A development application at 6495 Main Street is proposing a six storey building containing 94 Secured Market Rental units. The proposed development is located on an empty lot located at the corner of Main and East 49th Avenue. Over the past several years, particularly since the passing of the June 2019 motion “Punjabi Market at 50: Celebrating the Past and Planning for the Future”, there has been renewed interest by the City of Vancouver to work together with the Punjabi Market Collective and the community there to sustain the cultural heritage of Punjabi Market.
Nonetheless, there is little in the development application process that connects this or any proposed development to the social, cultural and historic context of Punjabi Market.
The Punjabi Market Collective has been working hard to promote bigger picture ideas and initiatives for the future of Punjabi Market and the South Asian community in Vancouver. These efforts can be seen in two recent City Council memos on an interim report on work related to the Historical Discrimination against People of South Asian Descent in Vancouver, and an update on work related to the Punjabi Market. Specific guidance that pertains to Punjabi Market include:
“Exploring what steps and resources may be needed in potentially designating Punjabi Market as a historically and culturally significant area,”
“Creating and preserving…South Asian Canadian community spaces in Vancouver due to erasure and loss of cultural heritage.”
In addition, the City of Vancouver states its commitment to cultural equity and cultural redress in plans like Culture Shift and the Vancouver Plan. Intentions such as
“explore protection of cultural heritage assets, heritage values, services, and/or businesses for or from ethnic communities.” and “the City has committed support to share these important stories, preserve and restore cultural sites, and support stewardship of intangible cultural assets and vibrant living cultures.”
appear in these plans as priorities. The Punjabi Market Collective has said that “these values give the Punjabi Market community hope that the City will help in their efforts to ensure a very real future for the Punjabi Market. A sense of hope that did not exist a few years ago.”
While City policies reflect an intention to help communities practice and experience the heritage that is important to them, Gulzar Nanda, Chair of the Punjabi Market Collective, feels the way developments are approached through the C-2 zoning policy without any reference to the Punjabi Market context, puts it at risk. He says:
“The land use policies in Punjabi Market do not meet any of the standards the City has set for itself with regard to cultural redress, cultural equity, or cultural leadership. Several years ago, the Orr Development at the southwest corner of Main and 49th raised community concerns that corporate interests would take over. Today, there is a Freshii, Mary Browns Chicken, Royal Bank, and a Tim Hortons where Guru Bazaar and All India Restaurant used to be. Allowing history to repeat itself in the same manner with 6495 Main Street will, in my opinion, jeopardize the work our community has done, and continues to do, in consultation with the City of Vancouver.”
In the Joyce-Collingwood area near the Skytrain station there have been similar concerns with a development proposal at 5163-5187 Joyce that would displace a set of businesses termed the food hub that is important to the cultural experience, identity and ways of living of Filipino Canadians. This situation in Punjabi Market, because it is about the development of an empty lot, raises similar questions as the development proposal for 105 Keefer in Chinatown several years ago. Those questions are about how the new development responds to the social context and strengthens the living heritage of the neighbourhood and what values inform that development.
Some of the points for discussion the Punjabi Market Collective have proposed specific to this development include:
- Developers should learn about the history of Punjabi Market and South Vancouver’s South Asian population and engage with Punjabi Market community
- 20% of residential units be dedicated to seniors and students with affordable housing including dialogue with Langara to establish need for housing and/or rates for housing
- Locally-owned South Asian businesses/entrepreneurs be given commercial tenant space(s), and not chains who take away from the mom-and-pop shops who have played a vital role in the landscape of this market for decades
- Engagement with Langara to provide affordable housing to students
- Some exterior architectural elements should reflect either South Asian or Musqueam design elements in a meaningful South Asian-led and/or Musqueam-led manner
- Landscape design that leads into public outdoor placemaking to allow community to gather
Photo credit Khanh Ma
We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia