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DNC Chinatown Towers Battle

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Low-income Chinatown residents unite against the towers

News Release
For Immediate Release
March 14, 2011

Low income community unites against condo towers in Chinatown

A newly formed Chinatown residents group is announcing today that it doesn’t want the city to allow higher buildings in Chinatown.  In addition, 25 Chinatown business owners have signed a petition opposing the towers.

On March 17 the city plans to hear delegations on rezoning and policy proposals that could allow 12 and 15 story condo towers in south Chinatown. 

Council will decide on the towers after a public hearing that begins on Thurs. March 17th at 7:30 pm at City Hall.

People opposed to the towers include seniors, small business operators, SRO and social housing residents and others.  Most oppose the increased heights because of the impact it will have on increasing rents and taxes for hotels and stores, driving out low income people and the businesses that serve them.

Jean Swanson, co-ordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), introduced a report about the demographics of Chinatown and the potential social impacts of the city's proposed heights increases. She explained, "Almost 1000 low income people live in privately owned SROs and in social housing in Chinatown.  At least 1700 low income people live in and close to Chinatown.  But Chinatown also offers important services to hundreds, if not thousands, of low-income Chinese seniors and others who live all around Vancouver and bus to Chinatown every day to shop for fresh produce and Chinese herbs and foods.” 

Chinese seniors at several meetings organized by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council in their buildings said repeatedly that they want and need to continue to live in Chinatown. “Our kids are too busy with their own lives so we have to be able to do everything for ourselves.  We have to be independent and living in Chinatown helps us live independently,” said one woman who lives in Pendera Place social housing.  “The prices and language in Chinatown grocery stores are the reasons I can eat healthy food every day.  I compare prices between all the stores every day and always get the best deals,” said another who lives in the Chinese Freemason's senior's housing building on Prior Street.  Other Chinatown residents told the DNC they like being able to shop in Chinatown because they can speak their own language.

Chinatown is divided between the tourist part with most of the heritage buildings, which are mostly on Pender St. and the part where local residents and people from all over the city come to shop at outdoor markets for cheap, healthy and fresh produce and traditional Chinese foods and herbs.  "Some of the benevolent societies support the heights increase in Chinatown south because they think they can get money to renovate their heritage buildings in Chinatown North," said Ivan Drury of the DNC.  “The living part of Chinatown that has the cheap stores is where the city wants to drop the towers. This deal will sacrifice the living heritage of Chinatown south for the heritage buildings of Chinatown north.  They've got their priorities backwards: people should be more important than buildings."

“We’ve seen the impact of gentrification from Woodwards on the western part of the Downtown Eastside,” said Sid Chow Tan.  “Hotel rents are through the roof, and expensive shops make low income people feel really uncomfortable.  Will the produce stores that serve low income Chinese folks from around the neighbourhood and the city be able to survive with the higher taxes and rents in a gentrified Chinatown?” 

 At least one Chinatown resident, Peter Oeder, has already been displaced when the Stadium Hotel near Woodwards closed.  Now living in the New Sun Ah hotel in Chinatown, Peter fears that he’ll be displaced again if condo towers go in and increase property values and rents.

Agnes Li, who owns Novelty Gifts Express Limited on Pender Street said that the height changes don't help small locally serving businesses any more than they do low-income residents. She said, "We're afraid that the high towers will bring even higher taxes for small businesses. Small businesses like us don't get subsidies like London Drugs. Big business doesn't need the support, we do."


Already, with the current zoning, condos and upscale businesses are moving into Chinatown and creating areas of exclusion for low income people.  For example, even though the  London Hotel provides social housing for low income people some of those same people cannot afford and are not comfortable in the new London Pub. Suzanne Baustad, a parent and resident at the Lore Krill Housing Coop on Georgia Street said, “Gentrification is already affecting local kids. Higher income kids are going to Strathcona elementary and there’s more bullying of the kids from poor families."

DNC, CCAP, and the newly formed Chinatown Residents' Committee joined with Chinatown residents and small shopkeepers to show that the city's story, that the towers have unanimous support in Chinatown, is not true. 

The truth," DNC's Sid Tan explained, "is that Chinatown residents have not been consulted about the city's plans."


CCAP's Wendy Pedersen said, "When the city proposed heights increases for all of the DTES we said it was irresponsible and put low-income peoples' housing and lives in danger. Chinatown is part of the DTES and the problem and the danger is the same. And like they agreed to in the rest of the neighbourhood, we want the city to hold off on their plan until we can protect the lives, housing, and community assets of the most vulnerable people in Vancouver. We stand to lose everything if the plan goes ahead. What do developers stand to lose if they wait for a better, more socially responsible plan?"


