Vancouver city council will spend its first meeting of 2023 discussing how to take swift action on making Chinatown a cleaner, more welcoming place as the historic community continues to battle graffiti, vandalism and drug-fuelled street disorder.
A city staff report recommends council unlock $710,000 in this year’s budget to adopt the “Uplifting Chinatown Action Plan,” which aims to better conditions in a community hit hard by the pandemic and its negative effect on residents and businesses.
“In recent years, Vancouver’s Chinatown has experienced significant challenges including but not limited to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of anti-Asian racism and increasing incidences of graffiti and vandalism,” said the report, which goes before council Jan. 17.
“Chinatown continues to experience ongoing safety concerns that impact small businesses, residents and cultural organizations.”
How to revitalize Chinatown and address concerns over public safety have been raised for decades in previous staff reports and led to various initiatives in the community. The aim of the new plan is to better coordinate what’s currently operating in Chinatown and enhance it.
“To date, there has been limited coordination between the city’s service delivery and community-led initiatives to ensure maximum impact in the neighbourhood, and there is the opportunity to enhance this coordination,” said the report, noting the plan would be coordinated and monitored by the city manager’s office.
'Safe walk' service needed in Chinatown
The plan calls for a set of pilot projects focused on cleaning sidewalks, alleys and streets, along with litter and needle collection, and new graffiti removal strategies for public and private property.
One suggestion is to have the Chinatown Business Improvement Association lead a “safe walk” service for people who require someone to escort them during trips in the community. The report also notes a city hall satellite office is being planned for the Chinatown Plaza.
“These short-term actions support longer-term needs in Chinatown, including cultural heritage economic development, addressing retail health and vacancies, laneway activation, area planning, SRO revitalization and enabling cultural activities,” the report said.
To help inform the plan, staff applied observations and lessons from the Vancouver Police Department’s visit in August 2022 to San Francisco Chinatown. Community leaders also participated in the trip, and shared their findings in October at a Vancouver Police Board meeting.
Chinatown needs provincial, federal investment
At the time, Deputy Chief Howard Chow made it clear to the police board that any real progress in Chinatown has to also include a boost in investment and commitment from the provincial and federal governments.
Chow told the board that efforts from the city’s public works department, police force and other organizations in San Francisco’s Chinatown improved life for residents and merchants — and there’s no reason Vancouver can’t do the same.
“If a big Chinatown like that is able to do it, most certainly we can,” Chow said. “We just need the funding resources and the different levels of government to jump in. And that's a significant impediment right now — is we don't have that full investment, and that's what we need."
As Glacier Media has previously reported, Chinatown has been hit hard since the pandemic was declared in March 2020 by anti-Asian hate crimes, violent attacks on citizens, and an increase in broken windows and unsanctioned graffiti on private buildings.
Some businesses have closed, others have moved and those still open have seen a downturn in customers, according to interviews Glacier Media conducted over the past two years with merchants and business leaders.