Rethinking multicultural planning: an empirical study of ethnic retailing.

Author:Zhuang, Zhixi Cecilia
Position::Report
 
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Abstract

The recent waves of immigration have dramatically impacted urban landscapes and economies of Canadas largest metropolitan regions. One notable phenomenon is the rise of ethnic retail strips and centers as physical markers of increasing multiculturalism. The dynamics of ethnic retailing pose various opportunities and challenges for municipalities; yet, our knowledge of its complexities is limited and current literature on multicultural planning offers little useful guidance in planning practice. This study examines three retail strips in the inner city of Toronto, namely East Chinatown, the Gerrard India Bazaar, and Corso Italia, and one suburban Asian theme mall, the Pacific Mall in the City of Markham in an attempt to identify the role of urban planning in responding to the rise of ethnic retail neighbourhoods. The findings of the four cases indicate that urban planners have been unable to intervene actively in ethnic retail and direct its development and growth. The planning legislative structure and the lack of policy support hinder planners' capacity to be proactive. Planners cannot work alone to build multicultural cities. This paper concludes on the importance of municipal intervention and interdepartmental collaboration as useful implications for multicultural planning practice.

Keywords: Ethnic retailing, multicultural planning, ethnic strip, Asian theme mall

Resume

Les recentes vagues d'immigration ont considerablement affecte les paysages urbains et les economies des plus grandes regions metropolitaines du Canada. Un phenomene remarquable est la montee de bandes ethniques de detail et des centres en tant que marqueurs physiques de multiculturalisme croissant. La dynamique du commerce de detail ethnique posent diverses opportunity et des defis pour les municipality, et pourtant, notre connaissance de sa complexity est limitee et la litterature actuelle sur la planification multiculturelle offre peu d'indications utiles pour planifier la pratique. Cette etude porte sur trois bandes de detail dans le centre-ville de Toronto, a savoir East Chinatown, le Gerrard India Bazaar et Corso Italia, et un centre commercial de banlieue theme asiatique, Pacific Mall dans la ville de Markham dans une tentative d'identifier le role des villes la planification pour repondre a la hausse des quartiers ethniques de vente au detail. Les resultats de ces quatre cas indiquent que les urbanistes ont pu intervenir activement dans ethnique detail et orienter son developpement et sa croissance. La structure de la programmation legislative et le manque de soutien politique entravent la capacite des planificateurs d'etre proactif. Les planificateurs peuvent pas travailler seul a construire des villes multiculturelles. Cet article conclut sur l'importance de l'intervention municipale et la collaboration interministerielle comme consequences utiles pour la pratique de planification multiculturelle.

Mots cles: commerce de detail ethnique, la planification multiculturelle, ethnique bande, centre commercial theme asiatique

INTRODUCTION

The recent waves of immigration have dramatically impacted urban landscapes and economies of Canadas largest metropolitan regions. One notable phenomenon is the rise of ethnic retail strips and centers as physical markers of increasing multiculturalism.

This ethnic retail phenomenon is important to study because its dynamics pose both opportunities and challenges for municipalities. On one hand, ethnic retailing generates significant benefits to urban economies, to immigrant integration, to the retrofit of traditional neighbourhoods, and to community building. On the other hand, the enclave-setting of many of the ethnic retail districts could be easily construed as cultural exclusivity and insularity leading to weak community relationships with surrounding neighbourhoods. There are also controversial issues related to land use, traffic flow, and parking allocation in extreme cases (Preston & Lo, 2000; Qadeer 1997, 1998; Wang 1999). These opportunities and challenges are also in need of plannings focus on land-use change over time because it takes years for these neighbourhoods to develop and their legacy has a long-lasting imprint on our urban landscapes. Accordingly, urban planners at the forefront of urban development must understand this new community and land-use dynamic because they are accountable for addressing these changes and consequent multicultural challenges that arise from them.

