Chinatown is not a museum, it is a living community! The common perception of urban Chinatowns as historic tourist attractions impacts the priorities and choices that cities and governments make for revitalization and development. Who gets to have a future in the neighbourhood and whose needs are ignored? A traditional place of sanctuary for many marginalized groups, Chinatowns are home to seniors, low-income residents and several others facing linguistic, cultural and other social barriers. The neighbourhood is also facing a challenge of increased populations that have issues with substance abuse and mental health. How can we center the needs of Chinatown’s housed residents in the future of these neighbourhoods and find ways to foster and grow the intangible cultural heritage of Chinatown that is built on the interactions and relationships of its residents and living communities? This panel reimagines a future for Chinatown centered around quality of life, access to services, needs of residents, both housed and unhoused, equitable development that grows culture & community, and approaches to land ownership and housing that look to retain and grow the residential base of Chinatown.
Sarah Yeung has over 13 years of experience in strengthening the voice of community in policy and planning decisions. She has worked as a community developer, a policy advocate and researcher in Philadelphia and across the country. She has completed extensive planning and research work in Philadelphia Chinatown and has been instrumental in developing and carrying out community-driven initiatives to transform this historic cultural center.
She is the founder and principal of Sojourner Consulting, a consultancy which provides support for efforts to create new models in supporting place-based change and revitalization, through services ranging widely and including planning, research and strategic consulting. In particular, Sojourner brings an understanding of the systems which shape land use and development, and how they affect communities of color, immigrant and LEP communities. The Sojourner team helps organizations and governments navigate and develop more inclusive relationships with these communities.
Winnie Fong (she/her) is a Principal at Estolano Advisors, an urban planning and public policy firm based in Los Angeles. Her work focuses on affordable housing, equitable economic development, and mobility justice. In 2020, she was named Stratiscope’s Impact-Makers to Watch in Los Angeles. She later co-founded the LA Chinatown Community Land Trust to protect low-income, long-term, immigrant, and senior residents from displacement. She also completed the UCLA Community Collaborative applied research program as a community partner where she contributed to the report on De-Commodifying Housing during COVID-19, which highlights anti-displacement policies and initiatives, including the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). She is actively involved in the local community and served as the LA Chapter President for Project by Project, a 100% volunteer-led organization that empowers and develops leaders within the Asian American community through innovative philanthropy.
Louisa-May Khoo is UBC Public Scholar and International Doctoral Fellow at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), University of British Columbia. She moved to Vancouver in Fall 2018 to extend her work with vulnerable communities. She brings practice experience in urban planning and public policy across the fields of diversity planning, public housing, and aging governance in Singapore. Committed to public service and bridging the research-policy gap, her ongoing work includes partnerships with the Chinatown community and the City of Vancouver. Her recent report, ‘Vancouver Chinatown Affordable Seniors Housing Inventory: Towards Chinatown as Campus of Care’, outlines the critical need for culturally appropriate seniors housing in Vancouver Chinatown.
May Chiu is a social justice activist and a family lawyer and mediator specialising in representing low-income clients. She began her activism in the student South African anti-apartheid movement and later on, participated in the head tax redress campaign, and has worked as a community organizer fighting for social and economic rights. She is a member of theProgressive Chinese of Québec which organized the historic March against Anti-Asian racism in the spring of 2021. She is also a climate justice advocate and has been actively involved in the campaign to Save Chinatown since 2019. She is currently the coordinator of the Chinatown Round Table of Montreal.
Jessica Chen, Moderator
Jessica Chen is a Canadian city planning professional currently based in Montréal Quebec. Her career focus has been social inclusion and urban strategies that encourage pluralistic understanding of the cities. As an immigrant from Taiwan, Jessica started her professional career in the public sector, first in Philadelphia, United States, then in Vancouver Canada. Her 12-year planning career at the City of Vancouver focused on regeneration of historic inner-city neighbourhoods tackling issues of gentrification, heritage conservation, affordable housing, social inclusivity and equitable development. She relocated to Montreal in 2013 and founded her consulting practice Wabi Sabi Planning Lab that often works with public agencies and non-profit organizations to examine how cultural and community-owned assets, including housing, help shape a more resilient urban landscape and city economy. One planning area close to her heart is Chinatown. She worked with the City of Vancouver to develop a Chinatown Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan as part of its exploration for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. She has also been active in Montréal Chinatown since 2019 to advocate for its cultural heritage protection and is a co-founder of JIA Foundation.
