Change Coming to Chinatown’s Skyline

Vancouver Chinatown | BCBusiness
Chinatown will see its building height restriction increase to 150 feet.

By increasing high-density development, Chinatown hopes to lure more residents to the area.

Last week Vancouver’s City Hall passed a motion allowing a sizable increase in the height restrictions to new developments in Chinatown. While much of the area has historically been subject to a 65-foot height cap, the first building to be approved under the new height rules is slotted to be a 17-storey residential building at the corner of Keefer St. and Main St., which will clock in at the new maximum height of 150 feet.

Behind this initiative, says city councillor Raymond Louie, is a desire to balance historical value with economic potential. “Chinatown has changed over the years, and ultimately the concept is to return it to a time when Chinatown was a point of pride and a source of commerce within the Chinese community,” says Louie.

While this may be a stark departure from the Chinatown we’ve all come to know, Jordan Eng, vice-president of the Vancouver Chinatown BIA insists that it’s necessary, saying that the BIA was “one of the lead organizations pushing for the historical area height review. … One of the problems over the last 15 years is that the businesses in Chinatown have been slowly dying.” Eng points to the increased availability of Asian products in Richmond and at stores like T&T Supermarket as part of the reason why shoppers have strayed from the area.

To Eng and the BIA the best way to combat this trend is to bring more people into Chinatown, with Eng saying that, “the program is going to bring people within the community, so that they can support the businesses.” Louie echoes this sentiment, saying simply: “you build taller buildings with higher density, and you can have more people living in the area to frequent the businesses.”

While local business owners may be championing the cause of increased development and higher density, not everyone shares their enthusiasm. Downtown Eastside social-housing advocates have claimed that new development may drive up land prices and rid the neighbourhood of its stock of affordable housing.

In a move to ensure that Chinatown doesn’t become the exclusive home of Vancouver’s high-income earners, the city has partnered with S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a non-profit organization working to provide low-income housing, and has included 22 units for low-income seniors in the Keefer St. and Main St. development.

And while affordable housing is always a concern in Vancouver, Louie is quick to point out the multifaceted nature of the problem: “We understand that it’s not just about the bottom end of the housing continuum that we need to address, but the entire continuum. This development … adds some supply into the equation.”