Ivan Drury, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, 604-781-7346
Jean Swanson, Carnegie Community Action Project, 604-729-2380

Related websites: 
Vancouver city council has not done a social or economic impact study
on the likely effects of the Chinatown heights increases proposal that
is going forward to public hearing this Thursday. To help council (and
the rest of us!) understand just what threats the heights increase
pose to the low-income community in Chinatown the Carnegie Community
Action Project (CCAP) and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council
have released two great resources to explain the meanings and impacts
of the Chinatown condo heights increase have just gone up online, take
a look at them and share them widely.

After reading them consider taking action to help stop the Chinatown
heights increase. Three things you can do:

1) The date of the public hearing has been announced for March 17th...
register to speak! Call the city clerk’s office to register:
604-873-7268; or email

2) The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council and a group of allies
have drafted a statement that reaffirms our opposition to the City's
Condo Tower Plan in the DTES; and for us, the Downtown Eastside
includes Chinatown. To sign this statement, send an email to with the name of your group and "endorsement" in
the subject line. You can see the statement and the current list of
endorsers here:
*The most recent endorser is the Vancouver and District Labour Council - VDLC!

3) Sign the online petition against the city's market condo towers

--- --- ---
--- --- ---
1) The "Chinatown is people, not just buildings" package on the
heights increase was released by the Carnegie Community Action Project
(CCAP) at the press conference organized on Monday at the Carnegie
Centre. The articles from this package can be read here:

"Low income residents unite against the towers"
   - Press release / story about the press conference

"Cheap rent and stores in Chiantown threatened"
   - How heights increases threaten the low-income housing stock and
why the SRA bylaw will not protect the hotels from gentrification

"What does 'Landing Density' mean?"
   - An explanation of why market development will not bring us any
social housing with this heights increase proposal

"Hundreds of low-income residents threatened by gentrification caused
by planned condo towers"
   - An important statistical study of who lives in Chinatown and
what buildings are in Chinatown shows that Chinatown is overwhelmingly
lower income

"Myths about the city's plan to allow 12 and 15 story towers in
   - Myths and facts about the impact of the heights increase in Chinatown

It is available to be downloaded, a 23 page pdf package, here:

--- --- ---
2) Zones Of Exclusion: Where poor people are not welcome in
Vancouver's Chinatown:

At the press conference on Monday March 14th another report was
released; a report on the impacts of gentrification in Chinatown. This
important report maps the exclusion of low-income people (the creation
of Zones of Exclusion) in Chinatown through new condo projects and
restaurants and other amenities. The report is digitized by site of
exclusion, please take a look at it along with the above articles to
get a full picture of the gentrification problem 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

• 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.

*latest news release*
For Immediate release
16 March 2011


**See this news release with pictures and the letters that the
shopkeepers signed here:

Twenty-six Chinatown storekeepers have signed a letter opposing 12-
and 15-storey condo towers that city council will vote on tomorrow

The signatures mean that support for Chinatown towers is not as
unanimous as suggested by the leaders of Chinatown business and social

Volunteers opposed to the towers gathered the signatures in twelve
hours, spread over three days last week.  They are urging council to
delay tower-approval and instead reverse the exclusion of Chinatown
from a local planning process announced last month.

One Pender Street shop owner, Agnes Li, after signing the letter,
said: “We're afraid that the high towers will bring even higher taxes
for small businesses. Small businesses like us don't get subsidies
like London Drugs [at Woodwards] does. We need the City's support."

“They haven't made it any better for the little guys. Big business
doesn't need the support, we do."

Volunteers Raymond Lee and Rider Cooey collected signatures on behalf
of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council.  They said they worked
as a team, visiting stores up and down Pender Street, and found it
wasn’t hard to get signatures, though the process was time-consuming.

Jordan Eng, vice-president of the Vancouver Chinatown Business
Improvement Association, said “The business people, the cultural
groups, and the heritage groups are all in favour of this.”

But Claudia Li, a bilingual collector of signatures, said: “Leaders of
Chinatown organizations have agreed among themselves to support the
towers.  But we find that people at street level have a range of
opinions, and many oppose the towers and support our demand for
inclusion of Chinatown in the Local Area Planning Process.

“Our business organizations say they think condo towers will
‘revitalize’ the shopping areas of Chinatown.  But who’s going to live
in those towers?  Not low-income people.  Right now it’s low-income
people who shop every day and support those markets.

“Where will the customers live when the condos come in?  And will new
condo owners buy from the sidewalk markets—or will they want to shop
in more upscale stores?  The sidewalk stores are an authentic part of
Chinatown, and they’ll be at risk if they depend on condo customers.

The signed letters will be delivered to city council on the evening of
Thursday March 17th, at the beginning of the public hearing about the
Chinatown heights increase.


Contact             Rider Cooey 604.872-1382
                       Claudia Li 604-723-0134

Tami Starlight - VMC Femininja & Editorial Collective 


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