A group of Vancouver police and community leaders recently visited San Francisco’s Chinatown to see what the U.S. city has done to tackle crime and social challenges encroaching on the heritage neighbourhood and now, ABC Vancouver councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung is calling on city staff to follow up on that first-hand experience to support a motion for urgent measures to uplift Chinatown.
“If we start to lose Vancouver’s Chinatown, we’re really losing the heart and soul of our city,” Kirby-Yung told Global News in an interview.
Albert Fok’s family has been filling herbal prescriptions in Chinatown for 45 years.
As the weight of the community’s challenges takes its toll, the Kiu Shun Trading Company owner said he hopes the newly elected civic government will measure up to its public safety promises.
“Obviously Chinatown, slash, Downtown Eastside is the major sufferer of all these issues,” Fok said.
With continued graffiti vandalism, street disorder and random attacks plaguing the community, Fok said restoring public safety should be the city’s top priority.
“It was getting worse, it wasn’t improving at all and because of this pandemic it just fast-tracked and almost exponentially deteriorated.”
Kirby-Yung’s motion will be heard by the council on Nov. 15 and asks city staff to report back by the first regular council meeting in January 2023 with a draft action plan to support enhanced street, alley and sidewalk cleaning in Chinatown, nuisance graffiti removal, beautification initiatives like murals and public art – and community-led efforts.
A delegation of VPD and Chinatown leaders learned how those actions helped San Francisco overcome similar challenges – during a Vancouver Police Board-funded trip this past summer.
“This was a real effort and a concerted effort where all of the parties came together and said we need to move the needle literally here and take back our Chinatown,” Kirby-Yung said.
Kirby-Yung also wants staff to explore potential bylaw changes to remove or waive fines for property owners and businesses repeatedly targeted by taggers.
“How fast can we clean the graffiti only to be defaced again you know, overnight and then you clean it again and then to be defaced overnight again,” said Fok.
“So it’s an ongoing perpetual cat and mouse game.”
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ABC Vancouver promised to set up a city office in Chinatown and the motion calls on staff to establish one within a city-owned property like Chinatown Plaza, which has multiple vacant spaces for lease.
“You’re going to see your mayor and council down here on a more regular basis,” said Kirby-Yung.
There’s no quick remedy Fok said, for Chinatown’s most complex challenge.
“I think this requires more than just the civic government itself,” said the herbalist.
Fok understands that ensuring those struggling with homelessness, mental health and addiction on the Downtown Eastside get the help they need and deserve – will take calculated cooperation from all three levels of government.