June 16, 2018 6:00 pm

Park Board to weigh renewing ‘dead zone’ outside Vancouver’s Chinese gardens

The courtyard outside the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen gardens has been a magnet for vandalism and property crime.

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A key public space in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown could be in line for a major restoration, if a pair of Vancouver Park Board commissioners have their way.

The courtyard, constructed in 1978, sits between the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Chinese Cultural Centre, and Pender Street in the Downtown Eastside.

It is one of just two large public gathering spaces in the area. In its current form, it is nearly completely walled in by grey concrete.

Use your mouse mouse to look around the courtyard

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Vincent Kwan, executive director of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, told Global News that in its current form, the courtyard has been a magnet for vandalism and property crime.

“The type of vandalism can range from vandalizing the walls to signage and doors,” he said.

“I’ve also been in consultation with some of the directors [at the Chinese Cultural Centre], and they have also experienced a lot of pain when it comes to vandalism, especially in the last several months.”

READ MORE: Stolen lion statues returned to Chinese Garden in Vancouver

Kwan said the courtyard, a key site in early Chinatown and once the home of the city’s Chinese opera, fulfills a key cultural role in the community and is at the centre of several important cultural assets.

It’s also a key tourist destination, and frequently hosts school groups of young children.

Non-Partisan Association (NPA) park commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung wants to see the space renewed, and is proposing a motion to revitalize the courtyard as a public square. She says the current courtyard design is poorly-lit and closed in, creating unwelcoming “dead zones.”

WATCH: Vancouver considers scaling back Chinatown development

Kirby-Yung is proposing the board work with the City of Vancouver on a feasibility study for ideas that would encourage more public use of the space.

“Everything from really looking at the design itself, whether it’s lighting in the evenings or revising some of the overhangs and what that building architecture looks like, to also talking about programming. I’d love to see the area animated on a regular basis,” she said.

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As an example, Kirby-Yung said the square could hold food security seminars for Chinatown and Downtown Eastside residents on a regular basis.

Kirby-Yung said she’d also like to see the city potentially work with Vancouver-based architect James K.M. Cheng, who designed the original Chinese Cultural Centre, in modernizing the space.

She described the initiative as a long-term process, one that would require input from the city along with widespread community consultations. Any budgetary questions would be more than a year away, she said.

WATCH: Apology made to Vancouver’s Chinese community

A second motion, put forward by independent park commisioner Erin Shum also targets the public square, citing safety concerns, “inhospitable conditions and poor maintenance.”

Shum is also calling for more public activities such as seniors exercises, food pop-ups and outdoor movie nights, and is requesting $50,000 from the board’s capital plan to try to improve the courtyard.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver issues apology for historical discrimination against Chinese residents

Kwan said he likes the idea of increasing programming in the square, and is open to remodeling the space — though he said he’d leave ideas on that front to architects and designers.

He said anything that can be done to attract more foot traffic to the area while addressing locals’ concerns about crime and damage would be welcome.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens has also launched its own call for submissions on how to improve the area, and Kwan said he’s excited about the future.

“The possibilities are endless. [This] is certainly something that should include the whole community into brainstorming,” he said.

The Park Board will vote on Kirby-Yung and Shum’s motions Monday night.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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