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Character homes, Chinatown top list of most endangered Vancouver heritage

Along with character single family home neighbourhoods, Vancouver's Chinatown is rated most under threat by Heritage Vancouver.

Wanyee Li/Metro

Along with character single family home neighbourhoods, Vancouver's Chinatown is rated most under threat by Heritage Vancouver.

In 2016, it was No. 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s most endangered sites list. This year, Chinatown has moved up to No. 1, along with character homes in the city’s single-family home neighbourhoods.

Both entries have something in common: the heritage group is raising the alarm about entire neighbourhoods being threatened by development pressures or wildly escalating land prices.

Homes built in 1942 on Knight Street.

Vancouver Archives/Heritage Vancouver

Homes built in 1942 on Knight Street.

“We wanted to really focus on the idea that neighbourhood character is extremely important and we in Vancouver tend not to look at it that way,” said Bill Yuen, the manager of the Heritage Vancouver Society.

With character homes in single-family neighbourhoods, there are concerns about the rapid pace of demolitions as pre-1940 homes have been replaced by large, new homes. There has also been a concern about the neighbourhoods emptying of residents and especially young families, a trend confirmed in Westside neighbourhoods like Dunbar and Kerrisdale when Statistics Canada released data from the 2016 census earlier this year.

While new high-rise condo buildings were thought to be the solution to revitalize Chinatown when zoning changes were brought in in 2011, there’s now been a sea change in thinking and community activism has picked up, leading to the defeat of a 12-storey building proposed for 105 Keefer St. earlier this month.

“105 Keefer development application got voted down, but there’s still an issue of what is going to happen with that site,” Yuen said.

“Our position has been to have something that’s respectful of that neighbourhood, not just the aesthetic context but the social context and the affordability context and the cultural context. What can that site do to revitalize Chinatown?”

Revitalization efforts need to go beyond just building more condos to bring more people to the neighbourhood, Yuen said. “I think it’s a very nuanced understanding that we as a city should have about revitalization.”

The city is now looking at policies to incentivize character home retention while encouraging more infill on single-family lots. And this summer, council will be taking a second look at the 2011 zoning changes that allowed higher buildings in Chinatown.

Here are some of the other sites that made the list, and why:

David Lloyd George Elementary School in Marpole, because it is included in the Vancouver School Board’s list of 19 schools to be seismically upgraded and because VSB previously approved a decision to demolish another heritage school, Sir Sandford Fleming.

David Lloyd George Elementary in Marpole.

Heritage Vancouver

David Lloyd George Elementary in Marpole.

The Celtic Shipyards in Southlands, the last industrial site in Vancouver that “that retains buildings from the historic ship repair industry that supported the fishing industry.” The site has no heritage designation and has been put up for sale for redevelopment.

Celtic Shipyards in Southlands.

Vancouver Archives/Heritage Vancouver

Celtic Shipyards in Southlands.

The Sinclair Centre, a downtown heritage landmark, is on the list because the federal government is interested in adding 22 storeys on top of the seven-storey building. “Seismic upgrades and structure required to hold the weight of the tower would result in the removal of portions of the historic facades and even the potential loss of one or two heritage buildings in entirety.”

Sinclair Centre.

Vancouver Archives/Heritage Vancouver

Sinclair Centre.

Finally, Vancouver’s historic lawn bowling clubs, many dating from pre-1920, are on this year’s list because only one out of seven historic clubs in Vancouver is currently listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register and therefore has some degree of protection.

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