Calgary seeks new direction for Chinatown after 30 years

The last major plan for Calgary's Chinatown is about to turn 30 years old and city council decided Tuesday it's time for a new vision.

Changing times and looming Green Line lead council to call for updated redevelopment plan

Terry Wong noted Chinatown was hard hit by the 2013 flood and he hopes the new BRZ, created last November, will bring more visitors and business to the area. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

The last major plan for Calgary's Chinatown is about to turn 30 years old and city council decided Tuesday it's time for a new vision.

"Chinatowns in North America are really struggling," said Coun. Druh Farrell, who received unanimous support in her call to begin work on a new area redevelopment plan (ARP) for the downtown community.

"I believe we have a responsibility to ensure a successful, vibrant Chinatown for the future, instead of doing what so many cities in North America have done and let them languish and basically evaporate."

For planning purposes, Calgary uses ARPs to simultaneously encourage development in a particular area while also regulating the type of development that can occur in order to maintain the character of a community or meet other pre-defined goals.

Farrell said the city's existing Chinatown ARP — approved on Jan. 29, 1986 — includes "very rigid" rules that, with a few exceptions, haven't led to recent success.

"We've got development that's happening all around it ... but we're not seeing that activity in Chinatown," she said.

Hon Chow, who runs an insurance business in Chinatown, welcomed the prospect of the city paying extra attention to the area's fortunes.

"It's a good idea, because a lot of people don't come down to Chinatown, especially during the night," he said.

"Trying to create something to attract more people should be the first priority, I think."

Green Line coming

There is also a looming decision about the route of the eventual north-central leg of the Green Line.

Depending on which option council approves, that could see an LRT track run down the Centre Street bridge into Chinatown or a new bridge built just to the west to carry C-Trains over the river and then onto either an underground tunnel or elevated track above Second Street S.W. 

Another possibility is a tunnel running below the river and below all of downtown.

Chinatown will be impacted no matter which option is selected, said Terry Wong, a director of the recently formed Chinatown Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ), who wants to ensure the needs of the community are carefully considered.

"We cannot afford the LRT on the Green Line to divide Chinatown," he said.

"Anything that does not impede or obstruct the movement of people, goods, vehicles, everything else, is most important."

But why Chinatown?

Coun. Peter Demong questioned whether council's decision to look at Chinatown right away would bump other communities in need of new ARPs down the priority list.

"What makes this the next priority?" he said. "Why would this one be the one coming right after the Green Line?"

Chief city planner Rollin Stanley said there are some unique circumstances in the area that warrant the special attention at this time, in particular.

"The development pressure we're experiencing in Chinatown is presenting the potential for a different vision of Chinatown from how it has been defined by its ARP for the past 30 years," he said.

City staff are to bring back a report on the scope of a new ARP for Chinatown by the end of the year.


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