2017 by-election candidates, on Chinatown

2017 by-election candidates, on Chinatown

This article was updated on October 10th, 2017 : added Diego Cardona and Damian Murphy’s answers.

Members of the Chinatown community reached out to all the candidates for the City Council in the 2017 by-election
The survey was sent on September 27th.

The following candidates emailed detailed answers : Hector Bremner, Diego Cardona, Pete Fry, Judy Graves, Damian Murphy and Jean Swanson.
Gary Lee’s response was much shorter. It is included at the end of this page.
Pete Fry prefaced his answers with a paragraph explaining his relationship which Chinatown. It is also included at the end of this page.

The email to Mary Jean Dunsdon (info@votewatermelon.ca) did not go through.


Given the recent controversy surrounding Council’s decision not to approve a 12-storey mixed use building at 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia Street with 110 market residential units and 25 senior social housing units, what is your vision for this highly sensitive and critical site located in the heart of Chinatown?

Hector Bremner

I believe strongly that there was a failure to communicate effectively with the community and respect some of the concerns raised during this contentious debate.  The resulting loss of the seniors housing was extremely unfortunate, especially considering that he recent homeless count uncovered a 30%  increase in homeless, with seniors making up a large percentage of those without a home of their own.  There are many great examples of Chinatown’s in cities across North America, and while we have a plan in place which was developed in 2012, clearly this has not been effective in giving people a clear path forward.

We need to honour our heritage and address the housing crisis in Vancouver, which is a crisis of supply.  By working together, we can bring these principles together and deliver for all those who are counting on us.  The current state of division hurts us all.

Diego Cardona

The community was very clear that a large market development, even with a social housing component, was not suitable for the site. The Keefer triangle is a very unique site and as such this location requires a very thoughtful approach. I would like to see the provincial and federal governments work with the City to help enable a proposal that delivers community space and affordable housing for the neighbourhood and does so in a building form that is appropriate for the site. However it is important to recognize that the site is privately owned and the city cannot force them to sell.

I also have spoken to many community leaders to discuss what real dialogue looks like. I think this is a unique opportunity to bring the diverse voices of Chinatown together to get to the heart of what matters to them.

Pete Fry

My vision for the site at 105 Keefer is first and foremost one where the community has meaningful input and an opportunity to develop of collaborative consensus that respects residents, elders, associations and property owners; and most importantly respects the heritage we must protect.

I have gone on record opposing and speaking against the various iterations of Beedie Group’s proposals for this location.

To a specific vision, I would prefer to defer to community consensus, though I am very partial to the idea of lower scale, narrow lot width and heritage-appropriate development on the site; inclusive of cultural amenities and/or appropriate retail frontages.

I’m also very interested in some of the proposals around creating more of a plaza environment at that particular intersection. I do appreciate the need for and will advocate for more seniors’ low-income housing in the area — though I am not particularly insistent that it needs to be at that particular site and/or in its entirety.

Whatever the final use of the site, it should be sensitive to the heritage and cultural context.

Judy Graves

The Chinatown community should be very proud of their advocacy work in protecting 105 Keefer and 544 Columbia Street. Social housing, especially for seniors, is gravely needed in Chinatown. I would use all tools at the disposal of City Council to protect those sites for what the community truly needs: homes for people with low incomes, especially the Chinese seniors who have called the neighbourhood home for so long and contributed so deeply to Vancouver.

Damian Murphy

I support and respect the vision that the local community has for this central piece of land in Chinatown which is a desire for the site to developed as 100% social housing with significantly less height. Since it is now privately held property it would be necessary to work with the developer to build that housing or, perhaps, buy it outright and make it a city owned asset.

Jean Swanson

I think the City should buy the site or trade with the developer for another site in the city and then work with the community to build the kind of development that respects the memorial and the Chinese seniors and youth who have been working so hard to stop the Beedie proposal.  These folks want housing that seniors can afford and an intergenerational community space and this is what they should get.

In response to overwhelming community concerns over the future of development in Chinatown, the development policies are currently being reviewed, including a proposal to cancel the rezoning policy for Chinatown South. What is your position on these proposals and do you have any further suggestions to protect and enhance this historic neighbourhood to ensure it is a living community while retaining the character of Chinatown?

Hector Bremner

We need to work together to ensure that we have a plan that both celebrates Vancouver’s heritage and ensures we addressing the housing crisis, particularly for those most vulnerable.  I believe that the time is to come together, lean in, and with open hearts and minds find approaches that move our city forward.

Diego Cardona

I support the draft proposal that staff brought forward to the public this spring which brought in reduced height limits as well as specific densities for development in Chinatown to reduce speculation and support preservation. The lack of clarity specifically on density is a problem and I’m hopeful that a new plan can be put in place soon that reduces real estate speculation in the neighbourhood.

