Who should have the last say in our cities’ planning decisions, the planner experts or the non-expert citizens who must live with the results?
If I wanted to make the case for the role of the non-expert, I could say just two words and then stop: Jane and Jacobs. The great urbanist author was the ultimate skeptic and analyst, a non-professional, an observer, and we have been celebrating her centenary and legacy in recent weeks. In the pre-architecture courses I took at UBC around 1970, all the professors were modernists and so told us to read the mega-project loving Le Corbusier and study Brasilia for ideas about the future. Reyner Banham with his love of Los Angeles was similarly fashionable, partly for the novelty of endorsing something as outrageous as a car-captive lifestyle in an architecturally kitschy landscape.
This morning shoppers looking for American flag swimsuits or bright-patterned leggings at Dr. Jay’s streetwear store in downtown Brooklyn were greeted by a flurry of slogans and posters decrying the brand’s owner, Joseph Betesh, as a slumlord. Tenants from 83 and 85 Bowery were gathered with local activists out front, chanting against Betesh’s efforts to evict them.
The tenants, mainly low-income Chinese families, have been organizing against eviction for more than a year and trying to get their apartments recognized as rent-regulated. Back in 2013 the building was bought by Betesh’s Milestone Equities for $62 million. Last March, Betesh refused to renew leases, arguing that the building was not in fact rent-regulated because it underwent substantial rehabilitation. When that didn’t work (they dropped a court case against one of the residents and paid his legal fees) they seemingly changed tactics, deeming the building “structurally unsound” and ordering all the tenants to vacate so they could make repairs.
The lot near the corner of Keefer and Quebec streets is no historic gem. Once the site of a garage, it is now covered with gravel and a smattering of parked cars.
But it has turned into a Waterloo for Vancouver’s Chinatown, with a wide range of groups viewing whatever is built there as the indicator species for the future of this small historic neighbourhood.
At the heart of the debate are these questions: Are some buildings just too big for Chinatown? And what will do more to improve this beleaguered area, which has been losing businesses and vitality since the 1970s – more social housing for the poor or more market condos to attract the middle class?
A rezoning application for 105 Keefer Street is being disputed by a group called the ChinaTown Concern Group.
Organizer King Mong Chan says the plan to build a cultural center is just not enough.
“The cultural space that they are offering now is only 1000 feet, next to the alleyway and it’s only for a 10 year rental agreement. We don’t think that this development is appropriate for that site and something better for the community should be at that site instead.”