British Columbia·Interactive

Gastown, Chinatown incomes almost doubled over 10 years

Gentrification in Gastown and Chinatown is alive and well, the latest Census figures on income reveal, with the area seeing the fourth-largest increase in median household incomes in Canada between 2005 and 2015, and the largest in B.C.

The area saw the country's fourth-highest increase in median household income between 2005 and 2015

The area around Gastown in Vancouver has seen the province's sharpest rise in incomes from 2005 to 2015. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Gentrification in Gastown and Chinatown is alive and well, the latest Census figures on income reveal, with the area seeing the fourth-largest increase in median household incomes in Canada between 2005 and 2015, and the largest in B.C.

Median income in the Census area, which is bordered by Main Street to the east, Pender to the south and Richards to the west, was slightly more than $27,000 in 2015. That's up from about $14,000 in 2005, when it was among the lowest in the province.

Not everyone believes the rise in incomes is a positive development in the Vancouver neighbourhood.

"It's a disaster for the poor and I think for the other people it's probably looking … brighter and better, more planters and more nice places to go to and a little bit more shopping and restaurants of interest," said Phil Rankin, a lawyer who has worked in the area for decades.

Rankin said he shuttered his office at Main Street. and Alexander St. after years of steep rent hikes.

"Much of the older rooming houses, not that I have any fondness for them, but they provided low rent for welfare people. They're gone and they've been replaced by lofts and quite a few new buildings," he said,

Diners take in some lunchtime sunshine on the patio at the Chill Winston, a restaurant at Alexander Street and Carrall Street. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Kevin Huang, executive director of the Hua Foundation, which works with youth in Chinatown, said the changing face of the neighbourhood is having an impact on longtime residents, especially elderly Chinese residents.

"I think we really need to look at how we rebuild the social cohesion and fabric within the neighbourhood," said Huang. "And pertaining to a lot of the [newer] businesses, they don't have Chinese signage. The staff might not be able to communicate with the Chinese seniors, who might only be able to speak Chinese."

"We're seeing kind of a shrinking of Chinatown," he said.

Pedestrians walk along the iconic brick sidewalk in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

University of British Columbia biology student Niklas Beswick lives in the Woodwards building at 128 West Cordova Street, which was completed in 2010. Beswick isn't surprised to learn the neighbourhood's median income had risen sharply in the last several years.

"I'm definitely on the lower end of the spectrum for the building's economic realm,"  Beswick said. "I live with my sister, so I have … a windowless kind of room."

"There's a big disconnect between people living there and the people around the neighbourhood," he said. "The Woodwards building is kind of this gigantic tower of — it's kind of a bourgeoisie kind of thing, right?"

Window washers rappel down the side of the Woodwards building. The building was one of the major changes to the Gastown neighbourhood between 2005 and 2015. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Niklas Beswick, a student at UBC, says his annual income is close to the neighbourhood's median, $27,000, but he still finds the poverty in the area conspicuous and the local businesses catering to a more affluent or tourist clientele. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Kristijan Zuzelj moved into the neighbourhood in February, but he's worked there as a social developer for five years. He finds it surprising that, despite the sharp rise in median incomes, the number is still as low as $27,000.

"I don't think you can afford to live in this neighbourhood anymore with that kind of income," Zuzelj said, adding that was true for most of the city.

Kristijan Zuzelj lives in Gastown and works there as a social developer. "I don’t really go to fancy restaurants," he said. "I mean I don’t mind fancy restaurants, I go now and then to get the experiences, but it’s not something I would do on a regular basis." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The rising incomes in Gastown are a stark contrast to the neighbouring Downtown Eastside, which, with a median household income of $17,000 in 2015, remained Canada's poorest Census tract. That's up from about $13,000 in 2005.

Other neighbourhoods where incomes rose

​Mount Pleasant was another neighbourhood in Vancouver that saw significant growth in household incomes between 2005 and 2015. 

Most of the area bordered by Main Street, Victoria Drive, East Broadway and East 16th Avenue saw increases of 50 per cent or more over the decade. In the easternmost neighbourhood, household income climbed to $64,192 in 2015 from $41,880 in 2005.

Where they declined

Many of the areas that saw median household incomes drop over the 10 years were among the region's wealthiest. 

The swath of West Vancouver to the west of Cypress Bowl Road surpassed Shaughnessy as the region's highest-income neighbourhood between 2005 and 2015. Both areas saw household incomes drop, as did households in Dunbar and White Rock.

The neighbourhood with the biggest decline was south Surrey's Morgan Creek, which fell to $106,212 from $142,241 in 2005, a 25 per cent drop.