In many cities, Chinatown is amongst the last-surviving ethnic enclaves and is often a stand-in for other marginalized communities that have been wiped off the city map. The challenges and displacement happening inside the Chinatown gates doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Unlike “Save Chinatown” movements of the past, today’s movement is looking beyond Chinatown’s borders to work in solidarity with other neighbourhoods and groups facing similar challenges of economic displacement, expropriation and cultural erasure. How can we combine the Chinatown struggle with other communities and social justice movements to amplify our collective voices? How do we acknowledge that Chinatowns sit on unceded Indigenous land and work from anti-colonial perspectives in our organizing? How can we evolve the traditional power structures of our community to incorporate new perspectives, new voices and new means of organizing? In this panel, we look towards meaningful coalition building, bringing an anti-colonial lens to the Chinatown struggle and building holistic solutions for Chinatown that could also be a blueprint for other communities facing similar challenges.
Stephanie is 3rd generation Chinese-Canadian. Having grown up in a multi-generational home in East Vancouver, she identifies closely with her family’s Toisan heritage and language. Stephanie has been a member of the City of Vancouver’s Legacy Stewardship Group since 2018 and is the current co-chair. Over the last 4 years Stephanie has engaged with Chinatown residents, businesses, and other community stakeholders, toward a common goal of safe-guarding the culture and heritage of Vancouver’s Chinatown, and supporting its vulnerable living community. This collaboration has culminated in the revival of the Fire Dragon Festival and support for many LSG projects now captured within the city’s Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan. Her vision for the LSG is that it will continue to contribute to creating a resilient and welcoming neighbourhood that will foster rich connections between the Chinatown of her grandparents and great-grandparents, and the Chinatown she will leave for her own 3 kids.
Andrew Leong is an Associate Professor at UMass Boston teaching legal studies, Latinx and Asian American Studies. His expertise is in law, justice, and equality pertaining to disenfranchised communities and focused on Asian Americans. Areas include anti-Asian violence/hate crimes, immigration reform, APA legal history, environmental justice, anti-gentrification strategies, and community lawyering. He was Supervising Attorney of the Asian Outreach Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services at Harvard Law School’s Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center from 1986 to 1990. From 1987 to 1993, he was Clinical Director of the Chinatown Clinical Program at Boston College Law School. Leong served as the President of the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts from 1989 to 1994 and was also President of the Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund. He has fought numerous episodes of environmental injustice in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood and previously chaired “The Campaign to Protect Chinatown.”
Faiz’ mission is to nurture creative energy in diverse communities. Having studied International Development at McGill, followed by 20 years of experience in the community sector and in both private and public real estate, Faiz appreciates the challenges and opportunities that arise from de-commodifying the city and making it about people and their communities.
Jan is a 3rd generation Chinatown resident. His family has owned the tenement that he lives in for 96 years.
His grandfather and his family moved into a home at 21 Mott Street, where they became the very first Chinese family to live in the building and where Jan’s father was born in 1921. As a declaration that he and his family were here to stay, in 1924, Jan’s grandfather bought the two buildings, 19-21 Mott Street. From there, the family’s roots only grew deeper and deeper in Chinatown. Their family owned and operated a Chinese hand laundry at 19 Mott. Jan’s father went on to spend his entire life in 21 Mott Street, while continuing to give back to his community by co-founding the famous Lonnie’s Coffee Shoppe with his sister, Lonnie, while continuing his career as an aeronautics engineer.
At 21 Mott Street, Jan had owned a store called Sinotique, which he ran for 18 years. He traveled to Asia and brought back antiques and home furnishings. Some of his clients were the top New York interior and fashion designers of the 90’s and 2000’s.
