Pall Beesla: In this increasingly disconnected Vancouver, we need more cultural spots that bind us together

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      By Pall Beesla

      What role can the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation play in the revitalization of Vancouver’s Punjabi Market?

      It’s important for our city to protect our cultural hubs and we can do this by collaborating with our park board. It’s no secret that historic sites in Vancouver like the Punjabi Market and Chinatown are losing their businesses to other parts of the Lower Mainland. Both of these culturally historic spots have two wonderful parks in their midst that have acted as constant attractions to locals and visitors to our city, Sunset Community Centre and Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Chinese Garden, respectively. Simply put, we need to capitalize on that foot traffic.

      It’s time for both the Punjabi Market and Chinatown to forge partnerships with their respective parks. Both civic areas will be able to capture the casual stream of people to ensure the survival of the businesses that remain.

      There are young, motivated artists and merchants who are ready to work together to create park events that would attract crowds for a unique experience. Just recently the community came together—fittingly over chai and samosas—and held an interactive forum on creative ways to revitalize Punjabi Market.

      Ideas like Indian cooking classes, bhangra lessons, and Bollywood under the stars at Sunset Community Centre were proposed. People could come to these workshops and events and receive some sort of incentive, like a coupon, to eat or shop at one of the stores right next door. The ideas were limitless and full of life, exactly what Punjabi Market is in need of right now.

      If anything, this workshop brought out many of the candidates seeking public office to see the plight of our neighbourhood. Some came for the photo-op, others stayed and listened respectfully, and a few remained to participate in the discussion. One thing was apparent, if there was one venue capable of gathering people from different political ideologies in one room, it was one that concerned cultural preservation.

      It is this kind of passion, energy, and optimism from the artists and merchants that reminds me of my childhood growing up in Punjabi Market. We had a true sense of community, and the marketplace was always bustling. To maintain that sense of community—and unique culture—it will be important to cooperate with facilities that help build that idea of togetherness.

      In this increasingly disconnected city, we need more cultural spots that weave into the greater Canadian mosaic and help bind us together as Vancouverites. The institutions that can assist us in building the connectivity of our city are our parks and community centres.

      Sunset Community Centre already lends itself to the annual Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade with open space and facility use—which I am thankful for as one of the coordinators—where the parade comes through the Punjabi Market every second Saturday in April.

      During the Chinese New Year Parade, the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Chinese Garden is a focal point for paradegoers in Chinatown. With more events in these marketplaces, we can ensure the sustainability and viability of these park grounds for generations to come.

      Recognized cultural areas in our city are important to the development of our youth.  Future Vancouverites will be able to maintain a sense of ancestral identity to feel unique, but will also feel connected to fellow citizens through history that is celebrated together. If we lose these culturally historic sites, future generations will lose a part of their identity and our city will become bland and homogeneous.

      Our cultures blend together like key ingredients in a fusion dish; dropping them will lose the flavour of our city. It’s time for our park board to throw on the sous-chef’s apron and collaborate with our cultural hubs to maintain a diverse, vibrant, and tasteful city.

      Pall Beesla is a bus driver, community organizer, and an NPA candidate for the Vancouver park board.