Chinatowns gentrifying even across the Pacific

I’ve written earlier on gentrification in U.S. Chinatowns (as with everything else, Manhattan gets more than its share of attention). Yet this is something new: gentrification (including, apparently, a shift to a whiter population) has occurred even in cities with large Asian majorities, like Honolulu, Vancouver, or even Singapore.

The broader context matters little: in these cities, Chinatown is the original ethnic neighborhood, offering vintage architecture (and, in both instances, unusually well-preserved) adjacent to the CBD. Just as in Los Angeles (where gentrification’s further along in Little Tokyo than in Chinatown), that proves an unbeatable combination for boutiquey businesses appealing to hip travelers or expats — who might find most local neighborhoods, with their preponderance of concrete apartments and enclosed malls, insufficiently “exotic” for their tastes.

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One thought on “Chinatowns gentrifying even across the Pacific

  1. Drew upon this post (and DeWolf writing about escalators and expats in Hong Kong in the SCMP) for this comment at The Atlantic:

    Even in the Bay Area, cities in Silicon Valley like Milpitas have become heavily Chinese, largely thanks to better U.S. immigration policies that give priority to well-educated engineers rather than manual laborers. The face of U.S. immigration is less “huddled masses” and more H-1Bs, at the same time that the suburbs have become the default home for Americans of all classes rather than just the native middle class. Therefore, we shouldn’t at all be surprised that most immigrants — rich or poor — tend to land in the suburbs first.

    Interestingly, old Chinatowns even in majority/plurality-Asian cities like Singapore, Honolulu, Hong Kong, and Vancouver B.C. are all gentrifying and getting whiter — due to exactly the same process seen in the mainland U.S. As those cities have made a post-industrial transition, the industrial-era economic base of Chinatown has declined, the Chinese population has become more middle-class and suburban, and downtown redevelopment has capitalized on the globalized gentry’s taste for condos, restaurants, and boutiques housed within historic buildings.

    Chinatowns may be uniquely long-lived among U.S. urban ethnic enclaves, but that’s more likely the result of generations of racism and mistrust, a steady flow of newcomers, and the relatively involved process of opening up China-U.S. trade. Eventually, though, we can expect Chinese enclaves to melt back into the urban fabric just as various European-immigrant enclaves did before them. After all, none of us own the city; we just rent it from future generations.

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