Coming together for inclusivity in Chinatown

Last night, I joined dozens of Downtown Eastside residents who gathered at City Hall to take part in the fourth night of the public hearings on the Chinatown Historic Area Height Review.  An increase to building height allowances could mean a major shift to the historic character of the neighborhood from both a design and a socio-economic perspective.  Pivot has signed on to the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council’s community resolution asking Council not to consider height rezoning in Chinatown until the community approves a Local Area Plan. But last night I wasn’t at the hearing in my capacity as staff person at Pivot, I was there as a Chinatown resident.

When the co-op my family has lived in for the past nine years opened its doors, some people raised concerns about the impacts of an influx of new residents on the existing community. Through a membership model that has focused on providing housing to both low and modest income people and reserved suites for Chinese seniors, people living in substandard housing in the Downtown Eastside and young families, I believe those concerns have been mitigated.  Today, the mixed-income building is home to diverse group of residents who support the neighbourhood economy and who are deeply invested in the future of the community.

Over the past year, there have been significant changes on my block. Two new private condo developments have come on the market and new businesses have opened up. The Pacific Pub, which catered largely to seniors living in the SROs in the neighbourhood, has been replaced by The London Pub, with more expensive drinks and a much younger, much more stylishly dressed clientele. I am not sure where the Pacific’s regulars are now meeting to socialize. The reason I draw attention to the change is not so much a problem with re-development of the pub itself, but to illustrate that even small developments can have a pronounced impact on the character and amenities of a neighbourhood.

There may well be room for additional density in Chinatown, but we need to treat that density as a finite resource and set an intention around what kind of feel, demographic mix and community amenities is right for the neighbourhood.   A number of council members  reminded speakers  that new height allowances don’t necessarily mean more condos. Additional height could, for example,  be used to develop larger social housing projects.  We know that the City is limited in its ability to housing projects because of the current lack of federal funds.  Rather than allowing piecemeal, block-by-block rezoning to eat away at the potential for developments that will preserve the heritage and demographic mix of the community, council should put discussion on height re-zoning on hold and throw their support behind the movement for a national housing strategy.