15 March 2011
Robertson and City Councilors
Dear Mayor Robertson and Councilors:
Re: Historic Area Height Review (HAHR)—Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside
We, the undersigned, are professors and instructors at local universities and colleges who are concerned about the impact of relaxing height restrictions in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood—an area that includes Chinatown.
We commend Council for revisiting its plans for height rezoning in 7 of the 8 sub-districts in the DTES and for reaching out to the neighbourhood to create a Local Area Plan. However, we question Council’s exclusion of Chinatown from the mandate of the Local Area Planning Committee. Socially, economically, and culturally, Chinatown is part of the broader DTES community. While tidy lines can be drawn on city maps, there are no such boundaries in the lived experiences of the people of the area.
On 17 March, Council will hold a public hearing to consider a proposal to relax height restrictions in Chinatown that will enable the development of buildings with condos and retail space ranging in height from 7 to 15 stories. In architectural terms, this would surely destroy the heritage character of the neighbourhood. But far more harmful will be the impact on current residents and merchants, unless they are brought into the planning process. Chinatown, like other parts of the DTES, currently provides a significant amount of affordable housing to low-income individuals and families. It also offers a great deal of retail space for small shop-owners (many of whom cater to the larger DTES community). Historically, when renewal projects have taken place in similar contexts without full and meaningful consultation with local residents, a number of troubling patterns have emerged: increasing property values; increasing rents with a concomitant decline in affordable housing stock and in reasonably-priced rental spaces for small business owners; rising food prices in local outlets; the exclusion of low-income residents from certain neighbourhood spaces; increasing homelessness; and, ultimately, loss of human dignity.
The intention of Council’s “revitalization without displacement” policy is a good one, and there is potential here to create an inclusive and sustainable neighbourhood that will locate Vancouver at the cutting edge of ethical and creative community planning. Council has already taken important steps in this direction. We now urge that Chinatown be included in the purview of the Local Area Planning Committee for the DTES. Moreover, we ask for a postponement of any consideration of height rezoning in Chinatown until more comprehensive public consultation has been completed.
John A. Brohman
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Professors and instructors of Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and BCIT have rallied behind residents and small business owners of Chinatown, asking Vancouver’s City Council to postpone any decision about rezoning Chinatown until full and meaningful consultation with local residents has occurred. Twenty-nine academics have signed a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council expressing concerns about the effects of gentrification on low-income residents and urging that Chinatown be brought into the Local Area Planning process that has already been established for the other subareas of the Downtown Eastside.
A copy of the letter to Council, which was delivered this morning, is attached.
Thank you for your consideration.