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The future of Chinatown

Community rallies against redevelopment plans

Calgary citizens join together at City Hall to protest renovations in China Town in Calgary on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Photo by Dawn Gibson/ SAIT)

Calgary citizens join together at City Hall to protest renovations in China Town in Calgary on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. (Photo by Dawn Gibson/ SAIT)

A land-use application to redevelop an area of Chinatown with high-rises is sparking debate on the future of one of Calgary’s most historic communities.

“Chinatown’s been here for 100 years and was built up with blood, sweat and tears,” said Alice Lam, a member of Calgary’s Chinatown Task Force.

“This would be taking away something we’ve worked so hard to build.”

Lam emphasized that the task force is not opposed to redevelopment, but would like the community to have a bigger say in the conversation.

The community has received criticism that Chinatown is “hard to work with,” said Lam, but Chinatown’s residents said they have not been adequately consulted.

“[Council] needs to have the proper conversation with the most impacted,” said Lam. “Our point of view is that it’s too soon to make decisions.”

Transparency and communication are at the forefront of the Chinatown Task Force, and Lam said the city needs to do a better job overall in educating its citizens – whether it’s in Chinatown, other communities or post-secondary institutions – to inform and clear up misunderstandings.

“This lack of engagement is not specific to Chinatown,” said Lam.

“The way the city engages, it’s not bad or wrong. It just needs to be altered to ensure all Calgarians have the information they need.”

Chinatown, which is only a short distance from SAIT, has a population of 2,104, according to the City of Calgary’s 2016 census report.

Lam said this is the third Chinatown created in Calgary, and every time, the community has been pushed out.

Once redevelopment begins in one area, “it’s a domino effect for the entire community,” said Lam.

She stated that 70 per cent of Chinatown residents don’t speak English or French – Canada’s two official languages – and they require more communication than the average citizen to fully understand the situation.

Chinatown plays a big role in Calgary’s diverse community, added Lam, and they’ve seen a lot of support from Calgarians on this issue.

“I care deeply about the future of Calgary’s Chinatown and respect its rich history,” said City Councillor Druh Farrell in a public statement.

Farrell put forward a motion in April to delay council’s decision on the redevelopment project.

“People who care about Chinatown want to see new development that enhances the unique cultural, residential, retail and design character of Chinatown.”

The City of Calgary issued an engagement survey from July 8 to Aug. 16, garnering feedback from over 2,000 participants on Chinatown.

The findings revealed that “participants wanted to see tower/podium height changes to address shadowing and streetscape concerns, the removal of less desirable uses such as bottle depot and hotel, design character preservation, and smaller ‘mom-and-pop’ retail bay sizes.

“Most importantly, stakeholders wanted a guarantee for residential units to help bolster the local retail community.”

Council spent two days in early December discussing the high-rise proposal and hearing from community members before giving their initial approval of the controversial project.

While council members debated the issue indoors at City Hall, a rally was taking place outside in below freezing temperatures.

“We want to show Calgary and council that we do care – that Chinatown matters,” Lam said of the rally.

“Let’s take a step back before destroying Chinatown.”

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