vancouver-may-18-2017-the-new-location-of-the-new-town-bak
Noted journalist Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun  has written an article that should be required reading for everyone in Metro Vancouver. She has cogently described our intentional neglect and universal ignorance of the deboning of Vancouver’s Chinatown. We somehow conveniently forget that it was the 17,000 Chinese labourers  who built the railway across Canada between 1881 to 1884. Those workers, their descendants and others left the legacy of  this very special part of the city. It was also Strathcona residents that were largely responsible for Vancouver not being cleaved in half by the building of three storey high ten lane highway in the late 1960’s. As a city we owe a lot to the legacy left by Chinatown and Strathcona. Where is the outrage of what is happening to this very special part of the city? Why isn’t this a civic, provincial and national priority?
Daphne describes the universality of the shiny city Vancouver has become, looking like any other place. She rues that the unique places ” are rapidly disappearing, and none is at greater risk than Chinatown, which teeters on the edge of extinction despite being designated a National Historic Site in 2011. It is so close to the edge that Carol Lee of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation fears that without a concerted local, provincial and national effort it may be lost by the end of this year.”
“The neighbourhood has been eroded one neon sign, one family-run business and one clan building at a time. But at greater risk than the bricks, mortar and unique streetscapes blending Chinese and late 19th century Canadian architectural styles is the neighbourhood’s cultural heritage. Hipsters have heralded gentrification. Trendy restaurants, skateboard shops, coffee bars and cannabis dispensaries may be the tipping point.”
“Design guidelines meant to maintain a ‘Chinatown look’ are often overlooked and building heights have been dramatically increased. … Intense speculation is driving up rents and displacing long-time residents, many of them seniors, who are central to the area’s rich cultural identity…Today, the neighbourhood is dotted with empty storefronts. Aging shopkeepers struggle to carry on with fewer customers and ever-increasing taxes. But the most vulnerable are seniors — many of whom are frail, female, Cantonese speakers living at the poverty line.
Some will be at Tuesday’s public hearing protesting a proposal to build a 12-storey, luxury condo building at Keefer Street and Columbia. The plan does include 25 units of social housing, but only eight of those will be available to those with the lowest incomes.
The building itself, according to the heritage consultant’s report to council, “respects the historic Chinatown context by not attempting to mimic or replicate its area neighbours. Indeed, the building’s form, scale, massing, materials and colours will help distinguish the building as a contemporary addition. In other words it will stick out like a sore thumb.”
“Myriad things have contributed to Chinatown’s decline, including decaying, century-old buildings that are expensive to repair, the encroaching chaos and dysfunction of the Downtown Eastside, and the disinterest and even disdain some Vancouver-born Chinese have for a ghetto that their ancestors worked so hard to leave.”
“Vancouver’s history is so recent that some of its retelling still hurts. But that is all the more reason this unique neighbourhood and community should be given the help it needs to survive and thrive.”
The full text of Ms. Bramham’s editorial comment and the work of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation  can be read here.
nov-21-2016-mrs-kong-mrs-luu-and-ms-chan-protest-van
 

Comments

  1. The historic legacy of Vancouver Chinatown activists (and Toronto, Calgary activists) is getting lost in memory for stopping freeway construction through the downtown core of all 3 cities in 1970’s etc. Instead it is heard / remembered as a sideline history event in urban development.
    I can vouch for the blog post that I released in 2011 on the above, it is still 1 of my top 5 viewed posts. I suspect it maybe people researching it for school projects and other work. A good thing. Public education on historic understanding and significance is ongoing work since incoming new residents moving into any of these cities often have no clue of history (CPR labour, deaths, urban development) -at all.
    “Myriad things have contributed to Chinatown’s decline, including decaying, century-old buildings that are expensive to repair, the encroaching chaos and dysfunction of the Downtown Eastside, and the disinterest and even disdain some Vancouver-born Chinese have for a ghetto that their ancestors worked so hard to leave.”
    “Vancouver’s history is so recent that some of its retelling still hurts. But that is all the more reason this unique neighbourhood and community should be given the help it needs to survive and thrive.”
    Who would be a developer, entrepreneur, great story-teller and keeper of community memories to save the area?
    https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/more-than-just-dragons-art-on-chinese-canadian-experience/

  2. Chinatown today is in Richmond. Forget the old idea of Chinatown. Its time has come and gone.
    deleted as per editorial policy.

  3. Thomas Beyer said this: “Chinatown today is in Richmond. Forget the old idea of Chinatown. Its time has come and gone. ” which was deleted.
    I don’t even go to Richmond even though some of the food is great. I just go to places closer to home. We live just a few blocks from old Chinatown but in a newer area.
    T.Beyer remarks reflects attitudes of some folks who don’t care about history, significant development and community building. It’s not an old idea. Otherwise why teach history to children in school??
    Flatten it, erase it and then you wonder why others don’t learn lessons of the past, don’t respect the work and thoughts of older generations (which many of us, include myself fit in that age bracket).

