Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Gentrification of China Town

Hand-painted store fronts faded and worn by the weather, neon lights in a multitude of languages and foreign characters call out their culinary wonders into the night and immigrant families spanning generations cook up traditional and sometimes not so traditional fare. The buzz and excitement that is China Town can be found in cities all across Australia and their cultural value cannot be quantified.

In my opinion China town is where the most exciting food in any city is to be found. Generations of immigration has created a rich food culture in Australia and the most authentic can undoubtedly be found in China Town. Hearty Vietnamese beef noodle soups, the little miracle parcels that are Chinese dumplings, fragrant Indian curries, huge bowls of creamy fiery Malaysian laksa's it is a cultural journey around Asia all without leaving the suburb. I have spent vast quantities of time at my local China Town Dickson, Canberra and I never tire of the exciting smells and flavours. It is a world where the trendiest shop fit outs and hippest staff do not matter and kitsch d├ęcor rules. All that speaks is the food and boy does the food speak.

But change is creeping in to China town. In general I am pro-change. Urban development brings with it a renewed sense of community. It can revitalise a waning location, the city area of Canberra is a great example of this. A once dull, corporate scene lacking any inner city vibe it has been renewed by large scale development that created space for outdoor eating and entertainment. But as the older buildings of Dickson are on the verge of being knocked down and modern buildings take their place I question, what will happen to my China Town?

Sure the new buildings will be shiny and modern but will the new price tag on the lease force out the small family run restaurants and grocery stores that fill the area? Already my all time favourite Pho joint is moving around the corner to make way for the development. They have stuck with an older shop front in an existing building where the rents are still affordable. Next door to their original location is a fabulous labyrinthine Vietnamese Grocer and nearby an Indian grocer specialising in spices. With shop fronts limited in this bustling area where do these businesses go whilst the new buildings go up & what if they can't afford the rent once development is complete?

Only time will tell I guess. With the planned apartments above the stores the population increase may buoy the businesses and increased rent will not be an issue. I only hope progress doesn't force out the soul of what makes China town great. Sometimes it can't be all be about the new and modern, we have to leave space for those who contribute a great deal to our culture and way of life (and tummy's) but may not have the means to play with the big boys of the restaurant scene.

I am interested to know if this is happening in China Towns around Australia or are they managing to hold on to their old school charm?
Originally posted on Tuesday, 5 May 2015 by


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