Federal government commits $1.8M to revitalizing Vancouver’s Chinatown

Vancouver’s beleaguered Chinatown district is getting another leg-up, as the federal government commits almost $2 million in funding to revitalize the neighbourhood.

Flanked by Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and other community advocates, Harjit Sajjan, the federal minister of international development and MP for Vancouver South, announced the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation (VCF) will receive $1.8 million to re-invigorate the neighbourhood.

“Chinatown has been an integral part of the social, cultural, and commercial fabric of Vancouver for over 135 years. Now, it’s a National Historic Site since 2011. It is home to the largest Chinese settlement and the largest Chinatown in Canada, and Vancouver’s Chinatown has become an enduring symbol of the strength and resilience of Chinese Canadians and an important landmark of our city or province,” Sajjan said.

The funding, which is slated to come from Canada’s Tourism Relief Fund, will help to modernize local building infrastructure and address the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the area.

“The pandemic has hit Chinatown especially hard. Offices and storefronts were emptied. For some time, retail foot traffic and tourist numbers had fallen dramatically. But this community is strong and focused on its future,” Sajjan said, adding the improvements include: “new energy efficient lighting, upgraded storefront windows and doors new signage, awnings, planters, flower boxes, paintings, and refurbished bricks and tiles and much more.”

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Sajjan notes the VCF will also receive funding to expand its Lightup Chinatown Festival, which drew an estimated 10,000 visitors to the area last year. The extra funding will contribute an extra 50 jobs to the area, and maintain another 300 roles, Sajjan says.

“This fund is supporting tourism businesses and organizations as they safely welcome visitors back as they invest in their future. It’s breathing new life into Chinatown as we are helping revitalize this dynamic community where locals and visitors alike can connect over a meal purchase, hard-to-find goods, and soak up the rich vibrant history of Chinatown,” he said.

The funding from the feds comes as the City of Vancouver committed to $2.1 million to the area in its “Uplifting Chinatown” project. Most of the proposed money in the plan would go towards cleaning and sanitation, with a handful of cleaning programs slated to cost over $1.3 million. The graffiti abatement strategies are set to cost $660,000, while community support would cost $50,000.

Speaking Monday, VCF Chair Carol Lee extended the foundation’s gratitude to the government for its commitment to revitalizing the neighbourhood.

“Today’s announcement is a turning point for this neighborhood and for the over 250 small businesses that call it home. This is a great start in revitalizing this area, both physically and economically. I think that we all recognize how difficult things have been over the past decades and particularly over the last couple of years,” she said.

“Since COVID, Chinatown has been in the immediate media constantly, and the negative stories have been unrelenting. There has been a significant increase in graffiti and vandalism. A steep rise in anti-Asian racism, random attacks on our seniors, a rise in property crime, which has made Chinatown a place that people no longer feel safe to come to,” Lee explained. “But despite the neighborhood’s decline, people still love Chinatown and want to see it revitalized.”

Noting the success of the Lightup Chinatown Festival, Lee says if people are given a reason to come to Chinatown, they will.

“These improvements will not only make the neighborhood more beautiful but will make it feel safer and more welcoming. After years of neglect. Chinatown will finally begin to get back a bit of the sparkle it had in its heyday,” she said.

“But this is just the beginning. We still have a long way to go and so many things we need to achieve to make Chinatown the jewel that it can be.”

Speaking at the federal announcement Monday, Sim says revitalizing the neighbourhood has been a key priority of the city, with many in Vancouver having deep roots in the neighbourhood.

“Chinatown doesn’t just represent Chinese history. It represents Canadian history. And these stories and this community needs to come to life once again and it’s starting to. The funds committed today by the federal government builds on our motion to uplift Chinatown,” he said. “The $1.8 million announced today is another step forward towards the revitalization of Chinatown.”

“This renewed attention to Chinatown, in addition to the funding that was announced today, is starting to make an incredibly positive difference. And you can already feel the shift in attitudes. People are returning to Chinatown,” Sim added.

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