Regardless of the proposed changes in height and form decided by City of Vancouver council yesterday, or the desires of those who would like to keep Chinatown economically and culturally close to its historic character, the district is going to change — dramatically.
As I said to a few media outlets earlier in the week, change is inevitable, especially in this neighbourhood:
Especially with a new hospital in the works next door.
That’s the new replacement for St. Paul’s. When a hospital goes in, the whole ecology makes it one of the most powerful economic generators in the region. On the other side, there’s going to be whole new neighborhoods. That absolutely guarantees that Chinatown is going to go into a new phase.
It’s certainly more than the hospital, as big an impact as that will have. Before it even opens its myriad doors, there will be other developments — the major ones illustrated here (Click to enlarge for details):
Neighbourhoods are impacted by surrounding destinations, especially those that can be reached by moving through them. And Chinatown will be both an attractive destination itself, and a corridor for the tens of thousands of new residents and workers in the millions of square feet to come.
Indeed, a major part of its appeal will be the fact that it is historic, with a different scale and character from all the the new stuff that will surround it. Pender, Keefer, Main and Georgia will become ‘high streets,’ providing food and entertainment, services and cultural venues, history and novelty to serve these huge new anchors and neighbourhoods.
But Chinatown will not be able to keep its current cultural authenticity and economic values, no matter how well the physical fabric of the community is preserved or replicated. No zoning bylaw can keep intact an aging population and those business which serve it. No public policy can prevent others from exploiting increased land values and new market opportunities, at least not without expropriation and a very heavy hand.
Chinatown as a ‘Chinese’ place still has a future by expressing its past. The existing cultural facilities are significant and can, with commitments, be enhanced. Its importance to new generations of immigrants, those with roots and the community as a whole will be more important than ever.
But the Chinatown of today and generations past, beyond built form and memory — that’s over.
Relying on the zoning bylaw to defer economic and demographic change is rather like building a weir to stop a tsunami.