However, there are major gaps in our understanding of the dynamics and complexity of the ethnic retail phenomenon, especially with regards to its physical interactions with urban spaces. Current literature on multicultural planning advocates for cultural sensitivity and inclusion in planning practice based on a limited number of empirical studies. Responses to ethnic retailing and its consequent impacts on urban space are scant, with little useful guidance in planning practice. Municipal public policy addressing economic development, land use, and transportation planning in relation to ethnic retail development has been relatively uninformed. There is urgent need to explore the planning processes underlying the spatial and physical changes of ethnic retail neighbourhoods so as to better accommodate the growing immigrant population, facilitate their retail activities, and enhance the community as a whole.

In response to these gaps in research and practice, this study investigates the following questions: What is the role of urban planning in responding to the rise of ethnic retail neighbourhoods? Specifically, how do urban planners get involved in various ethnic retail developments? What have they done or should have done to maximize the social and economic contribution of ethnic retail? Do urban planners adopt a proactive role as urged by multicultural planning advocates? If not, what are the challenges or constraints? In order to capture a broader spectrum of ethnic retail neighbourhoods, three retail strips in the inner city of Toronto, namely East Chinatown, the Gerrard India Bazaar, and Corso Italia, and one suburban Asian theme mall, the Pacific Mall in the City of Markham were selected as case studies (Figure 1).

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Several research objectives were pursued, including: the exploration of major development issues among different ethnic groups in different commercial settings, how these issues are handled and why, the examination of the key players involved, and the identification of the role of urban planning in ethnic retailing. Seventy-four interviews were conducted with key informants including merchants, city officials, and community agency representatives. The findings indicate the limited role of planning and offer an explanation of the practical constrains inherent in the planning system. This paper concludes on the importance of municipal intervention and interdepartmental collaboration as useful implications for multicultural planning practice.

MULTICULTURAL PLANNING IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

The increasing diversity of todays multicultural society has provided a more complex setting for urban planning. A number of empirical examples focusing on various aspects of land use (e.g., commercial activity, housing, places of worship, public spaces, and design control) illustrate the impacts of immigrant settlement on urban spaces and the challenges planners are facing (Agrawal 2009; Burayidi 2003; Germain & Gagnon 2003; Harwood 2005; Kumar & Martin 2004; Qadeer 1997,1998, 2009; Qadeer & Chaudhry 2000; Sandercock 2000; Thompson 2003). Cultural clashes and corresponding public controversies are presented in extreme cases within a Canadian context, such as debates over "monster homes" and Asian theme malls, and ethnic tensions in housing complex (Ley 2000; Li 1994; Preston & Lo 2000; Qadeer 1997). In many of these cases, planners have demonstrated varying degrees of ignorance or insensitivity to ethnocultural diversity in their practice. Thus, they are often under criticism for their "planning for land use but not land users" mentality that results in uniform treatment for everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity. As Wallace (2000, p. 20) points out, "most planners see immigration as standing outside their area of responsibility, and consider their work to be technical, not cultural."

Multicultural planning advocates have promoted cultural sensitivity and inclusion in planning practice; they urge planning practitioners to be more responsive to the needs of ethno-cultural communities, and adopt a proactive role that can incorporate ethno-cultural issues in the planning process (Burayidi 2000, 2003; Milroy& Wallace 2002; Pestieau & Wallace 2003; Qadeer 1997; Rahder & Milgrom 2004; Sandercock 2000, 2003, 2004). A number of diversity-oriented planning approaches are offered, such as collecting ethno-racial data, involving ethnic minorities in the decision making process with effective communications, acknowledging cultural needs in planning policy development, recruiting and training culturally sensitive and inclusive planners, and providing diversity education at planning schools.

There is no doubt the aforementioned approaches are of importance for planners to consider when dealing with multicultural challenges. However, there is insufficient empirical evidence that this ethno-cultural awareness provides useful guidance in planning practice. According to research, and as revealed in this study, planners continue to be absent or reactive in relation to ethnic-sensitive land use issues. How to put the multicultural planning recommendations into day-to-day planning practice remains a question (Burayidi 2003; Harwood 2004; Qadeer 2000; Rahder & Milgrom 2004). Driven mainly by good intentions to celebrate multiculturalism, most multicultural planning arguments have not yet produced research findings with illustrative recommendations for planning practice.

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