Corals Zheng (Environmental Studies) received funds from the Canada-China Initiatives Fund earlier this year for her graduate fieldwork.
Chinatowns have traditionally offered cheap rents, affordable retail, central locations and diverse housing typologies to Chinese diaspora and non-Chinese populations. However, Chinatowns are at present facing development pressures and displacement. In the case of Toronto’s West Chinatown, the distinctive mechanisms of the current wave of gentrification are tied to the expansion of urban Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the growing intake of international students—particularly from Asia—and the recent involvement of private developers and investors in student housing. Neighbourhood change has been further characterized, says Corals, by the rapid establishment of international Chinese chain restaurants and bubble-tea shops, and the loss of long-time and family-owned businesses and buildings with cultural and community significance.
Corals is considering the studentification of West Chinatown by analyzing three recent private student housing projects and how they town and gown disparities and contribute to the financial exploitation and social isolation of students in high-rise gated communities. She is also teasing out how the context of this displacement and gentrification within a previously working-class and stigmatized neighborhood is contested and met with civil society responses and protests. One of the aims is to highlight the interconnected nature between HEIs and their locality, and the volatility of student-focused neighbourhoods to both urban and international politics.
“I hope to shed light on the transnational dimension and global linkages of studentification, such as the internationalization and marketization of higher education, the global financialization of student housing, and the immigration trajectories and housing aspirations of South Asian students in Toronto,” says Corals.
*Photograph by Jason Thibault.