During a Vancouver City Council meeting on Tuesday, many concerned residents and community members raised concerns about the deteriorating state of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown district.
Chinatown has had its share of problems over the last several years, and concerned citizens from all walks of life spoke passionately. Some people spoke through tears when sharing their experiences with crime and safety over the past several years.
Others offered ideas to solve the problems facing Vancouver’s Chinatown, one of North America’s largest Chinese cultural areas and the largest Chinatown in Canada.
The speakers talked about the Uplifting Chinatown Action Plan. In the same meeting later in the day, City Council approved an urgent $2 million relief plan to support Chinatown, including about $700,000 in direct measures specifically for Chinatown.
One of the most passionate speakers was Ryan Diaz, who runs Diaz Combat Sports on East Pender Street in Chinatown.
Diaz ended up breaking into tears after sharing how members of the community have worked so hard to make the neighbourhood a safer place. He spoke about some of the dangers he and his family, including his children and parents, have faced.
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“It’s like we’re always fighting an uphill battle and never gaining ground,” Diaz said.
“We have kids that come, and we have to keep them safe,” he added, fighting back tears.
“Why? These are innocent people. This would never be allowed to happen anywhere else in Vancouver. But you let it happen to us, and you forgot about us,” Diaz said, addressing Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and city councillors who were present.
— The Network Hub (@thenetworkhub) January 17, 2023
“Ryan, we hear you,” responded Sim.
“Thank you for not giving up on Chinatown.”
Other speakers included Jordan Eng, the Chinatown Business Improvement Association president.
“It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Eng.
Eng pledged to work with frontline community organizations and cultural centres. He suggested increased lighting in Chinatown to make it a neighbourhood that was more inviting for families and seniors at night.
He addressed that while the City could pledge funds to clean up graffiti and garbage, it was also a symptom of a bigger systemic problem, reflecting the ongoing drug and mental health crisis.
Another speaker was Lorraine Lowe, the executive director for the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Lowe is also a prominent advocate for Chinatown, often publicly raising concerns about community issues.
Ryan Diaz @diazcombat is a true mensch of our community & we need to acknowledge that hardworking middle class struggling biz owners like him are feeling the same frustration. The +ve impact DCS has made for our cmty has been huge. We cant fail them! #vanpoli https://t.co/JOJHRO4kSQ
— Lorraine Lowe (@lorrainelowe_) January 17, 2023
Lowe stated that she hoped to see some oversight and efficiency concerning the resources spent in Chinatown. She also raised concerns about businesses that are moving out of Chinatown, like Kevin & Kevin and the New Town Bakery.
“Small businesses need our support,” Lowe added.
Carol Lee also spoke and is the chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of safety as a critical element for the recovery of Chinatown,” she said.
She reflected that many legacy businesses are giving up on Chinatown. Ming Wo was one example, a company that had been around for over a century.
“It was nothing like this before. Things are getting worse. I’m sad, I’m frustrated, I’m hopeless.”
She added that she was ready to give up on Chinatown and move elsewhere and that the neighbourhood has seriously declined over the past decade.
Crime and the Downtown Eastside
One common denominator from the City Council meeting was the concern about crime and the Downtown Eastside.
Trey Helten, a prominent graffiti artist in Vancouver, also spoke during the meeting. He shared concerns over graffiti artists being demonized in Chinatown, suggesting that there should be space for respectful artists to share their art in Chinatown.
Over the past year, we’ve reported on numerous stories of crimes and stranger attacks that have taken place in the Downtown Eastside. Not to mention the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
With the Downtown Eastside existing in such proximity to Vancouver Chinatown, it seems clear that until the issues facing the Downtown Eastside are addressed, Chinatown will not be able to recover fully.