Less than a year old, a coalition of youth organizations has made a noticeable impact in resisting rapid development and fighting for culturally-appropriate social housing and services in Chinatown, Vancouver. Members include the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, Chinatown Action Group, Hua Foundation, and Youth for Chinese Seniors (a project of the SRO Collaborative). We are Chinese youth and allies of diverse backgrounds working together to protect Chinatown as a vibrant working class community. Each of us has a connection to the place that goes beyond nostalgia. This place connects us to our identities, culture, and history as Chinese-Canadians. We envision Chinatown as an intergenerational community; a place of relationships, culture and language for working class people. We value Chinatown as a symbol of the Chinese community’s resilience in the face of historical and continued injustices and a place of heritage that is for past, present and future generations.
In 2011, Chinatown underwent a city planning process (the Historic Area Height Review) that increased building height limits to 75 feet in the historic core of Pender Street and 120 and 150 feet in parts of Chinatown South. Since then, over 400 new market condo units and only 11 seniors housing units at welfare rate have been built. This does not even begin to meet the need for culturally-appropriate housing for 3300 Chinese-Canadian seniors in the city.
Witnessing the losses from development has been difficult especially for local senior residents, most recently with the displacement of traditional Chinese businesses at Gore and Hastings: Lee Loy BBQ Meats, Golden Wheat Bakery, and Chinese Herbs Enterprises Ltd., a long-time, family-run herbal store. Despite these losses, we continue to have hope. The Coalition has had success in bringing together hundreds of youth, seniors, and community members in our fight for the site at 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia, a culturally-significant site in Chinatown given its proximity to the Chinatown Memorial Statue, Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden, Chinese Cultural Centre, and historic Pender Street. In response to community resistance, the Beedie Development Group has retracted their rezoning application and may be revising it once more.
Moving forward, we will continue to advocate for development that meets the needs of the local community and supports working class residents and long-time businesses. We stand in solidarity with other neighbourhoods, recognizing that rapid, unjust development is happening across the region.