An ethnoburb is a suburban residential and business area with a notable cluster of a particular ethnic minority population. Although the group may not constitute the majority within the region, it does compose a significant amount of the population. This can greatly influence the social geography within the area because of cultural and religious traditional values exhibited. Ethnoburbs allow for ethnic minority groups to maintain their individual identity, though this may also restrict their ability to fully assimilate into mainstream culture and society.
According to Dr. Wei Li, author of many writings on the subject, the ethnoburb has resulted from "the influence of international geopolitical and global economic restructuring, changing national immigration and trade policies, and local demographic, economic and political contexts."
Although many assume that an ethnoburb is composed of immigrants with a lower economic standing, this may not always be the case as many ethnoburbs are made up of wealthy and high economic status individuals in more expensive neighbourhoods and communities. For this reason, there is not always a "one size fits all" definition of what can be expected when examining an ethnoburb. Through comparing different locations of ethnoburbs various degrees of social characteristics, including economic standings and cultural assimilation, can be observed.
History of the term
The term was first coined in 1997 by Dr. Wei Li, then assistant professor of geography and Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut, in a paper examining the suburban Chinese population in Los Angeles, California. She further examines and delineates the difference between "Chinatowns" and "ethnoburbs" in "Ethnoburb versus Chinatown: Two Types of Urban Ethnic Communities in Los Angeles".
Ethnoburbs emerge for a variety of reasons, in combination or as separate entities. These include significant changes in world politics and economy, policy changes in the United States' national policies, and demographic shifts in individual or in local connecting neighborhoods. These communities have substantial external connections to the globalised mainstream economy, leading to higher socioeconomic levels in its residents. An ethnoburb functions as a social hub and a place where immigrants may work and do business within their own networks. This definition of an ethnoburb closely resembles that of the ethnic enclave as defined and studied by sociologists Wilson and Portes. Though the terms are different, the types and functions of these hubs are nearly identical. The formation of ethnoburbs also have an effect on the cultural and political characteristics of a city. In cities like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Toronto; also the New York City-Philadelphia and Washington, DC areas; and in the San Gabriel Valley in California, for example, Chinese immigrants have built large houses and malls catering to Chinese businesses, changing the landscape of these and a significant number of smaller communities throughout Canada and the U.S.
Dr. Wei Li's book Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, explores in depth the phenomenon of ethnoburbs scattered through the United States. She coined the term 'ethnoburb' in 1997, to describe the new formation of contemporary suburban Asian settlements, and continues her studies in larger metropolitan areas in the U.S. and in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Studies of "ethnoburbs" are not limited to Dr. Li. The term has become widely used in academia and is slowly gaining usage in the popular vernacular.
Ethnoburbs present interesting benefits and disadvantages to those within the community. Because of the high degree of ethnic similarities, communities can be shaped to meet the specific cultural and social needs of those who live there. This can be seen as a benefit as it aids in the adaptation of immigrants to a new environment in terms of language, culture, education, and job training. Also, through the sharing of common cultural traditions as well as new experiences encountered, a greater sense of community can be developed. An ethnoburb not only contributes to the fostering of cultural preservation particularly amongst immigrants, it can also play an important role in the larger cultural tapestry of a greater regional area or country as a whole.
On the other hand, ethnoburbs are sometimes viewed in a negative light because it is thought that they can inhibit cultural assimilation due to the belief that those living in these regions will become comfortable within the community and will not expand to incorporate social elements from outside their community. One way that this can be mitigated is through educational programs and the completion of public or private schooling. Because the dominate culture within an ethnoburb does not always constitute the majority of the population due to the fact that other ethnicities are also present, it can be helpful if these other cultures are also integrated into the regional identity to lessen the degree of severe representation and catering towards one ethnic group.