    1. I didn’t say flatten it, did I ? But I do not want precious tax paper money spent on propping up an image that has started to fade. Leave a few key buildings intact. That is why we have heritage protection for certain buildings. Attract far more PRIVATE capital here in the area to improve the whole area, incl. E Hastings and nearby Chinatown. Densification and a subway is required to do that. More buildings like the W.
      The status quo is a disgrace.

      1. You aren’t the only taxpayer. Also don’t forget this area from a tourism perspective: have you been to the recently refurbished Chinese-Canadian Military Museum in old Chinatown there, etc.? Keep in mind, if the city requests developers to stay within certain design guidelines…a serious challenge. I’m not convinced one should lump areas around Chinatown (ie. E. Hastings) as all requiring the same mechanisms for improvement.
        One of the reasons why we don’t go to Richmond’s Chinatown area, despite some great restaurants, it’s just not friendly to bike in and out of there. It’s JUST another retail district. There’s nothing else more to offer in that district. Wonder how many businesses survive there. In Toronto’s Spadina -Dundas Chinatown district area there is some turnover and the competition is fierce.

  4. The piece in the Vancouver Sun is confusing and confused journalism. There are many interests, and positions in play in Chinatown, which the article misrepresents or ignores.
    The buildings are an important component to the area. Many are important heritage structures, most are in need of structural and aesthetic improvement. The important ones are recognised, some have already been fixed up, others are in process. In recent years not a single heritage building has been lost, and many are in far better condition with help from the City and private sector developers.
    There are the people living in older rental housing, often on welfare rates in SRO hotels. The plight of the Chinese seniors is however something of a myth. There are very few seniors of any ethnicity in Chinatown, and only about a third of the population there (in 2011) had a Chinese language as their mother tongue. No SRO hotels or other rental buildings have been demolished, or redeveloped, and none are at risk (beyond their structural state noted above). The Chinese seniors in the Downtown eastside generally live nearby in Strathcona and the Oppenheimer District, not in Chinatown. Retaining and improving privately owned welfare housing is a challenge across the city, as is keeping rents within reach of low income residents. It doesn’t have any greater impact on Chinatown.
    The scale of a couple of recent buildings on Main Street is a bit more than, in retrospect, might have been wise. An argument can be made that the Keefer building should be built to 90′ under zoning, although that would mean that there would be no non-market housing added as a result. Many of the recent projects like The Flats on East Georgia, Framework on East Pender or the Keefer Block have been built to that zoning, and without compromising the area’s aesthetic. They have injected new residents that have undoubtedly help support some existing businesses, and allowed others to open. Further refinements already drafted for the design guidelines should ensure an even better ‘fit’ for future projects, which will come forward because there are many poorly built and architecturally uninspiring development opportunities.
    The economic and retail use debate is far more complex. Somehow coffee shops or non-Chinese retail are considered ‘inappropriate’, but there are only so many herbal and dried food stores that can survive (probably fewer than there today), and the people who like to be able to see them seldom actually buy anything. Ironically, several of the more contemporary uses (specialist clothing stores and the longboard store for example) are in the heritage buildings owned by the Family Associations.
    Many of the ‘inappropriate’ businesses are Chinese Canadians with ties to Chinatown – evolving new business ideas with the area’s change and evolution. Pacific Poke is third generation with strong ties to the community, Propaganda Coffee is third generation and the Fortune Sound Club, same thing. Rhinofish (a soon to open noodle restaurant), the knife store, Kissa Tanto; the list goes on. And by no means all the new businesses ignore the Chinese connection; the Jade Dynasty restaurant, is about to reopen, Daisy Garden is being rebuilt after being destroyed by fire, the HoHo should reopen by the end of the year – structural repairs are done, restaurant construction is under way, and the new BBQ/Tea shop is very close.

    1. In case, I was misunderstood, I wasn’t suggesting keeping Chinatown as is. Transformation includes these new emerging small businesses that are nouveau incarnations and may aspire to incorporate spirit of the past. It is also possible and some of us..are living embodiments…
      May I suggest how close the ugly past is: my father immigrated to Canada just 5 years after the Chinese-Canadians were granted the right to vote in 1947. Go to the Chinese-Canadian Military Museum in November in Vancouver, as a learning exercise and respect.

  5. Does anyone really believe the current city council or a future NPA one would do anything to stop the developer gravy train, history or not?

    1. What gravy train ? The reason there is so little development in that area is that the density is far too low and the risk too high for the cost involved. As such, developers stay away.
      -deleted as per editorial policy-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *