photos: Members of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, including local visual artist Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon, are working with Chinatown’s low-income, Chinese-speaking seniors to protect the neighbourhood. Photo: Katie Hys

Direct action gets intergenerational

Youth rally for Chinatown seniors

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Last April the Downtown Eastside’s Carnegie Community Action Project organized Chinese seniors against neighbourhood condo developments and rezoning applications. Theyprotested the Keefer Block and proposals to build more condos and commercial spaces as measures to defend Chinatown'smost vulnerable residents from getting priced out.

Today, Chinese youth are taking up the cause in an effort to protect both Chinatown’s low-income residents and their own connection to culture and heritage.

“What you’ll hear from a lot of [youth] is for them Chinatown brings back memories of their grandparents,” says artist Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon. She moved to Vancouver from Edmonton two years ago and immediately got involved in Chinatown advocacy efforts following her work with youth in Edmonton’s Chinatown. Her mother is from Hong Kong. “For me it’s more like a connection to the grandparents that are on the other side of the world.”

A member of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, Lennon is helping establish stronger intergenerational connections in the neighbourhood through events like Mah Jong tournaments held in public spaces during the summer and fall.

But the Collaborative and other organizations like the Chinatown Action Group are also interested in helping Chinatown’s largely low-income, Chinese-speaking seniors population speak out against condo developments threatening to push them out of the neighbourhood.

Last month, the Chinatown Action Group and the Chinatown Youth Collaborative brought their concerns to the City of Vancouver’s open house for Beedie Living’s 105 Keefer Street rezoning application. Although Beedie’s proposal reserves 25 of the 137 housing units for low-income seniors, it still requires a yet-to-be announced non-profit to run the housing.

The remaining 112 units will arguably bring in outside residents with higher incomes, increasing the number of higher priced businesses to serve them, pushing out things like affordable groceries and pharmacies.

Lennon says 105 Keefer is a stand-in for larger neighbourhood gentrification issues.

“I think the community and the city has the responsibility to ensure that development is done in a way that doesn’t displace,” she says. She isn’t personally against development, but adds condo development should be treated like an application for a new mine and require a social and environmental impact assessment.

“We need more oversight because it’s such a sensitive, special, and unique neighbourhood,” she says.


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