Today, he manages his family’s property with his sister Audrey and he also own his own business, an off-shoot of his former business. Jan is a licensed contractor with his own wood working studio where he built custom cabinetry and kitchens for his clients, most of whom are in Brooklyn.
Lastly, Jan continues his families long legacy to this day as he advocates as an outspoken activist for the Chinatown community and his home. Hear more about Jan’s advocacy on his Twitter (@janccrc)
Henry Yu, Moderator
As a history professor, Dr. Yu’s research and teaching has been built around collaborations with local community organizations, civic institutions such as museums, and multiple levels of government. He is passionate about helping Canadians unlearn the cultural and historical legacies of colonialism and to be inspired by the often hidden and untold stories of those who struggled against racism and made Canadian society more inclusive and just. He was the Co-Chair of the City of Vancouver’s Dialogues between First Nations, Urban Aboriginal, and Immigrant Communities, and has served on advisory committees for formal apologies acknowledging historical discrimination and for the implementation of substantive legacy projects at all three levels of government. Prof. Yu received his BA in Honours History from UBC and an MA and PhD in History from Princeton University. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and the Province of BC’s Multicultural Award in 2015 in recognition of his research and community leadership.
Founded on what was once “undesirable land,” today many urban Chinatowns sit on some of the most expensive real estate in the downtown core becoming targets of land grabbing and speculation. While capital investment firms and big developers are increasingly moving into the neighbourhood, sometimes it’s our own community and small property owners who are playing the speculation game, allowing their own buildings to go derelict, reno-evicting residents, or leaving swaths of land empty waiting for the right moment to “cash-in.” Chinatown is more than an investment portfolio and owning property in the neighbourhood could also be a powerful means of retaining residents, legacy businesses and the intangible cultural heritage of the Chinatown. How can we engage small property owners to think beyond investment and move from ownership to stewardship of the neighbourhood? This panel will look at tools and strategies for taking land off the speculative market, building civic commons, and fostering equitable development. What are the new development models that look at housing, commercial, and cultural strategies from an anti-gentrification and anti-displacement point of view while still fostering growth and revitalization in Chinatown?
Chiyi (she/her) is an urban planner and anti-displacement organizer practicing in Tkaronto’s Kensington-Chinatown neighbourhood. She is currently a visiting expert with the School of Cities’ as an Early Career Canadian Urban Leader. Chiyi is the managing director of the recently established Toronto Chinatown Land Trust. Her goal is to reciprocate knowledge and wealth into community ownership.
She was the first staff and executive director of the Kensington Market Community Land Trust, where she acquired the organization’s first building acquisition, securing 12-units of deeply affordable residential units from further speculation. Chiyi serves on the advisory board of Montreal Chinatown’s JIA Foundation, the steering committee of the Canadian Network of Community Land Trusts and is a director of the Union Cooperative Initiative, a unionized cooperative incubating unionized worker cooperatives. She co-developed “Planning and Designing for Community Power”, a graduate urban design course at the University of Toronto. She frequently supports groups from all corners of turtle island exploring community ownership and wealth building as an anti-displacement strategy for racial & economic justice.
Brian McBay is Executive Director of 221A, a Vancouver-based cultural research and cultural space operator. Under his leadership, 221A and 221A Artist Housing Society operates a growing network of over 140,000ft2 across nine properties that provide non-market artist housing, artist studios, and cultural programming. As a student Co-founder of 221A during the height of the 2007-08 global economic crisis, he is part of a new generation of leaders in the cultural sector aiming to advance the public appreciation of the arts while also reversing deepening inequality, xenophobia and colonialism in Canada.
