A forum on revisiting Chinatown revitalization was held on September 8, 2014. Panelists Henry Yu and Melissa Fong shared their thoughts about the current state of Chinatown and answered a number of questions from the audience.
One of the actions suggested by UBC Professor Henry Yu was to revisit the current Chinatown plan and heritage policies. Yu stressed that Chinatown must retain its character, and not look like downtown.
A number of very specific design details create the distinctive ‘Chinatown’ look. These include small storefronts, recessed balconies, retail space that spills over onto the sidewalks and awnings. A short 4-minute video of the Aesthetics of Vancouver’s Chinatown (2013) by Joanna Yang, was screened at the forum (embedded below with permission):
Other videos about Chinatown are included in the Chinese Canadian Stories (CCS) collection. Joanna Yang said, “culture is made, maintained and played out in these spaces.” She asked that we “honour the history” but not make Chinatown a museum, but rather a “living breathing community with a pulse.”
Henry Yu noted that “sunseting” policies should provide a vibrant life for the elders in the community. The Chinatown Community Vision took 15 years to create. Yet it appears now that the policy framework has no teeth and it is “an empty document.” Henry Yu said that Chinatown is worth fighting for. “We’ve got plenty of condos in Vancouver. We need places for culture.”
Earlier the same evening, the City of Vancouver hosted an Open House for a development proposal at 105 Keefer Street and 544 Columbia. This project by the Beedie group calls for the construction of a 13-storey, 7.92 FSR building with 133 condo units and 130 parking spaces (survey comments are open until Nov 12). A number of comments were directed to this proposed highrise that would be situated directly across from the Cultural Centre. Would it be possible to get 150 units of senior housing instead? Yu asked, “Should there be a moratorium on further development” until the city reviews the current Chinatown policy and provides a toolkit to the planners?
Melissa Fong said that to propose a building that doesn’t honour the visions of Chinatown is problematic. “More work needs to be done.”
A few large tower developments are underway on the 600 block of Main, as a direct result of the Historical Area Height Review (HAHR – documents tab). One member of the audience wondered what will happen when 800 to 1,000 new people are “financially injected” into Chinatown. Who will be displaced? How will gentrification be played out? It was noted that Chinatown is going to be different, but not necessarily better. Melissa Fong stressed that there are vulnerable people in Chinatown.
Henry Yu tried to end on a positive note by noting that “in every crisis there is an opportunity.”
The City has a webpage containing many documents on Chinatown revitalization along with a separate section on the Historical Area Height Review (a paradoxical policy to ‘save’ a heritage neighbourhood by building glass towers).
A number of photos of Chinatown taken around 1970 were on display at the meeting venue, Centre A at 229 East Georgia Street. The 70s was a time that was described very much like today: “Chinatown is fighting for its life.”