“How to keep Chinatown alive: Edmonton conference looks at big-city success stories”

June, 11, 2016 – Edmonton Journal (Video + Article)

Edmonton hosts conference on future of big city Chinatowns

Dr. Donald Yung wears a T-shirt declaring his love of Calgary’s Chinatown at a Saturday conference in Edmonton looking at the future of Chinatowns in big cities. SHAUGHN BUTTS / POSTMEDIA

Lan Chan-Marples thinks Edmonton’s Chinatown can learn some lessons from Chicago.

More than 100 years ago, before the term “gentrification” existed, residents of the Illinois city’s Chinatown were displaced thanks to rising property values.

The neighbourhood relocated, but after a few decades, an interstate highway roared through and residents lost their only recreational facility.

The community spent the next 50 years trying to recover.

Celebrating its centennial, Chicago’s Chinatown developed a clear plan of what residents wanted and where it would go in the future. The community looked long-term, co-chair of that planning effort, C.W. Chan, told the Edmonton Chinatown Conference over the weekend.

“We were at the table and master of our own fate,” he said.

Chicago is one of few North American Chinatowns in North America that seems to have escaped a trend that has seen others disappear through redevelopment, gentrification and a lack of cultural preservation.

Chan was one of several presenters from Chinatowns in Canada and the U.S. who spoke of the challenges their communities are facing.

He said his city wasn’t so much immune from the trend affecting Chinatowns today, it just reached those crossroads a lot earlier.

Chan-Marples organized the conference, and said it was heartening to hear from Chan how his community worked together to bolster that Chinatown’ future.

“The nice thing about Edmonton is we are very united together in what we want in the Chinese community,” she said Saturday.

This weekend’s conference was a chance for Edmonton representatives to hear from other North American Chinatowns as it prepares to submit recommendations on a new economic plan for the cultural neighbourhood.

On Sunday, Chan-Marples said that plan will focus on getting the younger generation involved in transforming Chinatown in the future, and ensuring other groups feel welcome to use the spaces.

The difference between Edmonton and other North American Chinatowns is space –there are many vacant lots here, and Chan-Marples said that offers real opportunity.

“We could do such wonderful things with it,” she said.

The community is also considering streetscaping to preserve its “architectural difference,” and creating a heritage plaza for celebrations and commemorations.

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