Sav­ing Chi­na­town raises big ques­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By HATTY LIU in Van­cou­ver For China Daily

From a con­tro­versy in Jan­uary over a 12-storey condo de­vel­op­ment to the re­mod­elling of the world’s nar­row­est build­ing, the preser­va­tion of Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town’s her­itage in a grow­ing city is pos­ing big ques­tions for the neigh­bour­hood’s lead­ers and res­i­dents.

Re­cent meet­ings of the Van­cou­ver Chi­na­town Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Com­mit­tee were at­tended by city coun­cil­lor Ray­mond Louie and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Van­cou­ver Her­itage Foun­da­tion. Is­sues dis­cussed in­cluded re­strict­ing build­ing heights in Chi­na­town and the im­pact of on-go­ing re­pairs on Pen­der Street wa­ter mains on busi­nesses, bus routes and foot traf­fic.

A condo de­vel­op­ment at the cor­ner of East Hast­ings and Gore Street, ap­proved by the city on Jan 25, also frus­trated her­itage ac­tivists as it re­places a sec­tion of one-storey shops — in­clud­ing an af­ford­able “mom-and-pop” bar­ber­shop and butcher — and will stand out in a neigh­bour­hood of low-rise build­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to Judy Lam Maxwell, a Chi­na­town his­to­rian and mem­ber of the re­vi­tal­iza­tion com­mit­tee, the two ma­jor con­cerns over Chi­na­town’s de­vel­op­ment are reg­u­lat­ing the height of new build­ings and at­tract­ing busi­nesses that will not com­pro­mise the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bour­hood.

“Chi­na­town is a na­tional his­toric site and pro­vin­cial his­toric site, but it’s not a her­itage site for the city of Van­cou­ver, ex­cept for some her­itage build­ings,” Maxwell said. “There are cur­rently no height-re­stric­tions on new build­ings in Chi­na­town, and slowly [older] build­ings have been knocked down or left to de­te­ri­o­rate.”

In ad­di­tion to the dis­ap­pear­ing build­ings and busi­nesses, the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and lack of youth or fam­i­lies in the neigh­bour­hood are also of con­cern, as Chi­na­town is no longer the hub of ser­vices for the area’s Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

Maxwell said the neigh­bour­hood is not op­posed to de­vel­op­ment, even when it brings in non-Chi­nese busi­nesses.

“A lot of new, great non-Chi­nese busi­nesses and restau­rants are open­ing with mostly non-Chi­nese clien­tele [that] bring a young en­ergy to the neigh­bour­hood,” she said. “[Chi­na­town] build­ing own­ers want peo­ple that can pay rent, and the re­vi­tal­iza­tion com­mit­tee has some stan­dards, such as new non-Chi­nese busi­nesses have to have some Chi­nese sig­nage, and ev­ery­one has com­plied so far.”

An­other re­cent de­vel­op­ment in Chi­na­town has been the re­mod­elling of the Jack Chow In­sur­ance build­ing at 8 West Pen­der Street. Built in 1913 and just 1.5-1.8 me­ters deep from store­front to back, it is listed in the Guin­ness Book of Records as the world’s shal­low­est com­mer­cial build­ing.

In hon­our of the build­ing’s 100th an­niver­sary, the Chow fam­ily, which has owned the build­ing since 1985, re­stored the glass side­walk out­side the build­ing, built a glass frontage and glass stair­case, and in­stalled pro­gram­mable en­ergy-ef­fi­cient LED lights and a sound sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to Rod Chow, pres­i­dent of Jack Chow In­sur­ance, the ren­o­va­tion not only adds mod­ern­ized up­grades but re­stores the build­ing’s his­toric façade and in­cor­po­rates fea­tures keep­ing with the build­ing’s his­tory and rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing “the world’s nar­row­est toaster, the world’s nar­row­est coat closet, and the world’s nar­row­est broom closet”.

The build­ing will host a grand re­open­ing to the pub­lic with tours later this year.

JACK CHOW / FOR CHINA DAILY

“The world’s nar­row­est broom closet”, the his­toric and newly ren­o­vated Jack Chow In­sur­ance build­ing in Van­cou­ver’s Chi­na­town, is sched­uled to re-open to the pub­lic soon.

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