Are we witness the death of Chinatown – in Vancouver and across North America?

posted on December 14, 2016

By Douglas Quan, Vancouver Sun |

By Douglas Quan, Vancouver Sun |

As dusk fell over Chinatown recently, a line formed outside the entrance to Kissa Tanto, a stylish Japanese-Italian eatery named Canada’s best new restaurant this year by enRoute magazine. A trio suited up for the downtown office towers nearby sipped cocktails over candlelight at the Juniper Kitchen and Bar. Around the corner, twentysomethings seated at share tables gorged on vegan pizzas at Virtuous Pie.

Hip new restaurants and glass and concrete condos in Canada’s largest Chinatown have, some say, injected a youthful vigour into an area that has been stagnant for years.

Gone are the days when produce and seafood stores spilled their wares onto busy sidewalks and shoppers haggled with shopkeepers to “peng di la!” — drop their prices even more.

Today, only three barbecue meat shops and a handful of fishmongers and produce stores remain. One of the largest Chinese grocers, the cavernous Chinatown Supermarket, sits empty — save for an industrial sink at the back and two fluorescent tube-lights that still flicker in one corner.

Are we witnessing the death of Chinatown, not only in Vancouver, but across North America?

A report in 2013 by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund warned that Chinatowns in Boston, Philadelphia and New York were “on the verge of disappearing” due to “accelerated gentrification.”

Calgary’s city council recently gave tentative approval to an application to build a 27-storey tower in the heart of that city’s Chinatown that members of the Chinese community say will obliterate the small-retail charm of the neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, the “trendification” of Toronto’s main Chinatown continues, and the complexion of the city’s Chinatown East is changing as many Chinese business owners flee to the suburbs.

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