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Too much development in Chinatown? Or just enough to revive it?

January 19th, 2015 · 19 Comments

The wave of change that has hit Chinatown in the last while is making a significant number of people uncomfortable. A proposed nine-storey development by the Beedie Group at the corner opposite Sun Yat-Sen Gardens kicked it into high gear, but there was rising unease even before that, with three major condo developments, a number of smaller infill ones, and a wave of restaurants, longboard shops, and other hipster ventures washing into Chinatown.

I’ve been covering the story of What To Do About Chinatown for 20 years now and it is not an easy one. Some people would simply like it to go back to the way it was in the ’70s, all Ho Ho-type restaurants and bamboo and trinket stores (even though those places were closing because, clearly, they weren’t making enough money).

Others would like to see the old plan revived of moving 10,000 new people into the area. (Yes, really was a plan talked about like that in the ’90s.)

The latest is a petition for a moratorium from the Carnegie Centre Action Project, which I wrote about here. Some commenters might think this is just the same old anti-poverty group decrying any change that doesn’t preserve the area for the lowest-income residents.

But I am hearing the same complaints from any number of other people, which is about both the level of community benefits Chinatown is getting (or not) from the development and the look of the new buildings, which don’t seem to match Chinatown’s historic architecture. (And John Mackie at the Vancouver Sun documented many of those in a story last fall, when the Beedie proposal first arrived. Sorry if it’s behind paywall for you — nothing I can do about that.)

The city has secured 22 social-housing units from the Westbank development (only 11 of them at the welfare rate of $375 a month) and another $1.3 million that will go into helping Chinese family societies make the 600 units they own rentable. But, as with so many city efforts these days, people are either judging them as weak or they haven’t taken effect yet, so all that’s visible is the development stuff.

The city has set up a meeting. bringing together the city’s Urban Design Panel and the Chinatown historic committee, to deal with the architecture issues. What will be more telling is how the negotiations go between city planners and the Beedie group over the new building.


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