Searching for an Authentic Chinatown: Studentification, Intangible Heritage and Contentious Space

November 8, 2021 @ 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Toronto’s Chinatown West is currently undergoing socio-spatial restructuring through in­tertwined processes of redevelopment, gentrification, and commercial change. In this talk, Zheng will examine how the presence of urban universities are triggering much of this transformation. Building on recent global debates about universities and the role of stu­dents in neighborhood change, Zheng will unpack the effect of higher concentration of students on residential typologies and commercial change; and second, the politics of studentification in Chinatown West.

The findings indicate that vertical studentification occurs on both the residential and com­mercial boundaries of Chinatown. Similarly, an analysis of changes in the commercial ori­entation and employment patterns of Chinatown shows a move away from employment in retail and offices, into food services and part-time job opportunities catering to youth. Finally, we discuss how the growing intake of international students—particularly from China—in proximity to Chinatown creates new tensions and diverse reactions to neigh­bourhood change within the existing Chinese community. While some entrepreneurial community members, particularly those representing the business community are pro-growth, other long-term residents are concerned about the displacement caused by stu­dentification and organize to contest new developments. The community responses from the long-term Chinese residents and other members of Chinese diaspora raise important questions on the future of Chinatown, who is Chinatown for, and how might a historical­ly marginalized neighborhood be preserved in a rapidly growing city. The findings also question the idea of authenticity in urban planning, and moreover, and what exactly is an authentic Chinatown?


Corals Zheng is a Planner at ERA Architects where she works on a broad range of heritage conservation and planning projects. Previously, she worked at urban research think tanks and the City of Toronto. Her research interests include historic Chinatowns, Toronto’s student housing market, and public engagement with underrepresented communities.



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