Chinese Urbanization in Canadian Cities: Mapping the Scenes

Principal Investigator: Cary Wu (Sociology)
Research Assistant: Joanne Ong, Sociology

Not only has China experienced the world’s most rapid urbanization over the last several decades, China’s large-scale urban transformation is also shaping the forms and fabrics of urbanization in other parts of the world. This research project seeks to investigate how Canadian cities are being shaped and transformed by the large-scale of Chinese immigrants and by China’s growing economic power and political influences.

Theoretically, this research will adopt a scenic approach that will focus on the variability of the process and analyze the dimensions, patterns, forms, and meanings of how a street or a nation or the world is urbanized. Different cities present different scenes that incorporate and join elements of time, place, characteristics of people, activities like concerts, the built environment and values. Seeing places as scenes provides a way to analyze diverse cities with a common unit of analysis–scenes. This approach generates a scenic urbanization, updating past efforts to capture the core meanings of urbanity.

Empirically, we will collect demographic and amenities data (e.g., restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, parks, and activities) to generate common scenes that are deeply rooted in China’s influences across major Canadian cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal. We will then map out these common scenes and explore how they have and continue to shape social life in Canada.

This research project offers an opportunity to build long-term collaborative relationships by bringing together urban scholars from Canada, China and beyond.


Research undertaken by Cary Wu (Sociology) for Chinese Urbanization in Global Urban Age: A Scenic Approach, which is supported by the Canada-China Initiatives Fund, has to date resulted in two publications.

Urbanization Theorizing is a chapter in the Handbook of Classical Sociological Theory (Springer 2021, 421–38) collection. Wu and his co-author, Terry Nichols Clark, makes three specific points joining current discussions on urbanization in the global urban age. First, they discuss the traditions in sociological writings on urbanization in the nineteenth century and explain how they have shaped sociological urbanization research until present. They contrast the major theoretical perspectives on urbanization developed mainly over the twentieth century. Finally, they propose that, rather than assuming uniform global urbanity, further investigation can productively study the variability of urbanization in different places and the dynamics of how these are changing. 

Wu worked with Joanne Ong, an undergraduate student in Sociology at York, on “A scenic walk through Brenner’s New Urban Spaces in Toronto.” It was published in Fall 2021 in International Sociology Reviews. This article reviews Brenner’s most recent monograph, New Urban Spaces, in which he demonstrates his systematic and decades-long effort into developing new epistemological perspectives, conceptual proposals, and methodological strategies for urban investigation in our so-called global ‘urban age’. Wu and Ong use images taken in the city of Toronto to interpret and visually explain some of Brenner’s key concepts and arguments. They point out that Brenner’s abstract theorizing and overgeneralization may have provoked an ignorance of the local variations in effect globally and a failure to tease out specific testable hypotheses for urban investigation. To conclude, they introduce a newly developed scenic approach, one that extends Brenner’s view on the urban by stressing the importance of local variations and testable hypotheses.