White flight can also be a result of ethnoburbs. Min Zhou, Yen-fen Tseng, and Rebecca Y. Kim claim
In the past, the movement of ethnic minorities of lower SES [socioeconomic status] into urban neighborhoods triggered white flight into the suburbs. The current movement of immigrants of higher SES into the suburbs has ushered in a similar trend because newcomers have settled without going through the time-honored process of acculturation. They pose a new threat to the established white middle-class residents, who fear being “un-Americanized” by the newcomers. The Chinese ethnoburb shows that affluent immigrants from Asia, no less than blacks and Hispanics, can be perceived as a threat to white middle-class communities when they achieve a substantial presence.
Within Canada, the presence of ethnic communities are often favoured. This is a result of the country's belief in supporting a cultural mosaic through individuals maintaining their unique cultural identity following immigration. Ethnoburbs are often viewed as an "expression of preferences, common interests, social networks and the cultural and/or religious residents... [serving] as the basis for their integration into the Canadian economy and society." This view may not be shared by all geographical regions and is still an issue of contention within some areas of Canada as ethnoburbs can present both beneficial and negative elements that may either provide a pathway for the adaptation into a new society or the hindering of assimilation through cultural division. In comparison, historically the United States has often discouraged the maintenance of cultural identity following immigration through their melting pot policies and encouragement to adopt the "American" way of life. However, despite this, there has been an increasing trend in the United States for ethnic minority groups to maintain their cultural identity and individuality from the general American identity following their immigration.
Vancouver, British Columbia
The Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) is home to a number of ethnic suburbs, each with its own unique characteristics. In recent years,changes to immigration policies have made these municipalities magnets for immigrants. Here, members of the community find acceptance, security and comfort in the presence of common cultural practices. However, in some situations, increasing segregation has led to tension.
In the past 40 years, Canadian immigration policy has adopted a multicultural model, wherein immigrants are granted equal rights in all facets of society Prior to 1962, the Canadian federal government used a country of origin preference system to grant immigration status. The removal of this policy and the introduction of a points system in 1967 caused an influx of immigration to the GVRD. Today, nearly 40,000 people immigrate to the GVRD every year, approximately 30,000 from Asia, with China and India as the two major source countries. The result has been the formation of ethnically distinct municipalities such as Richmond and Surrey. Starting in May 2013, the Canadian government tightened the language requirements for all immigrants, and reduced the benefits for immigrants who spoke both of Canada's two official languages. Here, there are increased opportunities for immigrants upon arrival in Canada.
Richmond, British Columbia
Large communities of visible minorities have changed the cultural landscape Vancouver's suburbs, adding to the diverse society that the GVRD prides itself on. Massive shopping malls built in the 1980s such as Aberdeen and Yaohan centres, are focused solely on Chinese clientele. These shopping centres are highly specialized and highly successful. On average, 18.2% of the GVRD's population is Chinese. In some parts of Richmond, 66.9% of the population have Chinese heritage. For many new immigrants and long time residents alike, it is a great comfort to be able buy familiar foods and communicate with shop keepers in their native languages. However, some would argue the absence of English from signage and service creates tension within the Richmond community.
The integration of newly arrived immigrants into the ethnoburbs of Metropolitan Vancouver has increased the diversity of the city but some might argue segregation based on ethnicity has risen in recent years. This socially constructed segregation has physical ramifications on the landscape. In Vancouver's case, increased immigration of affluent Asians has also meant a boom in the housing market. The expansion of real estate development in the 1980s and 1990s lead to the transformation of post war suburbs into areas dominated by infamous "Vancouver Specials", monster homes, and megamalls. These extravagant building types have become points of contention in the GVRD. Along with that, a growing fear of longtime Canadians is that increasing immigration means decreased space in "good schools". These factors feed the argument that spatial segregation based on ethnicity effects the social fabric of communities.
However, tensions aside, Richmond's unique blend of culture has added to the mosaic of the city. Some Christians with Hong Kong roots take comfort in Cantonese sermons, being able to connect on personal, congregational, regional and international levels of community. Richmond is also home to many Buddhist temples and societies. The Ling Yen Mountain Temple is an active monastery, and boasts 10,000 members in Greater Vancouver. This micro and macro scale involvement and sense of identity is beneficial in an increasingly global community.
