Vancouver accused of paying lip service to multiculturalism amid clash over plan to build condo block in Chinatown | South China Morning Post

Interesting dynamics within the Chinese Canadian community:

The new building at 105 Keefer Street – close to the Dr Sun Yat-sen Garden, Chinese Cultural Centre and Chinatown Memorial Square – would have been 12 storeys high, making it the tallest building in the vicinity. Although it was to have included 25 social housing units, only eight were earmarked as affordable housing subsidised by the provincial government. There were also plans for a “temporary” activity centre for elderly Chinese living in the area.

Almost 200 people – an unprecedented number – registered to speak at public hearings on the proposal. Given five minutes each, the hearings stretched to more than 26 hours over three days.

Speakers’ objections included the building’s height, the displacement of low-income senior citizens in the area through gentrification, the small number of social housing units, and the blight it would impose on Chinatown’s architectural character.

Karen Hoese, acting assistant director of planning for the city’s Vancouver Downtown Division, sat through the entire hearing. A large number of young and elderly people turned up, she says, and things got heated.

Melody Ma of community group #SaveChinatownYVR, one of the speakers, says councillors had probably not seen such large, passionate crowds, and were overwhelmed. “There were a lot of young people and people of colour [Chinese]. It was a unique situation for city hall and elected officials.” Some councillors described the young people as “a mob”, she says, which carried negative and violent connotations.

Vancouver-born councillor Kerry Jang chastised the young Chinese objectors, saying, “some of the Chinatown activists, the youth in particular, were very disappointing in their behaviour”.

“You do not represent Chinatown to me and the Chinatown I know. And don’t forget, I was there long before a lot of you. I worked down there, I did everything down there,” Jang said.

To have a healthy city strategy in Vancouver, it’s not just about art. When I looked up ‘culture’ on the City of Vancouver’s website, I could only find ‘bike culture’ and ‘horticulture’
MELODY MA

“He was saying that young people’s voices didn’t have a place at the table,” Ma says.

She was proud to see so many people with connections to Chinatown from different generations come together in solidarity to oppose the application for 105 Keefer Street.

Andy Yan, director of the city programme at Simon Fraser University and an urban planner, sat through some of the hearings, and says the speakers were a socially and economically diverse group.

“The city councillors’ response to the ‘boisterous youth’ threw them … because these young people don’t normally come to these meetings. They were articulate, diverse; a mobilised group of young people,” he says.

The campaign appeared to have been a success, when the city councillors – including Jang – voted down the rezoning application eight to three.

A few days later an open letter addressed to Mayor Gregor Robertson, signed by many who spoke at the hearings, expressed disappointment at remarks made by Jang and other councillors.

Hoese says the 105 Keefer application looked good on paper. “It met the objectives, included social housing, an activity centre and set-back upper floors,” she says. “But what’s changed over the last few years is the tension between what people want. It was difficult for councillors to make the decision, because they didn’t want to see greater division.”

She admits there have been changes in Chinatown since the application was submitted a few years ago.

For the past 20 years, Chinatown had been falling into neglect – fewer people come to shop at Chinese grocery stores because they can buy the same goods in other areas, such as Richmond, East Vancouver and Coquitlam, where later Chinese immigrants have settled. Shops and restaurants are closing because of the drop in visitors. At the same time, drug addicts in the adjacent neighbourhood of Downtown Eastside have drifted into the area and petty crime has led to security concerns among businesses and residents.

To counteract the decline, approval was given for small condo developments, while Western restaurants have opened next to Chinese grocery stores. One latest addition is Dalina, an Italian-style coffee shop that also sells gourmet food and wouldn’t look out of place in New York. But it’s questionable whether it’s right for Chinatown, which is the second largest in North America after San Francisco.

Source: Vancouver accused of paying lip service to multiculturalism amid clash over plan to build condo block in Chinatown | South China Morning Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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