03/03/2015 09:00 EST | Updated 05/03/2015 05:59 EDT

Vancouver's Chinatown shouldn't be new Yaletown, says heritage advocate

A petition with more than 1,200 signatures will be delivered to Vancouver City Hall Tuesday, demanding a temporary moratorium on new market development in the city's Chinatown neighbourhood.

"We're seeing that Chinatown's character is changing very rapidly. With new retail, we're also very concerned about low-income housing," said King-Mong Chan, who works with the Carnegie Community Action Project.

"As these changes happen, Chinatown is at a threat of being no longer Chinatown, but a new Yaletown, a new Gastown."

One example of this recent development in Chinatown is Keefer Block, at the northwest corner of Main and Keefer streets.

The mixed-use development will include 156 homes, a new Starbucks, and Juniper — a new bar and restaurant specializing in craft cocktails.

Chan argues that many of the new development projects have little benefit for Chinatown community members.

"They're seeing some of their grocery stores close or be redeveloped and new shops coming in that are not the same sense of community and belonging they had in the past."

Signs in Chinese and English

Many other community members in Chinatown are concerned about the changes, but their approach isn't to block new market development.

Instead, groups like the Chinatown Revitalization Committee, made up of like-minded stakeholders in the community, want to increase communication with entrepreneurs who are investing in the historic neighbourhood.

Committee member Edmund Ma, who grew up in the neighbourhood and is also a member of the Mah Benevolent Society Of Vancouver, encourages new Chinatown business owners to put Chinese on their English signs and menus. 

"We provide new businesses with a bit of a cheat sheet [on the Chinese language] because a lot of people use sandwich boards, just so that the community and the seniors feel more welcome," said Ma.

"Right now, you'll see [seniors] walk by a brand new store and they'll just look through the window and they don't know anything about it."

A neighbourhood with soul

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs behind Sai Woo, a new modern Chinese restaurant opening in the next month, near Main and Pender streets, have prioritized inclusivity as a key pillar in their business approach.

Chef Douglas Chang will find inspiration and ingredients for his menu from Chinatown's markets, and owner Salli Pateman is in constant dialogue with their landlord, the Chin Wing Chung Society.

Chang and Pateman named their new eatery Sai Woo after Sai Woo Chop Suey, a restaurant that existed on the same site back in 1925.

Pateman says the goal is to be profitable, and to honour the history of the neighbourhood.

"We're going to try and keep the neighbourhood authentic, and hopefully not the same way that Yaletown changed, and became very mainstream, and lost its place in history.

"I want to be in a neighbourhood that had soul, and has all the population living here."