Brian’s dad was adopted, and is of mixed European ancestry. Brian’s mom’s side is Chinese-Canadian. His greatgrandfather, “Charlie” Lum Foon Ting, first arrived in Vancouver in 1898 as a teenager. His grandfather was Victor Gee Sow Lum (b. 1921), known as a local Chinatown baker alongside his brother Vernon Kwok Shing Lum (b. 1925) at the legendary Hong Kong Café (approx. 1941–1993). Brian holds a Bachelor of Design in Industrial Design from Emily Carr University and applies his training to non-profit property design, construction and regulation. Brian was named a 2018 Fellow at the Salzburg Global Forum and has been invited to speak and write on art, policy and urban development at a variety of institutions and public forums. In 2020, he co-founded the Sector Equity Alliance for Anti-Racism in the Arts (SEARA), a BC-based consortium that raised $300K in emergency relief funds for BIPOC Artists with over 100 non-profit cultural organizations. He is known as an active and outspoken collaborator, critic and advisor, championing inter-cultural anti-racism in government policy and cultural development in Canada. In addition to his role with 221A, Brian has served on numerous non-profit and public sector boards including the City of Vancouver Arts and Culture Policy Council and the National Gallery of Canada. Brian is currently serving terms as a board member of the Chinese-Canadian Museum of British Columbia and the Greater Vancouver International Film Festival.
Diplômé en urbanisme de l’ESG-UQAM et en gestion de l’innovation sociale de HEC Montréal, Laurent Levesque est co-fondateur et directeur général de l’Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), une entreprise d’économie sociale qui réalise des projets de logement abordable à travers le Québec. Passionné par la construction de milieux de vie justes et durables autant que par la démocratisation de l’économie, il est également président du Chantier de l’économie sociale et siège sur plusieurs CA touchant à l’économie sociale et au développement urbain.
Holding degrees in urban planning from ESG-UQAM and social innovation from HEC Montréal, Laurent Levesque is co-founder and CEO of Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), a Montréal-based not-for-profit student housing developer and provider with hundreds of units and multiple projects throughout Québec. He is passionate about building inclusive and sustainable neighborhoods as well about economic democracy. He sits on multiple boards related to social economy and affordable housing, most notably as Chair of the Chantier de l’économie sociale.
Lydia Lowe is the Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Land Trust, which works to stabilize Boston Chinatown through community control of land, development without displacement, and collective governance of shared resources. This includes preservation of permanently affordable, resident-controlled housing, planning for a Chinatown historic and cultural district, energy resilience work and open space improvement. She spent three decades doing grassroots organizing and building the Chinese Progressive Association prior to co-founding the Chinatown Community Land Trust with other longtime activists and residents. She also serves on the Chinatown Master Plan Committee, the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network, Massachusetts’ Environmental Justice Advisory Commission, and the City of Boston’s 250th anniversary Commemoration Commission.
Kevin Huang, Moderator
Kevin Huang 黃儀軒 (he/him) is the co-founder and executive director of hua foundation, an organization – based in Vancouver – with the mission of strengthening the capacity among Asian diasporic youth, in solidarity with other communities, to challenge, change, and create systems for a more equitable and just future. His work has ranged from scaling culturally sensitive consumer-based conservation strategies through a project called Shark Truth, advancing municipal food policy to address inclusion and racial equity, to providing supports for youth from ethnocultural communities to reclaim their cultural identity on their own terms. Kevin’s involvement in Vancouver’s Chinatown over the past ten years include community-based research, public space activation, youth organizing, and pandemic response projects. He currently serves on committees with Vancity Credit Union, Vancouver Foundation, and Metro Vancouver. More at: huafoundation.org
You can find kevin @yskevinhuang across socials.
Chinatowns are amongst the most vibrant and well-loved neighbourhoods in many cities. What makes these neighbourhoods so special are the small businesses that have forged the backbone of Chinatown, helped shape its social economy and become anchors for the neighbourhood. Small businesses are often community-serving retail keeping food and goods affordable and culturally appropriate for residents, they are small spaces where new immigrants and small entrepreneurs can set up shop with little capital, and they are places of gathering, meaning and memory for community members and tourists alike. It is the small businesses of Chinatown that give the neighbourhood flavour and authenticity. But in today’s world of big chains and strip malls, small businesses are finding it increasingly hard to survive. This panel will look at how we can support alternative modes of cultural and economic revitalization by taking a new approach to policy. What are the programs and tools that can help retain, protect and grow small businesses? How can we remove barriers for businesses and help them grow, adapt and succession plan as key aspects of Chinatown’s future?
