The Transformation of Ethnic Neighborhoods into Places of Leisure and Consumption (Working Paper #144)

Jan Rath, University of Amsterdam

Abstract: Urban public space is obviously a key site of host-immigrant encounter. The heated debates in Europe about the establishment of purpose-built mosques or in Canada about monster houses show the deeper impact of changes in the urban streetscape consequent upon immigration. The establishment of ethnic shopping malls or commercial precincts, such as Chinatown or Klein Turkei, with their specific shop windows, street furniture and the whole shebang, is another, perhaps more promising case. The proliferation of these precincts is interesting because it is—at least partly—driven by commercial intentions and ties in with the emerging service economy and the role of cities as sites of consumption. The commodification and marketing of diversity, i.e. the commercial use of the presence of the ethnic Others or their symbols in the urban streetscape, help explain the growing enthusiasm for ‘interesting’ landscapes that have the potential to draw tourists and visitors. This transformation is not a ‘natural’ process, but the product of social, cultural, economic and political developments and conditions. This presentation examines the transformation of ethnic neighborhoods into places of leisure and consumption by a wider public in a number of cities and countries, and deals with the question of how and under what conditions this process helps foster immigrants’ business success and the quality of the neighborhood at large. The primary focus is the role of immigrant entrepreneurs and their interaction with other relevant actors, especially the local government.

Working Paper #144 »