Creating community in DTES the Walas Way

The City of Vancouver has awarded a DTES capital grant for phase 1 of our project to create community-serving retail in underutilized Chinese society buildings. The initiative was taken by Wilco van Bemmel of Walas Concepts, Joji Kumagai of the Strathcona BIA and June Chow of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown. They will work together to: create opportunities for affordable retail and micro-enterprises that serve the community, strengthen the local culture with functions that fit the community fabric and cultural identity, provide inclusive employment opportunities and improve the public realm by activating storefronts and streets.

Increased development in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood has created pressure on existing retail and small businesses. Rising land and rent prices – and the general scarcity of affordable commercial spaces – threaten their sustainability while new commercial functions cater mostly to a far more affluent demographic and are detached from the community’s cultural heritage. This loss of cultural identity is particularly apparent in Chinatown and Strathcona. At the same time, there are many street-facing underutilized buildings in these areas that could provide far greater benefit to the community.

The first phase of this project will identify potential locations, assess retail and service gaps, build partnerships with Chinese societies and BIAs, conduct / collect research on what type of enterprises to attract and how to support them, and raise funds. The second phase (2018 and onwards) will secure tenants, finalize capital details, engage local residents and start repurposing one or two locations in Strathcona and Chinatown. The application is based on proven concepts in our European projects, and designed to suit other Chinese society buildings in the future.