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Research of The Risk of Gentrification in Chinatown

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Over the decades, Toronto has been celebrated for its multicultural roots and cultural landscapes. With a variety of distinctive enclaves at every corner, they connect people to their cultures and invite a wide variety of diversity. With the growth of new development and the priority to increase purchasing power, gentrification imposes a controversial issue for many. Gentrification is a process involving modifying or changing a neighbourhood to conform to a higher class taste. Chinatown, a vibrant ethnic enclave located at the intersection of Dundas St West and Spadina Avenue holds many shops, restaurants and is the home to many immigrants, business owners and low-income residents. Immigrants from China living in Chinatown represent over 150 years of survival history and traditions. Toronto is beginning to expand its expenditures, build new condominiums, office buildings and other developments are on the rise. Chinatown may be experiencing the influential changes caused by gentrification. Many wonder what will become of Chinatown and worry a unique piece of history will be erased. Although gentrification can increase the economic value of a town, it also can destroy the history and lives within it. Is Chinatown beginning to experience gentrification? Through threats to local businesses and their owners, demolition of historic preservation and the lives of low-income residents and immigrants at risk, gentrification is on the rise.

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Chinatown is full of unique local businesses that have been around for decades. According to Nasser in his article, “What will become of Toronto’s Chinatown? Activists worry gentrification will erase a unique piece of history.” he addresses how Chinatown is losing the things that make Chinatown, Chinatown. He argues that with gentrification on the rise, the community will be lost. The restaurant, Bright Pearl which has been around for over a decade has been replaced by a luxury redevelopment concept leaving many with negative opinions. He also touches on the destruction of historic preservation, Nassar includes a photo of a stone carved lion which has been painted in graffiti and is the only one left. These symbolic statues are important to Chinatown’s roots and are slowly being destroyed by the overtaking of new development and redevelopment. These redevelopments are contributing to the modifications being made to change the heritage of Chinatown. By replacing these businesses with new redevelopment, the roots of this ethnic enclave are being stripped away. In Micallef’s article, “Chinatown feeling pains of ‘early transition’ to gentrification, historian says” he addresses the eradication of Feng Shui which brings upon good luck in the Chinese culture through in this case, statues and other elements. He mentions that Chinatown is a place of “many layers” but is now wiped of most of them. 

Locals believe that with the loss of Feng Shui, bad luck has been occurring. In Naram’s article, “No Place Like Home: racial capitalism, gentrification, and the identity of Chinatown” he discusses the notion of what many argue to be racial capitalism through discrimination against the Chinese culture. He argues that through gentrification, developers are using culture as a commodity while neglecting the authentic cultural connection. Losing the authentic identity of Chinatown, gentrification incorporates racial capitalism as a marketing scheme according to Naram. Hung’s article, “Chinatowns across the country face off with gentrification” (Hung, RULA) displays an overview of the effects of gentrification across the country and how it affects Chinatowns. Chinatowns represent over 150 years of Chinese immigrants and their struggle, survival and traditions. Due to the modern-day hot real estate market, low-income residents are forced to relocate as new developments will increase the prices of rent and the standard of living within the enclave.

Mok’s article, “Toronto Business is blaming gentrification for its move out of Chinatown.” addresses a health clinic called Six Degrees, which had been evicted from their building due to gentrification. Co-Owner Lamia Gibson states, “We went through many feelings: shock, sadness, disbelief.’ as they were forced to relocate due to affordability. ‘That gentrification that we’ve been seeing happen, is happening.’ says Gibson. With the demand for renovations, new buildings and higher purchasing power many of the current low-income renters, residents and business owners can not compete with the inflation of prices in the area. Many having to move or relocate such as Six Degrees, having to downsize in a new space paying significantly less than they were in Chinatown. Lowe’s article, “Class Struggle in Chinatown: Ethnic Tourism, Planned Gentrification, and Organizing for Tenant Power.”(Lowe, The MainLander) argues the principle of cultural revitalization as a way of exploiting Chinese culture for tourism and “white” attraction. Lowe believes that without any tenant protection or social housing of any sort, these low-income immigrants get priced out. These individuals are those who made Chinatown what it is today by putting in the hard work and labour to create an enclave dedicated to their culture.

Within the Field Report, the cause and effect relationship of gentrification and its repercussions involving Chinatown’s cultured roots were explored. Through threats to local businesses and their owners, demolition of historic preservation and the lives of low-income residents and immigrants at risk, one can conclude gentrification is on the rise. Having a place where one can connect with their culture is a prominent factor of what makes Toronto such a diverse city. Many agree that with Chinatowns being in the heart of many cities, they are more susceptible to gentrification. The priority of profit and market expansion drives large developers and urban planners to change the roots of these cultured enclaves. Purchasing power, which is heavily important to the growth of an economic system, is also prioritized over the preservation of history and its members. Racial capitalism is what many consider to be an issue concerning discrimination against commodifying the Chinese culture for tourist popularity. Attracting all demographics and what many believe is “white” commodification. The demolition of authentic restaurants, shops etc which have been around for decades, are being replaced by new office buildings and condos driving commodification and changing Chinatown completely. Local businesses represent the authenticity of the enclave and its people, but they will soon all be gone due to gentrification replacing them with high rise buildings. Low-income renters and immigrants are losing their jobs, homes and businesses due to the increase in price level leaving them unable to compete with these large developers’ money and implementations. 