Surrey, British Columbia
Another predominant ethnoburb filled with temples and shopping centres is in Surrey, British Columbia. Stretching from Newton to Bear Creek Park, from Strawberry Hill to Kennedy Heights, this neighbourhood is a picture of ethnic integration. According to Douglas Todd of The Vancouver Sun, 1/5 of Canada's South Asian community is found in Surrey and many neighbourhoods are "intensely monoethnic." Moreover, census data reveals that two out of three residents of Surrey have South Asian heritage. Census data puts the Greater Vancouver average of South Asian residents at 9.9%. In some parts of Surrey, South Asians account for 70.7% of residents,a higher concentration than Chinese residents in Richmond. Based on Todd's case study of west Newton, people here do not feel segregated by ethnicity. Instead, there is a sense of familiarity, and community cohesiveness, despite Surrey's reputation for violence. This unique sense of place and the resulting geographies of these communities is in part due the high occurrence of family migration practices. These practices are another result of evolving Canadian immigration policies.
Like Richmond, Surrey residents are proud of their contributions to social aspects of their communities. Here, there are numerous Sikh gurdwaras, Hindu mandirs and Muslim mosques alongside western houses of worship. Festivals in both cities invite thousands of people every year to experience a sampling of different ethnic backgrounds. Surrey hosts a massive Vaisakhi Parade & Celebration during April, the largest outside of India. Richmond hosts many festivals itself, including the Summer Night Market. These festivities, attended by people of every ethnicity, highlight Asian culture and celebrate diversity.
These municipalities are not the only ethnic enclaves in the GVRD. There are a variety of neighbourhoods within Vancouver proper that have formed based on lines of heritage. Chinatown, Little Italy, South Fraser and more are examples of such communities. These occur on a smaller scale than Richmond or Surrey. Mapping of ethnicity in Greater Vancouver shows that populations, although concentrated in some areas, disperse out on a gradient. Research on the subject depicts these landscapes as places of integration and acceptance. Increasing diversity has increased the liveability of this growing metropolis. There are, of course, challenges to multiculturalism. Nonetheless, these are communities with deep roots, unique traditions and shared social identities.
Los Angeles, California
One of the largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles, California is a culturally diverse urban area with pockets of ethnic communities within the city, including many Chinatowns. As populations in these urban regions continued to grow and became increasingly congested, many ethnic groups began migrating out of the urban centre of Los Angeles and into newer and more affordable suburban communities surrounding the city; thus, increasing their quality of life from that of a downtown, inner city neighbourhood, to a more open and clean suburban community. In particular, many ethnic communities within Los Angeles moved to the nearby San Gabriel Valley, especially Monterey Park. In addition to escaping regional congestion, this area offered further geographical opportunities as it "is bordered by three major freeways... making it easier to get downtown, where most jobs were located, and to Chinatown."
Los Angeles is also an interesting example when examining the distinct difference between an ethnoburb and a Chinatown. In the article "Ethnoburb Versus Chinatown: Two Types of Urban Communities in Los Angeles," Dr. Wei Li looks at these differences by comparing the Chinatown communities within downtown Los Angeles and the ethnoburbs in the surrounding San Gabriel Valley area. Through examining historical records, census data, and conducting interviews, she reveals how the Chinese community within this region in particular, has greatly evolved from densely populated Chinatowns in the downtown to more geographically spread out regions in an ethnic suburb. For example, according to Li, "the San Gabriel Valley ethnoburb had become by 1990 a more important Chinese residential area than Chinatown." Li also explains how the ethnoburb offers more opportunities when compared to a Chinatown, as there are additional economic benefits through business opportunities when catering towards the regional cultural identity.
