Anything wrong with Montreal’s Chinatown? We hope not, but in any case, this month the Ville Marie borough launched a process of public consultations on the future of this iconic neighbourhood of our city. Termed “Together for the Vitality of Chinatown” this consultation process must finish in the fall and provide some elements for future planning. “This participatory approach is essential. It will enable us to strike a balance between the needs of residents, cultural preservation, and sustainable commercial dynamism. On this basis, the borough will be able to better support and enhance the community and commercial life of Montreal’s Chinatown” said Robert Beaudry, city councillor for the Saint Jacques district and responsible for economic and commercial development in the city executive committee.
Montreal’s Chinatown community
The organization of the consultation has been put in the hands of the Montreal Centre for Urban Ecology (CEUM for its French acronym) “because of its expertise in developing and facilitating consultation processes to redevelop urban space with and for citizens.” The process so far has started with the consultations with residents, merchants, and visitors for which a kiosk was installed in the main street of Chinatown. This first stage has taken place during August and now the next step is to meet with the different social, cultural, business, and community organizations of the neighbourhood, a process to be held during the fall. All the documents, proposals, and data will then be assembled in the online city platform “Réalisons Montréal,” from where it could be accessed by anyone. A final report will be submitted by the CEUM to the borough in 2020.
Of course, Chinatown has experienced several transformations in recent years. Some people who have been asked about the future of the area have expressed fears that it may lose its character, especially for the disappearance of small stores due to higher rents which lead instead to gentrification, displacing old traditional businesses. A problem that undoubtedly will be mentioned in the public consultation. There is also the question of some residents leaving the neighbourhood, a phenomenon that is more or less natural as, young people especially, move to other areas of the city.
To some extent, we have even seen the development of what one may call a Chinatown 2, in the west end of downtown. Especially for the arrival of new restaurants (oriental, not only Chinese), on Ste. Catherine between Concordia and the border with Westmount. We don’t know whether this means an exodus of businesses from the traditional Chinatown or if it is merely an expansion of Chinese and other Asian businesses, especially restaurants and food stores. A process stimulated by an influx of Chinese and other oriental residents into that section of downtown, especially students attending Concordia or McGill.
In any case, Chinatown, despite facing problems common to other areas of the city, seems to be in good shape, although there is always room for improvements. Most visitors to Chinatown go to De la Gauchetière or St. Laurent, its main commercial streets, where most restaurants are located, and which have good lighting and are relatively well kept, other streets such as Clark for instance, would certainly need brighter lights, more trees, and better sidewalks. Public consultations should address these issues together with the long-term questions about the future of this emblematic neighbourhood.
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