Revitalization in Japantown


Japantown clusters around the 300 and 400-block Powell Street. Oppenheimer Park, on the south side of the 400-block Powell is the vital role civic space that, along with peripheral cultural sites, speak to family and community life.

John Atkin  describes the plight of the Japanese community during World War II:

The nine thousand Japanese Canadians in Vancouver were forced to give up their homes, businesses, and possessions because of the alleged threat they posed to Canada. Life for the Japanese community had been centred on Powell Street, which functioned very much like Chinatown does today. In the neighbourhood many of the local grocery stores closed and homes were vacated as members of the community mustered at the livestock buildings at the PNE before being dispersed across the country. Teachers recalled, in Strathcona School’s hundredth-birthday publication Strathcona Memories, the sadness they felt when they lost almost half of their students. The federal government sold off Japanese-Canadian property at giveaway prices (even though it was to have been held in protective custody for the duration of the war); after the war the only building that members of the community were able to regain title to was the 1928 Japanese Hall on Alexander Street. (John Atkin. Strathcona: Vancouver’s First Neighbourhood. Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 1994, pp. 67-68)

Birmingham & Wood (2008) and eight partnering consultants have provided the base material for an accurate assessment of Historic Japantown.

The Charrette sees this area moving away from industrial uses imposed in the post-war years, and turning back to its mixed-use neighbourhood roots. A key for the revitalization of Japantown is the return of social function to Powell and Cordova streets, a transforming reversal for this place. The Charrette proposes the implementation of BRT/LRT on Hastings Street to add sufficient trip capacity to the area to remove commuting trips from the Powell-Cordova coupling.

The potential for residential infill is very high. Yet, realizing this potential must follow on the construction of social housing in sufficient numbers to deal with two issues:

    1. Homelessness.
    2. Replacement of single room occupancy hotels (SROs).

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, January 2012.


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