journaling 4 March 31, 2014- Observation and Journaling 5


From the first cycle of observation to the fifth cycle of observation, will repeat itself in each cycle. Methods and approaches will not be altered unless a external situation comes up and changes the pattern.


6.1.2 Reflective Journals and Field Notes

During the observation cycles, the researcher is required to maintain a reflective journal through out its observation time in all five cycles, the reflective journal will act a the field nots for the researchers observations. The reflective journal will include three elements: a time log with factual events that have occurred during observation; a list of the significant incidents that are important to connect the researchers objective and purpose, and a reflection on the researchers experience from each cycle of observation at the end of it. This reflective journal will be used as empirical research in conjunction with the researchers theoretical literature. Thus, the reflective journals will seek to support and provide data for the researchers thesis.


The majority of observations are undertaken during the time that is focused in the structure of the cycles. Field notes and the structure of the reflective journals are focused to document activities within the space. The researcher is aware that she may not have access to observing all activities within the space due to the unknown circumstances that may arise. Again, it is emphasized that the researcher will respect the demands for the comfort of the residents and gatekeepers in the space.

Observations will seek to generate data in order to inform the proposed study’s guiding questions (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e).


  The proposed research study will operate these data collections as a tool to fully experience the ambiance of these two spaces. Furthermore the researcher will use these data methods to full operate the experience and interactions between the residents, the buildings and its surrounding environment. By using the Reflective Journaling Method and Field Notes, will allow the researcher to capture the interacting moments in DTES and Gas town, while mobilizing from one block to the next. These methods and observation cycles will generate abundance of information that the researcher will experience. Thus, providing enough data to critically answer the questions. These methods and constructs will allow the researcher to understand the space and the ambiance within it.

The data will be simplified and categorized into the three sections of the literature review themes. Moreover, the final phase is of the data display will be used and implemented into the theoretical research essay. Furthermore, the proposed study will be executed in research essay format.





Crinson, Mark. Urban Memory: History and Amnesia in the Modern City . London: Routledge, 2005. Print. Goss, Jon. 'The 'Magic of the Mall': An Analysis of Form, Function, and Meaning in the Contemporary Retail Built Environment.' Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83.1 (1993): 18-47. Print Guano, E (2003) A Stroll Through la Boca: The Politics and Poetics of Spatial Experience in a Buenos Aires Neighborhood. Space & Culture. Vol. 6(4): 356-376 Harvey, David. 'Neo-Liberalism as Creative Destruction.' Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography 88.2 (2006): 145-58. Print. "Herbert Blumer's Symbolic Interactionism." Herbert Blumer's Symbolic Interactionism. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. Monmonier, Mark. 'Cartography: Distortions, World-views and Creative Solutions.' Progress in Human Geography 29.2 (2005): 217-24. Print Oskar Schlemmer The Official Site.' Oskar Schlemmer The Official Site . N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013 Pinder, D. 'Ghostly Footsteps: Voices, Memories and Walks in the City.' Cultural Geographies 8.1 (2001): 1-19. Print Saville, Stephen John. 'Playing with Fear: Parkour and the Mobility of Emotion.' Social & Cultural Geography 9.8 (2008): 891-914. Print Scheld, S. (2003) The City in a Shoe: redefining urban Africa through Sebago footwear consumption, City and Society Vol 15(1): 109-130 Siebers, Tobin. The Body Aesthetic: From Fine Art to Body Modification . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2000. Print