British Columbia

Vancouver Chinatown revitalization: advocates worry over heritage loss, social housing

The Chinatown Concern Group voiced their concerns about the city's economic revitalization plan now under way saying they're opposed to the city's proposals to build condo towers and high-density buildings.

City says 20 per cent of housing will be for seniors, economy and heritage to be balanced in changes

Advocates were vocal at Saturday's open house on the economic revitalization plan for Vancouver's Chinatown that is under review and was subject of an open house in the neighbourhood on Feb. 4, 2017. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Hui Qing Chen has called Vancouver's Chinatown home for the past 20 years, but lately, she says, it doesn't feel like home.

"Lots of changes, it used to be very bustling," she said through an interpreter on Saturday adding that it's even difficult to get affordable groceries in the area as many businesses have closed

"There is a lot of coffee shops that have popped up, but as a senior I can't afford those coffees," she said.

Vancouver senior Hui Qing Chen says she is concerned over the planned revitalization of the city's historic Chinatown and her place in it. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Chen's concerns over the future of what started as a ghetto in the late 19th century for incoming Chinese immigrants that quickly grew into one of the largest, most vibrant Chinatowns in North America, were shared by others at a public forum on Saturday.

The City of Vancouver's revitalization plans seek to preserve Chinatown's unique history but also to bring new life to the area with economic development.

"The proposals don't prioritize the low income Chinese community they just want height and width for developers to come in," said Beverly Ho with Chinatown Concerned Group.

Scaled back proposals

If plans are approved by council, the rezoning could allow for buidlings to be built as high as 15 storeys, while also allowing for more retail space.

"That means demolishing all of those buildings and businesses that make Chinatown unique for something like a Walmart that has appeared in L.A's Chinatown," said Melody Ma who is with Save Chinatown Heritage Campaign.

But city planners say that's not the case as they've scaled back proposals to reflect the feedback people like Ma and Ho are providing and there is a proposal to have 20 per cent of housing in Chinatown for seniors like Chen.

Watch Tom Wanklin, senior planner for the Downtown Eastside explain how the city is listening to concerns:

Tom Wanklin, senior planner for the Downtown Eastside, talks about feedback on the future of the historic area. 1:12

"We are always concerned about how to balance revitalizing the Chinatown economy and also protect the heritage culture of Chinatown," he said.

City councillor Adriane Carr says she understands why many people in the community are tentative about what Chinatown will become.

"It is not just about something in the future, they are seeing adjacent development that creates the anxiety," she said.

with files from Tina Lovgreen.