Howard Tam, MSc. (Urban Planning), BASc. is a Strategic Designer with a background in Urban Planning. He is the CEO of ThinkFresh Group, a strategic design consultancy based in Toronto that is on a mission to help organizations and businesses navigate complex problems. ThinkFresh has been responsible for such projects as the Dragon Centre Stories Commemoration Project and the upcoming Honest Ed’s Alley Micro-Retail Market. Lately, you’ll find him helping plazaPOPS build new public spaces in suburban parking lots and helping perform public consultation around Toronto’s Chinatown.
Howard is also the proud founder and Foodie-in-Chief of EatMoreScarborough.com tours that offers food tours in and around Scarborough, Ontario, touted as the world’s “best ethnic food suburb”. He has also taught urban planning and strategy at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Toronto Metropolitan University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prior to founding the ThinkFresh Group, Howard worked as a Policy Advisor and Business Analyst with the Government of Ontario, Canada. He holds a Master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Hong Kong and a Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Toronto.
Shawn Tse 謝兆龍 (he/him) is a father, artist, filmmaker, and community organizer based in amiskwacîwâskahikan /Edmonton, Treaty 6 Territory and Métis Homeland. He primarily works in the arts and non-profit sectors to co-create social impact programming and showcase stories of community care. He strives to live, work, and play in a relational way and seeks anti-extractive methods to engage people and nature. Shawn is grateful to share his experiences as a:
Video director/producer at Fallout Media, creator of the Asian artist talk show This CanAsian Life
Actor for Thirdspace Playback Theatre, an improvisational method creating spaces of dialogue for communities of colour
Consultant for the CanAsian Arts Network, a national digital platform increasing visibility and connection for Asian Canadian artists
Member of aiya哎呀 (artist collective) who dream new futures for Chinatown
Co-organizer of Chinatown Greetings, an artist initiated community project and fundraiser
Mei Lum is a community activist dedicated to nurturing the art, culture, and history of Asian-Americans in New York’s Chinatown. She is the fifth-generation owner of Wing on Wo & Co. (W.O.W.) her family’s porcelain business, and the founder and director of the W.O.W. Project.
Alice Lam is an avid volunteer and community leader in Calgary’s Chinatown. Since 2016 she has hosted Chinatown tours for over 1000 people. She works In commercial real estate and has found success in helping older tong owned buildings to fill their empty spaces. She is a member of Friends of Chinatown YYC, and sits on the board of the Chinese Cultural Center and the National League of Calgary. She helps to create fun events to bring more folks into Chinatown like movie nights, mahjong meet ups and more!
Keisha St. Louis-Mcburnie
Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie is a planner, researcher and writer practicing in Toronto, Ontario. Keisha sits on the Board of Directors of Black Urbanism Toronto, a non-profit organization engaging Black communities and businesses to protect, preserve and promote historically Black spaces through cultural, economic and social development.
Leslie Cheung, Moderator
Leslie Cheung is the first President of the Board for the Montreal Chinatown Roundtable, a recently formed organisation that aims to mobilise and empower the multitude of stakeholders in Chinatown to build consensus on how to address the social and economic issues facing our neighbourhood, today and in the future. She has over 20 years of experience as a community organizer, from developing social justice tours of Montreal’s historic Chinatown in the early 2000s, to her continued participation in a community garden project called Green Chinatown Montreal, to her new mission of building up the Roundtable for sustainability. In addition to her PhD in Sociology, Leslie has a Master in Public Policy, and a Bachelor in Social Work. Her day job is with the Government of Canada. You can find Leslie on X (formerly Twitter) @lesliePhD.
