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Business in Vancouver has published a think piece by Kirk Lapointe regarding the contentious development of a twelve storey building by Beedie development on an empty lot in Chinatown. As Lapointe notes ” The city administration has made many mistakes in how it has approached the development of neighbourhoods, but none is more troublesome and telling than its rezoning of Chinatown. No neighbourhood would believe itself anything but unique. But the case of Chinatown is as persuasive as any in articulating how our city was created, how there were sacrifices made along the way, how people demonstrated compassion in sheltering each other from the storm, and in turn what our obligations are to honour those distinctive contributions to our culture and to our community.”
There is a clash of policy and thought on this proposal, done by a well-known and respected development group.  The problem is not with the proposal, but with how we as society and the City of Vancouver itself is looking at Chinatown, already identified by Canada’s National Trust as one of the ten most endangered places in the country.
Price Tags has already documented the importance of this place, and the fact that Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest existing in North America. It contains a unique melange of culture and history, as well as the stories of people who built this country through the railway, have a rich and enduring legacy and created the Vancouver we know by stopping freeway expansion.
Lapointe notes that “of the 800 housing units built in Chinatown since Vision Vancouver assumed power, only 22 were non-market units”.  Much of the pressure for redevelopment falls upon seniors who can no longer afford to stay in the area. The rather unfortunate design and scale of the proposed development does not so much address the need for housing in Chinatown, but creates the template for further higher density development that can further erode this precious area. Why do we not value what we can never replace and never replicate in this unique area?
As Lapointe states  “The city has spent unwisely before on pet projects. It could spend wisely here to mop up the mess it has made. Making the developer whole here would be a rounding error on its mishaps. Beedie shouldn’t have to pay the price for a process the city shouldn’t have perpetuated. It’s time to take a step back, let the developer find another place for the proposal, and more considerately honour one of our city’s formative cultures bound to be through demographic change our most dominant in short order. “
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Comments

    1. So? “Hogan’s Alley” is now a roadway, yet Vision Vancouver has no problem spending big bucks of taxpayer money trying to recreate something that disappeared long ago.

      1. This counter-example is unrelated and immaterial. The City’s rightly taking down the road that Hogan’s Alley now sits upon anyway, so why not plan in something commemorative as part of the replacement? It’s a little silly but harmless. The emotional flagellation taking place over a vacant lot in Chinatown is not harmless, as it jeopardizes a useful and fully-funded private development that includes much-needed new housing.
        It’s fine to push for the development to include more or less of what you want your neighbourhood to have (i.e. more affordable units) but so far nothing so concrete has come from the caterwauling over the loss of the “soul of Chinatown” that this empty patch of gravel apparently represents to so many.

  1. Kirk LaPointe’s piece is confusing. He praises Chinatown’s deeply significant history and the Beedie family’s contribution to our city. All fine and good. Then he turns on Vision and the planning department for allowing a Beedie development to proceed through several go rounds of consultation, and for failing to arrest Chinatown’s decline. Amidst these counterpoints he leaves no room for solutions, least of all from his pen.
    LaPointe is, remember, a former political opponent of Vision, and I get the impression that he is using Chinatown and his friend, Ryan Beedie, to score political points. Is there another run at the mayor’s chair in the works?
    LaPointe failed to acknowledge that the city / Vision does not do private development. This proposal rests solely in Beedie’s hands, with Beedie’s architects following Beedie’s instructions. The city may have been weak with negotiating appropriate density, architectural response and social housing mix so far, but the system is not set up short to have the city design the thing over a developer’s head.
    His comments on Chinatown are completely devoid of constructive debate and offer not one solution. Does LaPointe imply placing a glass bubble over the entire district which is in decline?
    Historic preservation and social housing mix are concepts well understood by everyone, as is addressing the needs of the most vulnerable seniors. I don’t believe any of these issues are addressed by banning every new development proposed in Chinatown (notably on empty lots) that exceeds four storeys and that doesn’t copy brick-by-brick the exact façade treatment of several notable heritage buildings, many of which are in disrepair and don’t meet modern safety and seismic standards.
    Can this and other new development proposals be more sensitive to the history, scale and architecture of Chinatown, with a greater proportion of subsidized senior’s housing. Of course. Then critics need to say so, and detail how they would do it better rather than take the low road and blame the city while offering no criticism of the developer’s concept or defining what they believe the best solutions are.

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