On July 18, 2016, Sophie Fung led a group from SFU’s Urban Studies program on a walking tour of Vancouver’s Chinatown. The tour allowed Fung to share her observations of some significant changes taking place in Chinatown.
The tour group walked along streets where some of the traditional businesses now stand alongside stores catering to a new type of consumer. Such changes are not atypical in a swiftly-gentrifying Vancouver. However, as in other regions facing the pressures of redevelopment, one has to ask: who do these changes serve?
Fung, who successfully defended her Master’s thesis* at the end of June, wondered how these changes affect Chinatown’s aging population. Are there still places for seniors to get together to play mahjong? What will happen to the Chinese benevolent societies once the buildings they are in are redeveloped? Will rising rents drive out the familiar, and leave in its stead replacements that no longer meet the needs of those who have spent most of their lives in Chinatown.
One striking example of the erasure of Chinatown’s past is the construction that will soon block one of its best-known murals. According to Fung, this means the disappearance of an icon that has been used by local seniors for wayfinding within their neighbourhood. There is no plan to move or replace the mural.
Several of the questions Fung asked the group to consider concerned the use of Chinese art, symbols and historical elements in the newest buildings. Are they authentic uses of Chinese culture, or are they examples of cultural appropriation? When the gentrification ends, how much of the authentic Chinatown will remain?
Tours such as this one are an opportunity to learn more about the forces shaping our urban environment. The USGSA encourages anyone who would like to share insights and expertise about a neighbourhood or community in Metro Vancouver to consider leading a tour. If this interests you, please contact a member of the USGSA executive.
* Sophie Fung’s Master’s thesis is entitled “The Well-being of Low-income, Monolingual-Chinese Senior Residents: The Impact of Disinvestment and Gentrification in Vancouver’s Chinatown.”