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Where Past Meets Future: Revitalizing Vancouver, British...

Where Past Meets Future: Revitalizing Vancouver, British Columbia’s Chinatown Neighborhood

Chinatown is one of Vancouver, British Columbia’s original four neighborhoods. Located at the neck of the downtown peninsula, the district holds particular historical and cultural importance. In the past several decades Chinatown has seen a mass exodus of retailers and residents as Chinese communities have become more developed in Vancouver’s suburban cities. Recognizing the importance

Map of the Chinatown neighborhood east of downtown VancouverChinatown is one of Vancouver, British Columbia’s original four neighborhoods. Located at the neck of the downtown peninsula, the district holds particular historical and cultural importance. In the past several decades Chinatown has seen a mass exodus of retailers and residents as Chinese communities have become more developed in Vancouver’s suburban cities. Recognizing the importance of this neighborhood in Vancouver’s history, city councilors have initiated plans to reinvigorate the once thriving community.

The designation of Chinatown as a National Historic Site in 2001 has eased community concern about the gentrification of the area, which has already occurred in the nearby Gastown neighborhood, raising rent and forcing low-income residents and businesses out of the area. Key to revitalizing Chinatown is the involvement of businesses and patrons who have long resided in the neighborhood.

Findings from initial interviews include:

  • Chinatown must modernize its offerings to compete with other downtown neighborhoods;
  • Life on the streets at night and on the weekends would make the neighborhood more attractive and safe;
  • The cultural centre and museum must be renovated in order to better serve the community, while also serving as a tourist attraction;
  • Historical buildings that define the landscape of the neighborhood must be preserved;
  • Young members of the community should be involved in decision-making roles to pass along traditional knowledge.

Working with these findings in mind, city planners and landscape architects have developed both near and intermediate term goals. These goals include recruiting young volunteers for Chinatown cleanup parties, renovating alley ways that serve as primary entrances to the neighborhood from public transit hubs, and the creation of an economic development corporation that focuses exclusively on the restoration of Chinatown’s heritage buildings.

Historic buildings in Vancouver's Chinatown neighborhoodThe restoration of Chinatown won’t occur overnight. Consultation processes and implementation involve many stakeholders, but actions over the past decade are already yielding results as Vancouver’s Chinatown was voted amongst the cleanest in North America. With a sleek new website and involvement over social media, Chinatown is successfully merging modern design with its historically important elements.

How can neighborhoods be successfully revitalized in your city without the devastating effects of the many gentrification projects we see today?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Courtney McLaughlin holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. An avid traveler, her interests are public space modification in Canadian cities and sustainable urban ...

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