Questions of change and the future have become increasingly salient in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the last decade, as gentrification proceeds apace. Various actors have used the neighbourhood’s public spaces to express their visions of Chinatown’s future. These claims are articulated through attempts to demonstrate and strengthen the vitality of Chinatown in the face of growing narratives of its putative decline and death. By engaging with the contemporary sociological literature on conviviality, where relatively “thin” versus more radical conceptualizations of conviviality are being debated, and putting it into conversation with both the geographical literature on the politics of public space and political theory discussions of agonism, we argue that the uses of public space must be analyzed without romanticizing conviviality or consensus in order to understand the productive possibilities of “political conviviality” and agonistic encounters. Our focus is the “Hot+Noisy Mahjong Socials” held in recent summers in an iconic plaza in Chinatown. These are organized by a community group that builds connections between mostly Chinese Canadian youth and largely Cantonese-speaking seniors. These groups espouse a goal of “place-keeping” in the context of planning trends toward “placemaking.” Through this case, we consider how activists from marginalized communities build solidarities through agonistic “place-keeping” in the face of gentrification and threats of cultural erasure.
“Hot+Noisy” Public Space: Conviviality, “Unapologetic Asianness,” and the Future of Vancouver’s Chinatown
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