As Chinatown spaces are demolished and razed to make way for luxury condos, hotels, art galleries, and big box chains, developers and often our own cities seek to rename Chinatown and actively rewrite and erase the history of the community that has resided in the neighbourhood for decades and centuries. This phenomenon is nothing new. It’s rooted in the colonial history of the settlement of North America/Turtle Island where even we, as settlers of colour, subscribed to the idea of “terra nullius”— that we were arriving to settle an unoccupied space. What role does storytelling and community archiving have in the place-keeping and placemaking of Chinatown? This panel looks at how we can take ownership of our narrative and ensure it becomes a part of the “official story,” how we can work to tell a fuller picture of the North American colonization story to change heritage policies and priorities, and how we can use our past as a guide for incorporating anti-colonial perspectives into our reimagining of Chinatown to inform the ways in which we build inclusive neighbourhoods of the future
JUNE CHOW 周慕慈 (she/her/她) is an archivist amplifying the agency of cultural communities to create, keep and access their own records in equitable and sustainable relations with archival institutions. Her experience naming and negotiating systemic power imbalances in Chinese Canadian archives spans personal, community, academic, library, church, and government contexts. In Vancouver, she is community archivist for The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act and collaborator on a UBC Research Excellence Cluster. In Toronto, she is special collections archivist with the Chinese Canadian Archive at Toronto Public Library. June writes and speaks on the role of archives in community activism, heritage preservation and cultural redress work happening across Chinatowns. Her forthcoming article in BC Studies journal is titled “From Salvage to Strategy: A Conversation with Paul Yee on Archival Consciousness and the Chinese Canadian Archival Record.”
Rick Wong is a retired architect/interior designer and former design firm partner. He is also a Cycling Educator and has studied and taught Kung Fu in Toronto’s Chinatown for over 30 years. More recently Rick is a member of the arts group called Long Time No See (LTNS).
“…. We honour our ancestors by sharing and teaching the stories of how Chinatown came to be, the histories that have been erased, and, our responsibilities to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples..”
During the Covid 19 pandemic Toronto’s Spadina Chinatown was beset by rising rents, gentrification and waves of anti-Asian/antimasker protesters. LTNS collected photos and stories of community members and wheatpasted over 200 posters on walls in Chinatown as an act of resistance and community building. LTNS also works to create bridges between the older Spadina Chinatown and the more recent ethnoburb Chinatowns of Markham/Scarborough.
Senior Director of Research & Development, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Di leads the America’s Chinatowns initiative at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a program dedicated to supporting Chinatowns and other ethnic enclaves across the United States by mobilizing preservation action through convenings, research, grantmaking, and advocacy. With close ties to Chinatowns in Seattle and Manhattan, Di is passionate about protecting Chinatowns for future generations. Di serves as the Senior Director of Research & Development, leading a department that specializes in geospatial analysis, and identifying and executing initiatives that focus on the intersection of preservation and equity, inclusion, and social justice. In this capacity, Di combines experience in real estate, economic development, and historic preservation to advise on and manage various projects and strategic initiatives. Di has an M.S. in Historic Preservation with a focus in planning policy and real estate.
Jenn is an integrative designer, educator, and landscape architect with over 17 years of experience in improving public places and is currently the Design Director at Openbox in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where she works at the intersection of human-centered design and the built environment. Jenn leverages both design research and the power of place as key tools to advance our work toward justice and equity. At the intersection of her interests in organizing, design education, and cultural identity, she is also a member and collaborator with The Urban Studio, the 1882 Foundation, and Dark Matter University.
Dear Chinatown DC: https://dearchinatowndc.org/
Dear Chinatown, DC: Exploring new ways of public engagement: https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/177028
1882 Foundation website: https://1882foundation.org/
Karen Cho, Moderator
Karen Cho 曹嘉伦 is a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker known for her sociopolitical documentaries that explore themes of identity, immigration, and social justice. Karen’s films include In the Shadow of Gold Mountain a documentary about the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, Seeking Refuge, a film on asylum seekers in Canada, and Status Quo? A documentary on the women’s rights movement. Her TV work has touched on subjects like Indigenous health and wellness, Japanese Canadian internment, Quebecois cuisine, and artist-activists around the world.
With deep family roots in both Montreal and Vancouver’s Chinatowns, Karen’s latest film, Big Fight in Little Chinatown, is the story of community resistance and resilience in Chinatowns across North America. It premiered at DOC NYC, won the Prix du Public & Women’s Inmate Jury award at RIDM, and is currently on a Coast-to-Coast community impact tour in Chinatowns across North America. Karen is passionate about the power of community storytelling for the place keeping of Chinatowns.