By: Kitty Cheung, Peak Associate


Vancouver’s city council voted on zoning changes to the Chinatown neighbourhood in a 10–1 decision on the afternoon of July 10. The new zoning by-law puts limits on development which include width restrictions on storefronts and maximum height limits on new buildings.

     This decision will lead Chinatown in a different direction from the development policies that were adopted in 2011, which allowed for taller, wider buildings with the intention of “revitaliz[ing] the area,” according to The Vancouver Sun.


Heritage and development

After the implementation of the 2011 policy, community advocates raised concerns over the scale of change in the area, as “land values almost doubled between 2012 and 2016,” resulting in small business closures that impeded the character of the neighbourhood.

     In response to these growing concerns, “three-and-a-half years of community consultation” were considered in the creation of this new by-law.

    “The torture to get that little bit of social housing at the expense of what people felt was the true character of Chinatown just didn’t pan out as a good trade-off, in most people’s minds,” says Gil Kelley, Vancouver’s general manager of planning.

    However, Chinatown Voices, a group representing Chinatown business and property owners as well as residents, was concerned about a lack of communication between the city and the community regarding the zoning changes.

     At a news conference on June 4, spokesperson Steve Lee stated, “We want more residents in Chinatown to make our retail viable. Downzoning is going in the opposite direction. What we’re asking them to do is slow this down and give us ample time to meet with the planning department rather than rush this through.”

     Local store owner Joey Wong suggested to The Vancouver Sun that one solution is to “build housing so that more residents live in the neighbourhood [. . .] more seniors housing for Chinese Canadians would mean more visits to the area by younger generations visiting their relatives.”

     Two public hearings were held prior to the Tuesday decision with 71 speakers voicing their concerns. Both the Urban Development Institute, representing developers, and Chinatown Voices were present to oppose the zoning changes.

     Chinatown Voices spokesperson, Michael Sung stated that “It just doesn’t feel like making housing more difficult to build and more expensive to build is a great way to solve a home affordability problem.”


SFU perspectives

According to Gordon Price, Fellow with the SFU Centre for Dialogue, change within the Chinatown neighbourhood is inevitable. Price referred to the upcoming development around the False Creek area — which includes a new replacement for St. Paul’s Hospital and the False Creek Flats project — as having a major impact on nearby Chinatown.

“But Chinatown will not be able to keep its current cultural authenticity and economic values, no matter how well the physical fabric of the community is preserved or replicated. No zoning bylaw can keep intact an aging population and those business[es] which serve it.” – Gordon Price, Fellow with SFU Centre for Dialogue

     However, Price also mentioned the opportunity for Chinatown’s past to be preserved by enhancing existing cultural facilities, emphasizing the importance of this community for new immigrants.

     Andy Yan, director of SFU’s City Program, suggests that development in Chinatown “needs direction.”

     “Council made a certain decision in 2011 and it didn’t have the outcomes that the community wanted, and now it’s changing tack,” Yan told The Vancouver Sun. “For such a long time, we’ve been obsessed with the idea of place-making. Well, some of these places are already here. Chinatown has already been a place in the making for 130 years. We’re moving from place-making to place-keeping, and being sensitive to who it’s being kept for.”


     With files from The Vancouver Sun and Global News.