Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Ever-Changing Face of the City

Lunchtime on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery
It's interesting to track the development of a city and Vancouver is a great example.

Since Expo 86 it was grown significantly with the influx of Hong Kong immigrants worried about 1997 which led to the condominium building craze and increasing property prices.

However the city also had outstanding issues that were long neglected, in particular the Downtown East Side which was populated by mostly drug addicts, scaring businesses out of the area, resulting it being nicknamed the poorest postal code in Canada.

The problem spilled next door into Chinatown and many wondered if that would be the end of the once vibrant community too.

The Wing Sang Company building, first owned by Yip Sang
It was the efforts of many activists including then Mayor Larry Campbell who spearheaded Insite, the supervised safe injection site -- but not without controversy.

Many criticized the pilot project for using taxpayers' money to help drug addicts shoot up.

But as Campbell, who formerly worked for the RCMP and District Coroner's office explained many times through the media, these drug addicts have multiple diseases and they cannot shake off their addictions by going cold turkey.

So the best way to deal with the problem is to manage it -- and this is best done by giving them a safe place to inject with clean needles. Health workers stand by to assist in case the addicts suffer a drug overdose, but even better, perhaps they will ask for health advice. This is the kind of community outreach that was needed to make these drug addicts realize they are not alone.

Now things are cleaning up, and simultaneously gentrification started happening.

Chinatown was dying more than 10 years ago. It used to be the only place to buy Chinese groceries, but now many go to Richmond or Coquitlam for fresh produce reducing the need to drive downtown and pay for parking.

There were concerns the old buildings in Chinatown would be torn down, but again people came to the rescue.

Sears closing for Nordstrom's opening
Condo king marketer Dale Rennie bought the Yip Sang building and refurbished it. While the outer shell looks pretty much like the original, inside it's a modern space with offices inside.

People are allowed to take a look inside at the building that formerly housed the 23 children so it included a classroom as well as a shop downstairs. Today visitors can take a look inside by appointment only which is what I plan to do next time I'm back.

It's wonderful to see old spaces revitalized and new people occupying them for different use.

And the process is ongoing.

Back in the downtown core, the department store Sears, where Eaton's used to be, is closing down and making way for US retailer Nordstrom.

It was depressing to see the giant "closing down sale" sign out front and inviting shoppers to snap up fixtures too.

Waiting for our taco orders in front of the Tacofino truck
But Nordstrom will soon be breathing new life into the space.

Across the street was a line of food trucks, a phenomenon following the success of those in New York.

The ones in the Big Apple came about with chefs out of work and needing to make a living so they decided to sell food from these modified trucks.

Seeing how it worked well in New York, the City of Vancouver followed suit. There are young entrepreneurial chefs who want to test out their culinary ideas without having to pay rent and service staff, while established ones like Vikram Vij are expanding their repertoire with these cheap eats.

On the day I saw them, I tried out a Tuna Ta-Taco ($6.50) from the Tacofino truck.

It's very simple -- line up for the service staff to take your order and money. He in turn writes down your name and then calls you when your order is ready.

And then head a few metres over to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where you can sit on the steps on munch on some lunch.

The tuna Ta-Taco from Tacofina was delicious and good value
The tuna taco isn't in the typical Tex-Mex corn shell, but a soft thin pita bread-type wrap and it was filled with big chunks of lightly seared albacore tuna mixed with wasabi-ginger mayonnaise, mango salsa and topped with seaweed.

It was a bit hard to eat, but delicious.

And for that price and quality of food, it's miles better than the grub at fast food mall.

What a refreshing alternative -- but are we ever going to see food trucks like these in Hong Kong?

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