Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country. One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown, understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity.
As the Economist notes “The patch of tarmac at 105 Keefer is not much to look at. But it is in an area rich with cultural associations, residents say. Just to the south is a monument that commemorates Chinese-Canadian builders of the Canadian Pacific Railway and veterans of the second world war. Across the street is the Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum. “A lot of people were appalled” because of the condo’s “proximity to sacred sites in the heart of Chinatown”, says Ms Ma. Some residents also fear that it will push up rents.”
“Conservationists hope that the parking lot is where they can halt development, which they say has spoilt the charm of other Vancouver neighbourhoods such as Mount Pleasant. The dispute is part of a debate about the city’s identity, says Andy Yan, an urban planner. Vancouverites, he says, are asking themselves,“Who are we? And what are we building for?” The people who might want to buy the flats that do not yet exist are, of course, not being consulted.”
Many would argue that the descendants of the Chinese immigrants whose labour built the railway across Canada, and who were the subject of acts of unspeakable racism have a special interest in maintaining this area. This is also the largest existing Chinatown in North America. It is a special place, and deserves to be there for future generations.
Ms. Ma is part of the group #SaveChinatownYVR, formed to “halt the high-rise advance” after a 17 storey condo building was built on the edge of Chinatown. This group is reminding others of the history, cultural importance and identity of this special area, and now international media are telling the story too.