provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Speaking Against 105 Keefer

I was so proud to see so many young people, both Chinese Canadian and non-Chinese, so passionate about saving Chinatown savechinatownyvr that they came out to speak last week at the Public Hearing on the rezoning proposal for 105 Keefer. Their commitment and the intelligent and cogent points they made really give us all hope that the future of Chinatown, and of the city of Vancouver, is in the hands of thoughtful, engaged, and resilient young citizens who care about the society in which they live.

Follow their moment by moment commentary on Twitter:

There were two great opinion pieces written by Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun about Chinatown:

From the last list that I saw, over 250 speakers had signed up, the overwhelming number of them opposed to the rezoning proposal. The outpouring of impassioned engagement, however, is itself a sign of a healthy democracy and I hope that whatever decision City Council makes, that all of those who have organized themselves, taken care of each other with food and support both virtually and in person, will continue to struggle for what they believe is right. Ganbatte!

My original text of remarks that I read as Speaker #116 on Friday, May 26:

My name is Henry Yu. I am a historian at UBC. I research Chinese Canadian and Asian Canadian history, with a particular interest in the role of heritage and historical memory in community building.
I have served for the past two years as the Co-Chair of the Province of British Columbia’s bi-partisan Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council following the 2014 provincial apology for historical anti-Chinese discrimination, a process that led to the designation of Chinatown as a Provincial Heritage Site of Significance in 2016, so that all three levels of government now recognize the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown. I also serve on the advisory group for the examination of Historical Discrimination Against Chinese Peoples for the City of Vancouver, a process which is having Open House forums right now.
Chinatown is a subject of my research expertise, but also a place dear to my heart as a community volunteer and as a Vancouverite. Like most Vancouverites, I have never lived in Chinatown, but my grandfather and parents did, and I have visited it often with family and friends. It’s a place I know well as a scholar, but also a place with great personal meaning, full of my own memories and a part of who I am. It remains an enduring touchstone for who we were, who we are, and who we will be in Vancouver.  
I was born at VGH in 1967, the 100th anniversary of Canada, the same year that racial preference for white immigrants was finally removed from Federal immigration policy. Before I was born, anti-Chinese racism was the norm—for fully 2/3 of Canadian history, anti-Chinese laws and policies had the power of all three levels of government enforcing them—Chinese could not vote, could not receive city contracts, could not work for the city until the 1950s.
Chinatown was a product of that history, and it reminds us as no other place can of who we were. If we forget that history, if we erase it in our admirable aspirations to become a better society, we are in fact doing the opposite—we cannot know how far we have come, unless we know from where we began.
I turned 50 this year. My life has spanned the last third of Canadian history. I have lived and seen how those people who struggled against inequality and discrimination--many of them Chinese Canadian--have made society better for all of us by forcing Canada to live up to its ideals. Those few who struggled for justice, like Foon Sien Wong, like Nellie Yip, recently honoured with Federal plaques of recognition, like Roy Mah and other Chinese Canadian vets who fought for Canada even as they were treated as second-class citizens. They knew that a society is not just, if there was not justice for all, but only for some.
One of the letters supporting the rezoning of 105 Keefer called those who opposed it a “vocal minority.” Others have dismissed the youthful energy of opponents as somehow naïve or unreasonable. (pause) Perhaps those who ask for justice, to plead with others to do the right thing, will always sound too “vocal” and “unreasonable," but I would rather stand with those who speak a truth that will last the ages, those who will be remembered for being on the right side of history.
We should not forget how struggle has shaped us, how 50 years ago Chinatown fought yet another battle crucial to shaping who we have become. Perhaps there are many in this room now, including the Council, who are too young to understand the importance of the Freeway fight and how it would shape the whole city of Vancouver.
Chinatown helped stop the freeway, and Vancouver was the better for it. What lessons should we learn? 
1.     That we in Vancouver owe Chinatown, especially now that the Georgia Viaduct--the last vestige of the freeway--is going to come down. 
2.     That this is about the future, not the past. We don’t want to freeze Chinatown, we want it to become a dynamic community for the whole city and fulfill its role as a vital part of this city’s heritage and future.
3.     Sometimes, doing nothing is best.
Such a simple lesson, I know, but profound in how Vancouver is still being shaped by something that DIDN’T happen 50 years ago.
The developer is asking Vancouver to give it something it wants but does not have. That’s what rezoning is, to get something that wasn’t allowed in the original rules. That’s why we are here. That’s why the community has a say in a public hearing like this. CHAPC, your representative of Chinatown, has said no. Chinatown has come together and said no four times to this rezoning, there is a good reason for it.
Do nothing. Take the safe option. Say no. Don’t make something that you cannot unmake.
With the freeway, all the things that we have become—a dense residential downtown, a livable city with mild car traffic, an amazing place to live and work—would not have happened if the freeway had been built.
You are in a lose-lose situation right now. Whichever decision you make, someone will be unhappy. But if you choose to say no, and then work with all of this energy of young and old who have come together, just as they did half a century ago to fight the freeway, you can transform the city, starting with this little corner at the center of Chinatown. Draw on the enormous expertise and knowledge around the world about how to develop heritage conservation areas. Work with these passionate young men and women who have been drawn together by this struggle. Work with the developer to make them whole and happy somewhere else.
Make a lose-lose into a win-win. Do nothing on this proposal, and yet do something profound with this political energy and will that has been created both for and against it. Work with everyone who has come out against 105 Keefer to make a better plan for this key piece of property. This public hearing is almost unprecedented in the depth of public involvement. I would love to know the numbers in terms of livestream viewing for this public hearing, and wonder if it might eventually be among the highest for anything this City Council does, period! 
Work with all the stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive, widely consulted approach that draws on the Chinatown Vision that you approved in 2012. Build on what will become a reorientation of Chinatown towards False Creek now that the Georgia Viaduct will come down and False Creek Flats will be developed.  
Say no. Take the easy way out. Do no harm. And leave your mark on history just as the freeway fight left its mark on Vancouver’s history.

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