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The property battle in Vancouver’s Chinatown

By The Economist for The Economist

Developers have changed the face of Canada’s western metropolis. Chinatown is resisting

THE smell of incense fills the narrow stairway of the Yue-Shan Society building, a social club for people with roots in Panyu, part of Guangzhou, a city in southern China. Barely audible is the tinking of a ping-pong ball on a table. On the first floor two games of mah-jong are being played, watched by a handful of onlookers. East Pender Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown is home to many such clubs for clans or benevolent associations. Melody Ma, a spectator in her 20s, recalls: “When I was small my grandma would bring me to one of these places.”

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The gently sloping streets where Ms Ma grew up have not changed much. Vancouver has had a frantic property market since it hosted the winter Olympics in 2010. The downtown area is forested with new condominiums. Prices have risen by nearly 60% in the past three years, partly because of demand from non-resident Chinese investors. But until recently developers have largely shunned Chinatown. It is part of an area called Downtown Eastside, a district of rundown buildings, methadone clinics and rough sleepers. Many Chinatown residents are old and poor.

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