Pete Fry

I support a moratorium on new development until new development and rezoning policies can be worked out (in robust co-creative collaboration with the community).

I support many of the directions articulated in May 2017’s Chinatown Development Policy Changes document: specifically involving the community in development reviews; smaller narrow lot building with smaller storefronts; and no more tall and wide ‘block-busting’ buildings.

I would hope to see enhancements to these policies to see sensitive residential development with a significant allocation of low income senior’s housing (more than we see now) and good mix of affordable housing. I would like to see public benefit strategies directed to ensuring heritage and cultural businesses are supported and even subsidized. I would like to see built form and urban design guidelines do a much better job of protecting the ‘look’ of Chinatown than the sort of condo developments we have seen recently around Keefer and Main.

Note: I had previously shared my position with the City of Vancouver during the public consultations, and it may be available online as public record.

Judy Graves

I am concerned about the current zoning of Chinatown. At present, it is far too easy to build luxury homes, that lead to gentrification and the disappearance of affordable housing for the people who have called a neighbourhood home for years. We need to act to protect Chinatown, because it is our living history and a today, a vulnerable community. If we can’t protect places like Chinatown, Vancouver won’t be worth living in anymore.

Zoning in Chinatown should change to reflect the real needs of the area: for social housing, especially senior’s housing, and affordable rental that allows the neighbourhood to be home to working people, young people, and families that want to participate in the life of the community. Subsidized family housing must also be a priority, so that more generations are raised with a sense of ownership of their neighbourhoods. This housing should be built and owned by the City of Vancouver, rather than developers, and it can be paid for by the Luxury Homes tax and Flipping Levy that I have proposed in my policy platform.

Damian Murphy

I am glad that the city has listened to the concerns of the community and scaled back the original zoning proposals. There has already been significant development of the arterial along Main street. I support protecting the two streets of Pender and Keefer in line with community suggestions limiting the width and height of any redevelopment. I believe the neighbourhood can benefit from revitalization and development as long as there is a focus on maintaining the historic nature of the businesses and increasing the availability of non-market rental stock to allow residents to continue to live there affordably.

Jean Swanson

Canceling the rezoning policy for Chinatown South is imperative. But the City needs to also take proactive measures to ensure that low-income Chinatown residents can afford any new housing that is built. In addition, measures need to be taken to preserve stores where staff speak Chinese and sell goods and services that benefit the local Chinese and low-income community.

However, we do need something in place soon. Luxury market condos are rapidly springing up and increasing rents. We need a policy in place soon to ensure that low-income people and seniors can age in place and thrive in an affordable, accessible, and connected community. I support solutions proposed in the People’s Vision for Chinatown that was democratically developed over two years with hundreds of community voices through the leadership of Chinatown Action Group (CAG) and Chinatown Concern Group (CCG).

In addition to cancelling the current rezoning policy and support for the People’s Vision, I also support CAG and CCG’s petition to pause market developments until they match the number of low-income housing and require that 50% of all residential housing units are social housing at welfare and pension rates.

There have been ongoing discussions among City staff and the community to explore the idea of having Vancouver Chinatown designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Would you support this endeavor, and if so, how (including what aspects you think would qualify Chinatown to receive such a designation)?

Hector Bremner

I’m glad to hear those discussion are ongoing, and I certainly will look forward to the results of them.  In the meantime, rampant homelessness and run away housing costs are eroding the fabric of our city.  This is has been caused by exclusionary zoning tactics across the city which puts undue pressures on areas like our historic Chinatown to shoulder the load of our vibrant city’s growth.  But so long as we only allow density in finite areas, speculators win.  I believe we can come together and find solutions which will ensure Chinatown is celebrated, retains a vibrancy and long term resiliency.

Diego Cardona

I do support designating Chinatown as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The federal government has already designated Vancouver’s Chinatown as a national historic site in 2011 and the province designated Chinatown a historical site of significance in 2014. There are many aspects to Chinatown that can be considered for the application. It is the largest Chinatown in North America and has the only authentic classical Chinese Garden in North America at Sun Yat Sen Garden. The designation would help commemorate the history and struggles of Chinese who helped build Canada, including the CPR railways and veterans who fought in World War II. It can also recognize the relationships and links between the Chinese community in British Columbia with Indigenous peoples. Similar Chinatowns such as Malacca in southwest Malaysia and Hoi An in Vietnam have all received UNESCO designation. A successful application will bring global attention to Vancouver’s Chinatown and will help stimulate tourism while focusing the conversation on Chinatown’s historical character.