Dr. Wei Li reveals further differences between an ethnoburb and Chinatown in that the composition of the populations vary in terms of age, socioeconomic level, and time since their immigration. Within a Chinatown, the population is mainly "immigrants of Chinese descendants from mainland China and Southeast Asia, with a much older age structure and longer duration of residence... [and] socio-economic status of its residents is lower." In contrast, although culturally an ethnoburb may appear to cater towards a specific ethnic group, these regional areas tend to include a more ethnically diverse population which is composed of a greater variety of age groups with a higher socioeconomic status. In addition, a higher level of education is more common within an ethnoburb when compared to a Chinatown, thus allowing for a greater degree of use and understanding of English within these areas. Thus, through Li's findings, it is revealed how in fact an ethnoburb can be culturally positive in the sense that it allows for more opportunities when compared to a Chinatown.
Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland, which has a predominantly European population, as well as one of the highest Polynesian populations in the world, experienced a dramatic increase in Asian migration during the 1900s. Over the past 20 years, many Asian immigrants migrating to Auckland have settled into these “Ethnoburbs”. About 60% of the Chinese population in New Zealand lives in Auckland and by 1990 (the fourth highest ethnic group), people started settling in East and South Auckland. These areas were of existing high quality housing or brand new neighborhoods. By 2006, all of Auckland was considered its own Chinese ethnoburb because of Auckland’s already small population based on Li Wei’s concept of ethnoburbs. The spatial distributions in Auckland proposed there would be three large ethnoburb regions, one being in North Shore City (North Auckland), Auckland City (Central East Auckland), and Manukau City (East Auckland). It is said that Chinese people come to New Zealand not only for the economic based reasons, but also for better education, the relaxed lifestyle and stable political system.
Many Chinese residents live outside the downtown Chinatown area and in the Greater Toronto Area's suburbs. Spatial patterns of ethnic residential and business districts have mainly been shaped by development in the suburbs. Of the 338,265, only 18% of Chinese residents in Toronto live in the downtown area where as the rest live in suburbs. Areas with a lower population Chinese residents (closer to the downtown area) are in East York, Etobiocke, North York, Scarborough, York which account for 47% of the Chinese population. Areas that are on the outer suburb zone, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga make up the remaining percentage of Chinese population. In recent years the Chinese economy in the GTA have changed from local restaurants and grocery stores to consumer services in large shopping centres. This has brought more shopping centres to the inner and outer suburbs growing Toronto's economy. Much like Los Angeles, the Chinese population in Toronto also stratifies along lines of origin and socioeconomic class, which show up in residential patterns. Immigrants from Hong Kong were the largest population from China to Toronto and rooted into Markham and Richmond Hill which influenced the style of the new upscale shopping centres. Immigrants from Taiwan settled in North York based on the public school system.
In addition to the Chinese community, Toronto's massive South Asian community has also developed in the suburbs of Brampton (38% South Asian) and Mississauga (22% South Asian).  Notably, South Asians are the fastest growing minority group in the distant Toronto suburbs of Milton and Ajax and numerous Hindu, Sikh and Muslim places of worship have been built in these areas.
Australia is also undergoing a shift in its demography with large numbers of Asian immigrants settling in the country. From 2010-11, Australia recorded 14,611 settlers from China and according to the 2011 Census, there were 393,924 people in Australia born in Mainland China and Hong Kong. Sydney had nearly half of all Chinese-born citizens (46.6%) and Melbourne had slightly over a quarter (28.5%) according to the census data.
Melbourne has received some of the focus of the changing demographics due to Asian immigration. Glen Waverley is a community in Melbourne with a large proportion of Chinese-Australian citizens. In a recent article in The Age, Glen Waverley is home to many Chinese immigrants because the area provides high quality education, good transportation and safety making it the hub of Chinese Melbourne. According to the article, public high schools in the area have been inundated with Chinese Australians representing up to 80% of the student population. In another article featured in The Age, it is claimed that European luxury vehicles such as Audi and BMW are the most popular car brands in Glen Waverley.
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