Hello everyone, my name is Clare Yow and I’m here today with my 3-year old son Theo. We are here as members of the Chinese-Canadian diaspora — as an immigrant, as settlers on these unceded, ancestral, stolen and occupied homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.
I am an artist who has rented a below-market art studio in the Sun Wah Centre in Chinatown for over 5 years now. I am deeply concerned about 105 Keefer and the threat it presents to existing residents in the Downtown Eastside — many of whom are low-income, working class, and senior citizens. I speak on behalf of my family in opposition to this project, just as my husband Leo did in 2017 when the development was last rejected. I strongly urge the Board to do the same again.
The right to safe, secure, affordable long term housing is one that is denied to so many in the neighbourhood. I have seen it firsthand when, in 2021, I accompanied a tenant organizer through the halls of an SRO building of mostly Chinese residents, which included young students and elders alike.
My concern about this application stems from what I’ve learned about Chinese-Canadian history and my own family’s experiences — my son’s paternal great-great-grandfather came to Vancouver’s Chinatown as a ‘paper son’ during the Exclusion Era and like many, endured great pains from the Chinese Exclusion Act, defying incredible odds to eventually bring over family members from Hong Kong.
Vancouver’s Chinatown was founded on the backs of the working poor — Chinese labourers who fought to live in the face of horrific, sanctioned discrimination in a white settler society. Seeing as the HA-1A guidelines recognize the unique contextual circumstances of the site in question — especially with its proximity to the Chinatown Memorial Monument which honours veterans and labourers — I am concerned that 105 Keefer does not contextually accommodate the quote, “evolving activities that make this district an asset to the city.”
As was the case when Chinatown was first developed, it is still working class labour that makes Chinatown an asset to the city today.
This labour is still highly visible at small businesses throughout the neighbourhood and many who work in Chinatown also live there.
Citing the City of Vancouver’s urban planning focus on liveability, I ask the Board to consider, by potentially approving 105 Keefer, who is excluded from that concept of livability?
How does it meet your goals of quote, “creating urban environments where residents feel supported and engaged” when a market condo will simply bring an influx of wealth and open the door for more gentrifying businesses that are not just unaffordable, but culturally irrelevant to most existing residents?
How does 105 Keefer actually fit in with the Downtown Eastside Plan to improve the lives of neighbourhood residents and community members? It doesn’t.
I believe the development not only expedites the displacement of existing residents and workers and is not the “careful revitalization” that Beedie Living claims they are engaged in. Further to that, I refer back to Board member Kelley’s comments in 2017’s rejection that 105 Keefer is, quote, “an important site with such an important design signification in Chinatown” and that “the application has not met the design test.”
Cultural and artistic heritage is treated like a commodity to the investor class — with ornamental railings, traditional vertical signage, and whatever the ‘Spirit of Chinatown’ in Appendix E of Beedie’s application is. In 2017, Mr. Kelly further said that there was a lack of community engagement around design issues and in the six years since, there has not been any engagement with the community to learn more and do better.
Your HA-1A policies are meant to encourage contemporary new development that is responsive to the community’s established cultural and historic identity. 105 Keefer would claim to be responsive but is really an insult to the Memorial Plaza, and an insult to the historical legacy of the Chinese-Canadian community and our living cultural heritage. Many in the community have repeatedly said this over the years.
I want to end by reminding the Board of the City’s commitment to Heritage, to “not only acknowledge our past, but to identify, protect, and pass on diverse cultural values and assets to future generations.” This project is neither inclusive nor equitable for a vast majority of Chinatown’s residents.
My son is a 5th generation Chinese-Canadian. His generation will inherit the legacy of the decisions that Council and the Permit Board are making today and that will reverberate for decades to come. This is just as we inherited the legacy of our Chinatown elders who, in the 1960s, took up the fight against urban renewal and the freeway that bulldozed through Hogan’s Alley and would have continued through Chinatown and downtown. We all reap the benefits of that grassroots movement now.
To the Board, I urge you to please reject this development application once again. Let us always remember the fighting spirit of Chinatown’s roots. Thank you.
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Clare Yow 邱文贤 is a Chinese-Canadian visual artist. Her lens-based work and writing look at the politics of identity, community, and being while interrogating her lived experiences as a diasporic immigrant-settler and a woman and mother of colour. Clare has been based in what is colonially known as “Vancouver,” BC for the last fifteen years.