Pete Fry

Yes, I support this endeavour.
I recently spoke at the request of Heritage Vancouver on “Undefined Heritage”. My lecture largely focused on the idea that heritage is more than just old buildings, or even history — heritage is also about community. In the context of Chinatown, it’s important that community play a role in how we move forward, as we have already lost so many old buildings and streetscapes that might otherwise define what we think of as a Heritage Site. This means a vibrant, inclusive and culturally appropriate retail and housing mix. This also means safe and clean public spaces. This means that development adjacent to Chinatown be of an appropriate height, scale and mass.

Judy Graves

I would support this endeavour, as long as it would not prevent the City from building social housing for the low-income people who live in Chinatown.

The Chinatown community is a remarkable and resilient community. It was, of course, established due to racist and discriminatory government policies of yesterday. Despite this, the residents of Chinatown created a vibrant neighbourhood that knit together Chinese and Canadian culture. Chinatown must also be heralded for its fight to protect Vancouver from the proposed freeway many decades ago. It is also the site of a large concentration of heritage buildings that must be protected, if Vancouver is to maintain its history and character. For all of us Chinatown is a place to learn language and culture, which is especially important in a city like Vancouver, which is home to many thousands of people of Chinese heritage. Protection of Chinatown is also important because in protecting Chinatown we can protect the Cantonese dialects that are its living language heritage.

Damian Murphy

Vancouver Chinatown certainly meets many of the cultural criteria for being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site;

  • It has been a significant part of our cultural heritage before Vancouver was even a city,
  • The neighbourhood speaks to a cultural tradition which is threatened by gentrification and development,
  • The community is a living example of an ongoing traditional human settlement of cultural importance

I support exploring the idea further and to further research what the potential benefits would be. I understand that such a designation could entail access to certain financial and other resources and would promote using such funds to preserve, protect and enhance the neighbourhood including a gentle redevelopment. Many of the buildings in the area need work including upgrades and renovations.

I believe the cultural component can co-exist and be conserved with thoughtful development. Chinatown is already a popular tourist destination but I do have some concerns about how the heritage designation could water down some of the cultural importance of the neighbourhood if too much emphasis is placed on reliance on the tourist trade.

Any redevelopment should focus on providing affordable homes for folks who have called the neighbourhood home for generations.

Jean Swanson

I support the idea to explore UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Chinatown is such a special place because it is the product of historical and ongoing cooperation between Chinese, Japanese, Black, and Indigenous working class communities. Chinatown is also a place of struggle in the face of white supremacy, colonialism, and the past and ongoing efforts to extract profits from workers and racialized communities. Today, those same forces in Chinatown manifest themselves in the processes of gentrification and displacement.

Any endeavor to pursue designation must recognize the Chinatown’s culture of resilience and living heritage–seniors and low-income people–and include strong measures to address issues of housing affordability, cost of living, political marginalization, racism, safety, and social isolation.


Gary Lee’s answer :

As someone of Chinese (and Irish!) descent, preserving Chinatown’s heritage is important to me. Rapid increases in rents and property values are displacing residents city-wide. I believe we need a way to preserve the culture and heritage that makes Chinatown unique while still continuing to modernize as a city. I’m not a subject matter expert in Chinatown’s issues specifically so if elected I would rely on established stakeholders to help guide development policy.

Thank you for reaching out to me and I apologize that I am unable to answer all your questions fully.

Pete Fry’s opening paragraph :

Please allow me to preface my comments with my own personal anecdote.

Chinatown is very close to my heart, one of my happiest childhood memories was visiting Chinatown with my cousin Kenny. He was Chinese, probably in the early fifties at the time, and had lived his entire life in Trinidad, which is home to a small historic Chinese community, but without a meaningful physical presence. On visiting our Chinatown in the 1970s, he was so thrilled to explore the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes of things he had only imagined from afar or had only sampled in pictures or imported goods. As we walked through Chinatown, his eyes wet with tears of joy, he sang a little ditty about “Chinatown my China-town”. That visit solidified my own romance and respect for Chinatown, and informed my later decision to put down roots here.

I’ve lived in and around Chinatown for almost thirty years. Chinatown is where I get my groceries, haircuts, prescriptions, banking and many, many meals. As chair of the Strathcona Residents Association, I worked with Joe Wai to stickhandle the rezoning for a new Villa Cathay tower, in order to ensure Chinese elders could age in the community. Also in that role I strove to remind and educate Strathcona’s newer residents of our debt of gratitude to SPOTA and Chinatown advocates who helped to save the neighbourhood we now call home, and on Vancouver’s 125 Anniversary produced a festival to honour the Strathcona’s history and context to Chinatown (including an exhibition of photos by Hayne Wai). I’ve been a regular speaker, advocate and critic about Chinatown zoning and heritage issues at City Hall.

I am 100% committed to Chinatown.