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Calgary committee approves Tomorrow’s Chinatown project

After three years of work, the Tomorrow’s Chinatown plan received approval from a Calgary committee on Friday.

The plan, which includes the first-of-its kind Chinatown Cultural Plan, the Chinatown Area Redevelopment Plan and the renaming of James Short Park and parkade, was approved unanimously at the Oct. 14 Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting.

“These three plans are intrinsically linked, and work together to address the systemic racism that Chinatown as a community has experienced throughout our city’s history,” said Jennifer Thompson, the City of Calgary’s Manager of Arts and Culture.

The cultural plan is a Calgary first, and Thompson said it’s a roadmap for identifying and leveraging the cultural resources in an area while undergoing redevelopment.

“It empowers a community to activate a neighborhood without having to wait for a policy document,” she said.

The redevelopment plan outlines the 30-year vision for the area. The goals are to preserve the area’s historical significance, ensure a thriving local economy and improve social wellbeing in the area, the city said.

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong, who has been a part of this process prior to become a councillor, said this was an important day.

“We’re talking about Chinatown again, as being here for 140 odd years,” he said.  

“We were looking at this Chinatown ARP and cultural plan as an existing document for another 140 years going forward.”

The new James Short Park name will come Nov. 1. The cultural plan and the redevelopment plan will come for final approval to the Dec. 6 combined meeting of council.

Parking the main concern for area advocates

During the public hearing on the matter, area residents were concerned that parking would remain an issue in the area.  They said it had an impact on local businesses in the area.

Both the high cost and the availability of spaces were issues.

Grace Su, chairperson of the Chinatown BIA, said it’s something they want to see addressed. It even impacts her own use of the area.

“I love to go to Chinatown, but I can’t find parking. I can’t bring my family there,” she said.

“When we look at a community like Chinatown, when we come together to eat, it’s all about families and families can’t park they can’t just go on the transit and come with little children and grandparents. We need parking.”

Coun. Wong said they need to look at the ratio of short-term and long-term parking spaces, plus public and private stalls. The need for parking needs to be defined, but also a plan to incentivize the use of parking.

Committee chair, Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said she understands the issues, particularly for that family environment.

“You have infants to elderly and it’s really important, especially in Calgary, because our sidewalks can get icy. They need that car to door access,” she said.

Sharp also agreed there’s likely some innovation in how they approach parking in Chinatown.

In September last year, the City, along with the Calgary Parking Authority (CPA), piloted free parking in Chinatown at a city run lot. There was a push earlier this year to keep that plan.

Public speaker Tony Wong said that was a very successful program.

“Many of my friends, they took advantage of it,” he said.

“They came back to Chinatown. They invited me for dim sum, but unfortunately, it did not last long enough.”

James Short Park

Calgary city council approved the addition of the James Short Park and parkade renaming to the Tomorrow’s Chinatown project back in 2020.

James Short was a Calgary leader that actively worked to stop the construction of a Chinese-owned building in 1910.

“His racist words and actions caused deep harm to the Chinese community and were not considered when the city’s assets were named after him in 1991,” read the administration report.

Coun. Wong said the renaming of these assets is significant.

“The central theme of why we have a cultural plan is acknowledging the wrongdoings that have has existed in Canada, and in Calgary specifically, as it relates to the treatment of the Chinese people,” he said.

Su said that it’s exciting. It acknowledges what has been done wrong and how they can get it right. It sums up much of the Tomorrow’s Chinatown process.

“It’s significant to show that collaboration and acknowledgement of building trust and building a work forward,” she said.

“I think now it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for the community.”