Not only is the community being wiped of its vibrant heritage, but also driving the members who are part of the upbringing away as well. Many worry about the future of Chinatown and what will become of it. Activists protest against the rise of gentrification creating signs that contain anti-gentrification quotes such as “Chinatown is not for sale!”. Artifacts such as the stone-carved lions are being demolished and vandalized, the importance of Feng Shui to Chinese culture is being overlooked and residents are left hopeless. In Manhattan, Chinatown is suffering similarly, owners are fighting to keep their businesses but multi-million dollar developers are taking over. The economic well being of Chinatown is considered to be lower class due to the majority of residents and business owners being low-income renters. Many shops and eateries are run by families which have been open for decades providing a taste of authentic Chinese culture. The social wellbeing is vibrant, busy and exciting. Due to the location, there are many pedestrians and a high volume of traffic in the area. The environmental well being of Chinatown is biodiverse however, the condition of the enclave is neglected shown through graffiti and litter.

Local businesses and owners are threatened by gentrification fighting a fight they can not win. In Chinatown, the majority of eateries, shops, commercial businesses etc are struggling to keep their businesses alive as gentrification hits. Multi-million dollar developers and urban planners take over with the intent to increase purchasing power, profit and living standards. Demolishing existing businesses and forcing current business owners to relocate or shut down due to a price battle that these developers intending to redevelop these buildings always win. High-rise buildings, condos, office buildings etc are in the works of taking over the land while decade-old businesses are forced to leave. Restaurants such as Bright Pearl and other businesses such as Six Degrees sadly are wiped from their known location leaving many individuals with resentment. As Lamia Gibson expresses her disappointment and sadness within Mok’s article, she speaks on behalf of many business owners who have been in similar situations without choice. A fight between class and power that many will be forced to surrender to. These locally owned businesses are what makes Chinatown what it is today, the labour and struggle behind it represent the enclave and its members. Activists fight to preserve their rights and stand up to large developers and urban planners. Protesting with signs such as “Chinatown is not for sale” and the “Save Chinatown” campaign with an attempt to raise awareness and prevent local businesses from shutting down leaving Chinatown lacking authenticity. Historic preservation is also being demolished as gentrification is tearing down the things that contribute to its heritage. Historic preservation involves maintaining the elements that reflect its culture. Gentrification often wipes a town of the elements relating to the culture. These things often reflect the people within the enclave and the traditions behind it. The stone-carved lion which has been vandalized in graffiti stands as a strong symbolic statue representing protection in the Chinese culture. Due to gentrification, one of two lions has been destroyed and the other one completely painted in graffiti with a “for lease” sign behind it.

Feng Shui, an important element in the Chinese culture is being demolished and overlooked due to gentrification as well. Chinatown as a whole is an enclave of cultural representation which is being exploited for commercial gain. Racial capitalism used as exploitation by what many argue is using culture as a mass marketing scheme targeted to tourists and different demographics. Neglecting the historic preservation of the town, developers are using the Chinese culture as a commodity. Chinatown represents decades of history of Chinese immigrants and class struggle to only be overlooked for capital gain. Many worries Chinatown will be stripped of all its history and there will be nothing left to preserve. Many residents in Chinatown are low-income renters and owners, at risk of losing their homes and jobs due to gentrification. These individuals are a part of Chinatown’s roots, representing decades of struggle, hard work and growth. Now, these members are forced to move as they can not afford to keep up with the increase in price levels due to gentrification. These immigrants and their families represent over 150 years of survival and history, only to be left hopeless in the place they should feel most at home. According to Nasser, most of the Chinese community has already relocated to other areas such as the Broadview and Gerrard area where prices are much cheaper. As there are not any implementations of housing or tenant protection, residents are getting priced out.

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Chinatown is beginning to experience gentrification through threats to local businesses and their owners, destruction of historic preservation and the lives of low-income residents and owners at risk. Redevelopment is taking over this ethnic enclave and stripping its vibrant roots for commodification, purchasing power and profit-driven endeavours. Ethnic enclaves provide connections between people and their cultures and invite different demographics to experience the beauty and history within it. Businesses having to relocate or shut down, residents having to evict from their home due to an increase in rental rates and historic preservation being overlooked contributes to the notion of gentrification taking over. Businesses that have been around for decades are forced into shutting down as redevelopment occurs. Symbolism and Feng Shui are being removed and overlooked while they hold significant importance to the Chinese culture. As activists protest against gentrification and as racial capitalism occurs, residents and business owners are left feeling sadness and disbelief about what may happen to the future of Chinatown. Most of the Chinese community has already relocated to other areas in the GTA where rent is much more affordable. These are the individuals who have influenced Chinatown to become what it is today and represent their culture in Toronto as a whole. Many worry what will become of Chinatown in the years to come, as gentrification is wiping away what makes Chinatown, Chinatown.

Works Cited

  • Hung, M. (25 March 2019). Chinatowns across the country face off with gentrification. RULA. Retrieved from:
  • Lowe, N. (16 July 2019. Class Struggle in Chinatown: Ethnic Tourism, Planned Gentrification, and Organizing for Tenant Power. The Mainlander. Retrieved from:
  • Nasser. S. (5 June 2019). What will become of Toronto’s Chinatown? Activists worry gentrification will erase a unique piece of history. CIBC News. Retrieved from:
  • Naram, K. (29 June 2017). No Place Like Home: racial capitalism, gentrification, and the identity of Chinatown. RULA. Retrieved from:
  • Micallef, S. (9 November 2019). Chinatown feeling pains of ‘early transition’ to gentrification, historian says. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from:
  • T Mok. (2019 February). Toronto Business is blaming gentrification for its move out of Chinatown. Retrieved from:

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