Reflecting Vancouver

Urbanism and Life on the West Coast

Changing Chinatowns

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Propaganda Coffee Vancouver 2

The hipster invasion of Chinatown continues with Propaganda, a sleek new establishment on Pender brewing Elysian coffee. Next door, a gaping hole in the ground will soon sprout condos akin to Keefer Block.

I suppose I’m part of the problem. In addition to seeking out coffee and steamed buns, I frequent a whitewashed record store around the corner, Pacific Rhythm, which opened earlier this year. Chinatowns across North America are under strain from attractively cheap rents and central locations. In San Francisco, long a holdout against gentrification, Chinatown is being eyed by tech workers and developers alike as the real estate frenzy of the Bay Area escalates. In Toronto, boutiques and cafés have opened up along Spadina north of Queen amid new developments with faux-eastern motifs.

Toronto Chinatown condos

Will Chinatowns gently fade away with current trends in demographics and zoning? Taking the bus from Pearson Airport along along Lawrence Avenue last week, I caught sight of the now-legendary ethnic strip malls that blanket Toronto’s periphery. Still larger ethnic communities are found in Markham and Mississauga, central Canadian analogues to our Richmond and Surrey. Immigrants to Canada are no longer landing in the old inner-city enclaves, and pressures of land use weigh ever heavier. Should we actively protect our historic Chinatowns, or will this inevitably lead to a kind of totem multiculturalism designed for tourists? Should we instead embrace the rapid turnover of storefronts as a welcome urban renewal? Or can a balance be achieved that is somewhere in between?

Vancouver Chinatown

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Author: Chris

I'm the author of Reflecting Vancouver, a West Coast blog devoted to urbanism, culture, politics, philosophy, and everyday living in Vancouver.

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