Mayor-elect Stewart has plans for Chinatown

Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart says his campaign promise to establish a food street and farmer’s market in Chinatown was a direct result of consultation with the community.

The proposal, included in his platform, said when elected he would direct city staff to conduct consultation and start work on a pilot project to establish a “special economic zone” and to “examine the feasibility of establishing a year-round, large scale farmers market and a permanent ‘food street’ in historic Chinatown.

Stewart announced the plan on Sept. 28 alongside east Vancouver MP Jenny Kwan. He credits Kwan and her staff with facilitating the consultations that resulted in this particular proposal.

“I had a meeting with a whole bunch of community leaders and did business tours through the community during the election and that’s what they told me they wanted, so I put it in my platform,” he said. “”I really think that’s how you work as mayor, is try to facilitate what the community wants.”

On social media, a local activist tweeted her objection to the farmer’s market, criticizing it as gentrification.

The issue she raised echoes some of the issues raised in a 2017 report published by the hua foundation.

The Vancouver Chinatown Food Security Report  found:

“50 per cent of Chinatown’s fresh food stores—greengrocers, fishmongers, barbecue meat shops, and butchers—have been lost between 2009 to 2016. Thirty-two per cent of Chinese dry goods stores, and 56 per cent of food service retailers that were in operation in 2009 have also been lost during the seven-year timeframe.”

Louis Leddard, from Chinatown Today, didn’t dismiss Stewart’s  proposal out of hand but in an email he expressed concern about the potential gentrifying effect.

“I’m not against the food street proposal at all. I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen to legacy businesses in Chinatown if this plan is not handled delicately enough,” he said.

Mayor-elect Stewart said that he is not interested in driving legacy businesses out of Chinatown. Instead, he sees these proposals as a way to bring more foot-traffic to the area. He said that locating these projects on streets, which are city-owned, will allow the municipal government to offer discounts to merchants who want to participate — something that isn’t possible for the city to do with brick-and-mortar stores or restaurants.

“If the community says we reject this then we don’t move ahead with it,” he said. “I’m not not ramming anything into Chinatown, that would be a huge mistake.”

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