Copious alarm & a little wisdom in Chinatown density debate

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Vancouver Chinatown
Vancouver's Chinatown: Panic & dismay follow any discussion on density

If you haven't got tired of all the Chicken Littles Vancouver produces around density, then you've got lots to look forward to, folks. Chinatown is supposedly going to be paved over and glass towers will replace all the heritage, and it's an affront to the legacy of the 1960s anti-freeway movement, blah blah blah blah blah.

Both the Vancouver Sun's John Mackie and Frances have covered this story for the local press, and they are both telling essentially the same tale of some key players (developers & Chinatown leaders) opposing any change, while the leadership in the City's planning department are floating balloons that will hopefully make Chinatown more economically viable, and (horrors!) attractive to business, tourists, as well as Metro Vancouver's Chinese community who all but abandoned the neighbourhood years ago.

Chinatown is in decay, and it deserves an opportunity to prosper again. It may still be on all our tourist maps, but there's little to attract people to this part of the city anymore to shop, to dine or to explore. Chinatown needs a serious injection of private capital to make it vibrant again. The romantics who propose that it must never change, or only change a tiny little bit so that people will hardly even notice, are assuring the slow death of Vancouver's heritage neighbourhoods like this.

Huge towers may be incongruous, but mid-size highrises may work. We'll never know unless we allow a true public debate and planning process to begin. The Chicken Littles don't want you to have that opportunity.

Comments on the newspaper websites very often turn into a series of depressing personal attacks, but Mackie's story has some very thoughtful remarks on the Chinatown density debate I thought I'd share with our readers.

I was part of the group that fought off building the freeway through Chinatown. This isn’t the same thing all! The old guy fearing with their old society buildings falling apart; so they form a society and ask the government for money. The business people want more people living in Chinatown; so their business will thrive and make money. Developers who already built there want their investments to be unique; so those will be worth more money. The Sun Yat Sen Garden worries that high-rises will ruin the view and turn visitors away; so less admission revenue for them. Ultimately, it’s just MONEY! Old guys should retire and make ways for the new crowd. Business people should revise their business tactics that caters to everyone. Developers should donate part of their huge revenues to help the community. The Garden should be free and stop pointing your nose up in the air. As for the City, how long has it been, 20 years since you last considered Chinatown? Or are you putting out a red herring so that civil war will result thus bailing you out and turning your back on Chinatown for another 20 years. And go clean up the mess that you’ve made on Hastings.

i think its a great idea to build a tower in chinatown. has anyone been to hong kong, shanghai, taipei, beijing lately? Towers are normal and typical. chinatown is rapidly becoming a ghost town with only old seniors and street people and the odd tourist walking on the streets. Increasing the local population density is essential to providing historic chinatown a viable future. otherwise, it would probably go the way of japantown and disappear. no one wants to be stuck in the past. the sunyatsen garden is hardly frequented by anyone, and looks pretty pathetic inside. build a better garden nearby.

My daughter goes to Chinese school in the Chinese Cultural Centre and I also volunteer there. That building & all its facilities are in derelict. Student population has been on a steady decline and teachers are leaving too. I know the City owns the land of the Cultural Centre. If the City can build a new building with people living above, the new Chinese school will be wonderful. We need a new better and taller building, maybe 10 floors. According to the Chinese media, the Mah Society applied & received funding from the City --- the society put up $20000 & receives $100,000 in return so that they can hire someone to study the building. Nice way to earn the taxpayers money. Interestingly, Fred Mah is the head of this Mah Society in addition to the Chinatown Heritage Building Society named in this article and other buildings belonging to the latter society are also applying for funding. Fred Mah had also been quoted in saying if the preservation costs of these heritage buildings is very high [which of course it is], he will apply to the Federal grants. As a taxpayer, I think I should have a choice on where my money should go. Some new and taller buildings would be good for Chinatown.

Well, if we don't revitalize Chinatown, what do you want to do instead? There are a lot of run-down buildings, the population has clearly gone down over the years, and homelessness and prostitution has started to trickle in. Try coming to Chinatown on a weekly basis and you will see the people doing drugs.

We should all embrace a new Chinatown. At this rate, the population in Chinatown will continue to decrease. It has already started to decrease, if you frequent Chinatown on a daily basis like I have. If you look around, every community all over Vancouver has high-rises and/or tall buildings EXCEPT for Chinatown. Does that seem odd to you? Chinatown has become surrounded by high-rises. Yes, it is a historic area but I think we should only preserve heritage buildings with merit or historic value. Some of the other buildings are already old, vacant, and run-down and not safe for use. It would be nice to see a bridge or connection between Chinatown and the city gate (near Main Street Science World skytrain station). If you notice, the neighbourhood there has been revitalized and many people come there to jog, enjoy the sun, or walk their dog around the area. Drive a few blocks further and there’s Chinatown with a number of old buildings. It’s deserted at night. I hate to say it, but Chinatown has become a dumping site for homeless people, drug addicts and prostitution. Walk down to East Hastings and you will know what I mean. You will sometimes see people taking in drugs right on the spot. And there’s sometimes drug deals going on. It has become a dangerous area to walk around, especially at night.

A majority of people are overseeing the point at issue.  The City's proposal are not proposing 300ft towers ONLY but relaxation of height with caps at 80ft near the historic area and 120ft a few blocks away.  I don't think 300ft towers are appropriate either but 80ft would likely be favourable to both Chinatown & the whole DTES.  We can say no to one part of the proposal but yes to the other.

For a good example of do's and dont's for a revitalization of Chinatown, go see Portland's chinatown........... where is the old chinatown now.......... 3 shops left.

As you can see, a healthy debate and some real yearning for bringing vitality back to Chinatown. The debate continues on the Vancouver Sun website.

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