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SFU hosts public discussion on gentrification in Chinatown

Panelists talk business, housing, and heritage

For many citizens, gentrification in Vancouver’s Chinatown is an ongoing concern. As more and more expensive condos, boutiques, and restaurants are constructed, some worry that lower income residents will be displaced and the character of the neighbourhood will be lost.

On October 5, many of those citizens gathered at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, for a panel discussion addressing the question: What is the Vision for Chinatown? The panel was presented by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and the Heritage Vancouver Society.

The panel featured Chanel Ly, Doris Chow, Henry Yu, Gregory Borowski, and Carol Anne Lee, and was moderated by Bill Yuen. All the panelists were concerned with maintaining Chinatown’s heritage and increasing interest in the area, but each had different ideas about how to approach this.

UBC Professor Henry Yu talked about the importance of heritage policy to preserve and protect historic businesses. But he also stressed that “having a place that has meaning does not mean being stuck in the past.” Yu argued that new approaches to preserving history are needed, and that a balance must be found between the old and new.

Echoing this was Carol Anne Lee, CEO of Linacare Laboratories in Chinatown. In 2009, Lee founded the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. She is currently in the process of revitalizing her second restaurant in Chinatown, and believes that food is a vital part of the neighbourhood.

Chanel Ly and Doris Chow work with Chinese seniors in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown. Both look at more community-based approaches to neighbourhood engagement.

Chow is the co-founder of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, a group trying to increase youth engagement in the neighbourhood through intergenerational activities, such as mahjong socials. She sees a lot of young people who are “taking inspiration from their elders, and trying to get in touch with their roots” by learning more about their Chinese heritage.

However, she said she worries about the sustainability of projects like hers without any formal sources of funding.

Ly said that seniors, the people most impacted by the changes in Chinatown, are not being consulted. She pointed out that there were no Chinese seniors on the panel, and very few at the event. She said that this reflects the fact that although many people talk about accommodating seniors, they are often not invited to the discussion table.

Community member William Lim agreed. He expressed worry that, too often, decisions are made in favour of business rather than people. He said, “any urban development must first be about the people that live in that community. They can’t be ignored.”

Ly also runs a Youth for Chinese Seniors project, and she remains hopeful that positive changes can come through collaborations between these two groups. “The youth are more political,” she said. “They’re really trying to raise the voices of the people most impacted, and to be part of the decision-making.”

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