A graffiti removal pilot project launched in downtown Vancouver’s Chinatown Saturday, but while the initiative is being welcomed by local merchants, some say it’s only scratching the surface of a much deeper problem.
Dozens of volunteers with Citizens Crime Watch and the Chinese Community Policing Centre cleaned walls in the unit block of East Pender, which has often been hard hit by racist graffiti and vandalism.
“It really does mean a lot to us to see everybody coming together to give back to the community,” said Chinese Community Policing Centre Program coordinator Kitty Lo.
With $10,000 in funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation kickstarting the program, the grassroots group is aiming to crack down on unwanted graffiti.
“I’m just trying to help do what I can,” said Chinese CPC graffiti project leader Aaron Lin.
“I’m really focused on the problem itself, which is graffiti.”
Bob Rennie, whose corporate office is across from the Chinese Cultural Centre, said the facility is tagged every day, along with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and the Chinese CPC.
The real estate marketer said he pays someone $125 per day to clean up his own storefront five days a week.
Any tags that appear on the building are painted over the same day.
“I would say that the neighbourhood is ten times more challenged than it was when we acquired the building in 2004,” Rennie told Global News.
Rennie bought the Wing Sang, the community’s oldest building, and spent five years and $22 million restoring it to house his headquarters and personal museum.
The livable, walkable Chinatown he knew as a child growing up “poor” in East Vancouver is long gone, he said.
“We really wanted to be part of the solution to bringing back where my Dad used to take me,” said Rennie.
Rennie will soon vacate his renovated heritage building, which will become the Chinese Canadian Museum in 2023, after the province recently helped the museum society acquire it.
His foundation will donate $7.8 million to support the project, which he hopes will be a catalyst for change.
“What I’m hoping is that grandma will come back because she has a reason to come to the Chinese Canadian Museum,” said Rennie.
He hopes the next generation will start to respect and help form what the new Chinatown will be.
“It’s not going to just be barbecued pork and Chinese slippers because the market’s not there,” Rennie told Global News.
Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver is continuing its push for a UNESCO designation, which would see Chinatown protected and preserved as a World Heritage Site.
On June 8, the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services approved an amended version of the Cultural Heritage Assets Management Plan (CHAMP) strategic framework and UNESCO World Heritage Site Process.
“You can’t solve Chinatown without really helping and dealing with the challenges of Hastings Street,” Rennie said.
Revitalizing the historic neighbourhood, he said, must be a coordinated approach that includes addressing the growing Downtown Eastside social issues encroaching on Chinatown’s survival.
“I’ll go out on a limb, three people a week die in my laneway — UNESCO’s not going to allow that,” said Rennie.
“We can’t have a shiny object here and have no respect for mankind a block away.”