Ethnic Enclaves, Commercial Malls, and Accommodations of Differences

Ethnic enclaves or neighbourhoods are the elephant in the room for multicultural planning. They are the most striking emblems of multi- culturalism in the urban landscape. Yet urban planning has neither the mandate nor the tools to regulate the geographic distribution of people. It can affect enclaves' quality of life by providing facilities and services as well as through sign regulations, recognizing their special character, land use, housing, and commercial policies. However, planning policies cannot prescribe who may or may not live in an area. They cannot and should not zone areas by ethnicity or race quotas.

Ethnic enclaves are spatial expressions of people's choices for locations, homes, and neighbourhoods in the market. Of course, there are structural factors that define fields of residential choice for people; but exclusionary practices are not now usually the primary cause of enclaves. The strategic goal of urban planning, regarding enclaves, is to enhance the enclaves' economic and social vitality, reduce their segregation, and tie them closely to other parts of cities. The goal is to advance their social sustainability by increasing equitable access to the collective goods of a city and by integrating them into the web of city life. This is an ongoing exercise in neighbourhood planning, place making, and local economic and cultural development. But urban planning has developed neither comprehensive goals nor overall strategies for carrying out these various tasks. It has largely dealt with the challenges of ethnic enclaves in neutral but incremental ways.

The history of Chinese malls in Toronto is an example of accommodation and mutual learning. The first mall (1983), Dragon Centre in Scarborough, did not conform to the city's planning standards for commercial malls. Instead of a supermarket, it had a banquet hall as the anchor. Its stores were small and numerous for the floor area and its parking requirements exceeded. After public hearings and negotiations, the city suitably modified its requirements but the project's parking facilities were increased.49 This established a precedent for the development of Chinese plazas and malls, including the Pacific Mall in Markham, one of the biggest Asian malls in North America. It is now turning into a node of Chinese commercial-professional activities with the expansion, redevelopment, and interlinking of the three existing Chinese mega-malls at the intersection of Kennedy and Steele Avenues in Markham and Toronto.

By 2013, there were sixty-six Chinese shopping centres in the Toronto CMA.50 In Los Angeles, Koreatown was the path-breaking development that spawned ethnic-themed malls all across the United States. In Los Angeles city and the neighbouring municipalities, what James Rojas calls "Latino Urbanism" is transforming many neighbourhoods.51 On the initiatives of Latino residents, rules are being loosened to allow the painting of murals on walls, street vending is gaining acceptance, and street festivals as well as pedestrian plazas are being incorporated into urban designs. Latino institutions and aesthetics in neighbourhoods are turning them into Mexican and Central American enclaves.

One mechanism used in urban planning to accommodate the cultural uniqueness of ethnic enclaves is to designate them as special districts, promoting local initiatives for appropriate zoning and design controls and community programs. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the United States and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) in Canada are planning programs that help set up local business associations in ethnic enclaves with the authority to levy charges on members and carry out local improvements and promotion.

There are a few planning strategies for the mixing of ethnicities. The most common is to increase the mix of types of housing to attract a variety of households in an enclave and to forge stronger links with other parts of a city. Another strategy is to increase social encounters by drawing others into enclaves through programs of art, culture, sports, and entertainment.52 The point is that building intercultural bridges, geographic and social, is the strategy of integration.

The development of heritage art galleries and the opening of the Metro Gold Line station in Los Angeles's Chinatown is an example of the attempt to bring others into an ethnic community, as is the program to turn New York's Chinatown into an ethnic-theme commercial strip and build a Chinatown history museum as a point of tourist inter- est.53 Such are the instruments of urban planning for integrating ethnic enclaves. Public places that draw people of diverse backgrounds are another instrument of promoting integration.

Ethnic enclaves present another challenge. They are seldom static, often changing. New households move in and the established ones shift to new places as they go through family cycles. Second generations of immigrants have different demands. They hang out at Starbucks and go to McDonald's as much as they visit ethnic restaurants. These evolutionary changes result in changing the structure of ethnic enclaves. For example, Chinese ethnic malls are beginning to include mainstream stores and fast-food chains.54 They are turning into multi-ethnic shopping areas. Relatively older Chinese malls in Scarborough (Toronto) are drawing Korean, Japanese, and Filipino stores, as is the case with the Forest Hill Mall in New York. Obviously, urban planning policies have to be flexible to respond to evolving situations. Overall, urban planning has recognized the distinction of ethnic enclaves and attempts to accommodate as well as integrate them into the urban fabric, not in proactive but in reactive ways.

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