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Another article on our doomed Chinatown by Kerry Gold in the Globe and Mail:

chinatown

Gentrification isn’t just nibbling at Chinatown’s edges. Thanks to rezoning changes, it’s taking major bites out of the neighbourhood. …  Class inversion is happening in cities throughout North America. Urban cores used to be the domain of low-income groups, while the wealthier demographic lived in the suburbs. In recent years, wealthier groups are choosing urban living and pushing low-income groups to the outskirts, or further.

“You have to ask, ‘Where is this coming from? Who are you serving?’” asks Kevin Huang, executive director of the Hua Foundation, a non-profit for young Chinese-Canadians. Mr. Huang is also committed to supporting the people who form the tight-knit Chinatown community, and who are now under threat of displacement. …

“With this rezoning, I think this is a battle for the soul of Chinatown, and what does it mean for us as a city in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Mr. Huang says. …

“We seem to be treating Chinatown as a development site instead of a community,” civic historian John Atkin says.

The old mom-and-pop shops are already hurting, faced with mounting property taxes and aging ownership. The educated next generation doesn’t always want to take over the old business. And those new corporate retailers wouldn’t be able to buy from within the neighbourhood or from small local farms the way current businesses have for a century. The old local economy of Chinatown – a model of sustainability before it became a buzzword – would be destroyed….

Melody Ma, a self-professed “policy wonk,” grew up attending dance classes in Chinatown. Both Ms. Ma and Mr. Huang see the city’s failure to prioritize people, with their histories and traditions and lives, as the problem. Other cities have adopted culture as an integral part of their urban planning, including New Westminster and Montreal, so they’ve asked Vancouver City to consider doing the same. …

“That means developers will have to make sure they consider the needs of the community prior to even talking to city hall – that we’re recognizing the culture and history and the aspirations of the people who live there,” she says.

It’s more than the buildings. Unless the culture is preserved, the place becomes commodified and soulless, she says. To thwart displacement, the city offers up bigger building potential in exchange for a few units of social housing. But what good is social housing if a community is wiped out? …

Small businesses such as Mr. Mah’s face deeper challenges if the city doesn’t craft policies to protect them. …

But pressure on the community will only intensify because the area is in the crosshairs of future densification. A couple of blocks away, the viaducts will come down and the new St. Paul’s Hospital will transform the historic area into a hub of high-tech medical care.

Ms. Ma says “it was a mountain to climb” just getting council to agree to consider culture as a priority.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘How do we place a culture or community first – rather than just follow finance?’”

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I am a loss to understand what is wanted for Chinatown – or what is even possible.  

Should it be a goal to “prioritize people, with their histories and traditions and lives,” if it means we’re intending to preserve a cultural product that was a consequence of one of the most racist periods in our history.  Chinatown was a ghetto in the worst sense of the word.

Is the desire to exclude anything that doesn’t reflect that era?  

And even if there was an inherent racism in that assumption of exclusion, how can a zoning code preserve or even encourage businesses no longer wanted, no longer viable?

The forces of time and change mean there is essentially no hope to maintain the cultural moment of Chinatown.  Surrounding development forces, the removal of the Viaducts, a new St. Paul’s and changing demographics guarantee that.

Why would we set ourselves up for failure?

Shaping urban form and use is the purpose of zoning and development bylaws.  Saving a culture is not.  And that’s as true for the gay village on Davie and the Punjabi Village on Main as it is for Chinatown on Main.