Culture is a collective product of people and relationships, not a commodity

My name is Yuly Chan, and I’m here to oppose the rezoning application for 105 Keefer. I’m a community organizer with the Chinatown Action Group. We are a grassroots organization that formed in 2015 to organize and empower low-income residents in Chinatown. Our shared vision is to see Chinatown grow and develop as a community built on principles of social and economic justice, solidarity and cooperation.

My own connection to Chinatown began when I was very young, when my dad would take me to the Chan association to learn kung fu, lion dance and mahjong from the seniors. As someone who grew up without grandparents, being around seniors who shared their stories, their food and their time with me was extremely important for my own development and sense of belonging. This intergenerational aspect is so unique to Chinatown, and so important for the overall well-being and development of the people in this neighbourhood.

Over the last few years it’s been exciting to see different organizations and individuals across Vancouver come together in various ways to stop the dismantling of Chinatown through redevelopment projects like the one that is being proposed at 105 Keefer. This is what community looks like.

On the other hand, it’s also been very concerning to witness the troubling methods and tactics used by both Beedie and the City in a questionable attempt to collect community input.

Tactics such as placing security guards at the entrance of the open houses who tried to prevent myself and others from entering the building; the lack of interpretation services at these events, and the lack of any meaningful discussion or debate with community members about the site. When we attended the Urban Design Panel, not only was there no translation, but community members were actually told that they could not speak or ask any questions at all. This panel spoke for hours about the importance of design and heritage, and “how to capture the spirit and content of Chinatown, its authenticity, vitality, and character.”

All this talk about Chinatown’s character between Beedie and the city’s appointed representatives at these meetings amounted to technicalities around balcony shapes, bamboo screens, the colour red, and some neon signs.

But these token additions do not actually respect and honour Chinatown. Culture is a collective product of people and their relationships, which is rooted in the social, political and economic conditions of a community, and it cannot be packaged and sold to make a profit.

So what preserving culture and heritage for Chinatown really means is that for historically and still marginalized neighborhood, it should be those who have the greatest need to remain in neighbourhood that get to have the most say over what happens to their lives and their neighbourhood.

For these reasons, the facade of democratic engagement that we saw through Beedie’s application for 105 Keefer, and that is now apparent within the overall revitalization strategy for Chinatown, is, in fact, the biggest threat to the loss of culture in Chinatown.

Mayor and council, I urge you to stand on the side of the low-income residents, especially the seniors, most of whom have worked in low-wage jobs their whole lives to support their families. Many of us who have been organizing in the community for the last few years see ourselves in the residents when we hear them speak out about their desire to remain in an affordable neighbourhood where they feel a strong sense of pride to be a part of its history, and where they feel safe and welcomed among others.

This development at 105 Keefer falls way short of meeting the aspirations of the community, and in the next month, the Chinatown Action Group will be presenting a more detailed vision and strategy that we’ve been working with community members to present to you, Mayor and Council.

But for tonight, I urge you to do the right thing, which is to reject Beedie’s application. I urge you to take a stand with the low-income residents of Chinatown who are calling for a publicly owned community building where every unit is affordable social housing based on the needs of the neighbourhood, and to honour and support the efforts of this community to shape its future.

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