Chinese Calgarians Outraged at Call to Limit Ethnic Malls

Joel Kom, Calgary Herald, March 6, 2009

Members of Calgary’s Chinese community are enraged after a consultant’s report commissioned by the city called for Calgary to avoid the development of “Asian” malls that serve only one ethnic group.

The report, meanwhile, raises the debate over whether cities should be encouraging ethnic enclaves to pop up or whether those enclaves only isolate certain communities from the larger population.

Chinese residents are angry at being singled out by the consulting company–whose president is Chinese–in a report on how the city should deal with future commercial and retail development.

Calgary should “avoid the development of ‘Asian’ malls that cater only to a specific ethnic group,” says the report, posted on the city’s website.

“An effort must be made to avoid ‘exclusive’ cultural-specific retail developments, as they lead to marginalized ethnic enclaves which can diminish overall community cohesiveness.”

Wayne Chiu, chief executive of Trico Homes who immigrated to Calgary from Hong Kong in 1982, said the report angered him.

“They’ve kind of singled out the Asian community,” he said. “I find it kind of offensive.

“If Asian was replaced with ‘Jewish’ or ‘Italian,’ other people would be offended.”

Chiu also took exception to the suggestion ethnic centres should be discouraged, saying they act as linchpins for minority communities while also exposing others to different cultures.

Ald. John Mar, a Chinese-Canadian and the only minority member of council, was also peeved.

“That’s not kosher,” he said. “I take umbrage to this because we want to encourage ethnic diversity. How does it marginalize these communities? I think it could actually have the opposite effect.”

Ald. Ric McIver said he agreed with Chiu and Mar’s assessment.

“They’re offended, and I think they’re right to be offended,” he said. “This needs to be corrected in a report that we paid for.”

Tom Leung, president of Global Retail Strategies, which wrote the report, said the suggestions were emphasizing that Calgary should avoid putting ethnocentric developments in new communities for fear of creating “ethnic islands.”

“I understand why certain people are concerned about it,” he said. “I’m a very strong supporter of the Asian community. But we also have to take a look at the commercial realities.”

Leung said Calgary’s demographics don’t justify ethnic-oriented development in new areas. He cited cities such as Burnaby and Richmond, B.C., where failed ethnic developments led to shuttered buildings and “black holes.”

He cited T&T Supermarket, an Asian grocery store with two local outlets, as a successful business because it opens itself to the wider community.

Byron Miller, a geography and urban studies professor at the University of Calgary, said it’s often up to ethnic communities themselves–not the city–as to whether they isolate themselves.

“Ethnic communities can be very beneficial in some cases, and in other cases they become what we call ghettos,” he said.

Pat Gordon, manager of the sustainable city program, said the city wouldn’t heed the “Asian mall” suggestion, adding it wasn’t even within the city’s mandate to look at ethnicity. The report, she added, wasn’t saying avoid ethnic-centred developments in all cases.

“He’s not saying don’t do it,” she said. “He’s saying do it right.”

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