ZOE: Chinatown

Zones of Exclusion is a project of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) Action Committee. For more on DNC's work, see:
http://dnchome.wordpress.com and, specifically about the anti-gentrification struggle in Chinatown, see: https://sites.google.com/site/fightfor10sites/

Download the full pdf of the Zones of Exclusion report, released March 17, 2011 for the public hearing about raising building heights in Chinatown

Gentrification is a serious threat to the community of the Downtown Eastside.

The construction of new market housing and the substantial influx of more affluent renters and homeowners will bring about the displacement of the diverse low-income residents of this neighborhood and the destruction of its many wonderful strengths.

Gentrification not only forces people out of the neighborhood through increasing land value and higher rents, it also produces a kind of internal displacement for low-income residents by creating zones of exclusion.

• Zones of exclusion are spaces where people are unable to enter because they lack the necessary economic means for participation. As wealthier people move into the neighborhood, more spaces are devoted to offering amenities that cater to them. Grocery stores, banks, coffee shops, restaurants, salons, various retail stores, night clubs, stylish pubs, etc. begin to appear throughout the neighborhood, and are priced beyond what people on fixed low income can
afford. These sites become zones of exclusion.

• There is another sense in which such places are zones of exclusion. Whenever land is used to build condos or develop businesses for wealthier people, it is removed or excluded from use by the community; it not longer becomes a place where a local community-based vision can be implemented. In this sense, gentrification excludes possibilities.

• Zones of exclusion also become sites marked by increased surveillance and policing. Strategies of control and punishment are implemented at these sites in order to protect them from the presence of unwanted people and from potential disruption. Only those with status, privilege and wealth can enter; all others are watched, carefully interrogated, and criminalized.

As gentrification produces more and more zones of exclusion, low-income residents become alienated from their own community. It is the experience of internal displacement – the feeling of being out of place in one’s own neighborhood.

This site tracks just some of the zones of exclusion that have appeared in Chinatown over the last few years.

Chinatown and Chinese Vancouver History

Up the block from Cam Watt’s Keefer Bar and Suites, invisibly, in the shadows of this more than a century and half, hand-built community, are a fraction of aging Chinese residents subsisting in deteriorated low-income housing. These residents and their extended families living in other parts of suburban Vancouver, unlike weekend hipsters and tourists, sustain Chinatown’s poultry and fish markets, and its venerable vegetable and fruit shops, and affordable clothing stores.

Some of these elders, and their intergenerational associations and benevolent societies, witnessed the racist legacy of Vancouver’s segregationist and exclusionary past. In 1907, in fact, Shanghai Alley, Pender, Main and Keefer streets were scenes of domestic terrorist as over 10,000 British Columbians, led by the city’s Asiatic Exclusion League (a sister organization inspired by the founding of the San Francisco Asiatic Exclusion League of 1906), violently marched on Chinatown, shouting racist and anti-immigrant epithets, while destroying businesses and setting fires to property.

Terrified, many Chinese residents, who had worked dating back to 1889 in Canada building the Trans Canada Railroad, were persistently intimidated in those xenophobic times by white, racist vigilantes to leave Vancouver. Instead, the Chinese community strengthened, rebuilt itself and asserted their right to remain. During World War II, Chinatown residents supported the anti-fascist efforts of the Canadian government; and indeed, several soldiers of Canadian Chinese ancestry, raised in Chinatown served overseas.

As a result of these life changing and patriotic experiences, many residents and organizations participated in post-war civil rights struggles, joining Black Canadians and First Nations people, to demand full citizenship, equal employment rights, and removal of all vestiges of segregationist practices in Canada.

To date, many Chinese elders still live, along with low-income whites and First Nations people, in what remains of the historic, residential and small business artery of immigrant Vancouver -- North America’s third largest Chinatown.


Signs of the Times

across North America
hand held pieces of cardboard
crudely lettered
or painstakingly printed
the lived poetry of poverty
no home
no job
no money
no food
and name
preventable diseases
because of inability
to pay for relief or healing
reaching from the Atlantic
to the Pacific
please help
God bless you
have a good day
God bless
please help
call to us
for a meager
but heroic
give to all who ask
but they want my money for alcohol
they want my money for drugs
give to all who ask
but there’s too many
of these
signs that disclose
and subvert
by their very understatement
the social extermination
of human beings
their sheer physical presence
their faces
their eyes
their likeness
pierce our entertainments
pierce our wastefulness
our priorities
our conscience
a blind man
holds a sign
and sees through us
so deeply and clearly
we can’t stand it
and demand
public space be made private
and these living signs
driven elsewhere
by more bylaws
by more police
these living signs
they terrify
because they reflect
our own possibilities
in this anti-human economic system
no food
no job
no money
no home
so we need more
zones of exclusion
more censorship of human beings
who hold
these signs of the times
they hold them
for us

by Bud Osborn
from Signs of the Times,
Bud Osborn and Richard Tetrault
Anvil Press, 2005