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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Make sure Chinatown revitalization doesn’t displace seniors who fought to save it

The neighbourhood is still called Chinatown, but new retail is moving in and staples like green grocers and tea shops are shuttered

Vancouver's Chinatown.

Emily Jackson/Metro File

Vancouver's Chinatown.

To illustrate their point about what is happening to their neighbourhood, they could have chosen many other backdrops in our historical Chinatown neighbourhood like the vegan pizza place across the street, the six dollar per cone ice cream shop a block east, or the hipster Bratwurst spot down on Pender.

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The neighbourhood is still called Chinatown, but it is becoming a lot less visibly Chinese and less friendly to Chinese seniors. New retail is moving in, things are getting more expensive, and neighbourhood staples like green grocers and tea shops are shuttered.

It’s got to feel like a terrible burn to the elders of Chinatown, whose families spent the 1960’s and 70’s fighting city hall’s plan for “urban renewal”, successfully prevented both the demolition of Strathcona and erection of a freeway that would have cut our city in two. Chinese Canadian residents organized block by block, knocking on doors and talking to neighbours across backyard fences. We owe much gratitude to those folks who saved Strathcona.

And here we go again. Now, the City is in the process of updating its density regulations for the neighbourhood, as part of their efforts to “revitalize” Chinatown.

While it can probably be said City Hall is more transparent with residents today, conducting open houses and developing websites like Talk Housing to Us.com, it’s perhaps easy to be transparent when it’s all but certain most people do not have enough of a grasp of development-speak to understand how such changes will impact day to day life-- even in English, let alone translated to Cantonese or Mandarin.

I saw the poster boards the city used at the two open houses they ran in late October, and without a planning degree, I struggled to understand what new zoning designations would mean for Chinatown. As I furrowed my brow and squinted at the new zoning types and height allowances, I think I understood that new developments on Main Street could get as high as 11 stories if they allocate 20 per cent of the units to affordable or seniors housing.

Twenty per cent sounds like better than nothing, but is it enough to stop the waning of Chinatown? Will new Chinatown shops cater to the 20 per cent of residents in these affordable units, or the 80 per cent with the money to buy luxury condos? Will existing Chinese dentists and pharmacies be able to stay for the 20 per cent of seniors lucky enough to get an affordable suite?

Cites change, that is true, but let’s make sure revitalization of Chinatown doesn’t displace the seniors who already fought once to save it.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc.