Sunday, July 17, 2016

Richmond BC Canada is the Epicentre of an unrivalled demographic explosion


Richmond BC Canada is the Epicentre of an unrivalled demographic explosion


Not long ago this bustling intersection in Richmond featured a gas station, parking lot and a low-rise commercial building. Now it's the centre of Richmond's "Golden Triangle," containing more than 50 Asian-themed malls and outlets. (Photo: Corner of Westminster Highway and Number 3 Rd.) 

 June 12, 2015

I wanted to do this series because it would be hard to find anywhere in the world that has undergone such rapid transformation in such a short time as a result of global migration shifts. I wanted to look at what’s working and what might not be working in the new Richmond, since it is an unparalleled example of trends occurring across Metro Vancouver and in other major cities, particularly Toronto.
– Douglas Todd
Richmond series: Part one of three
The City of Richmond is the centre of a global demographic explosion virtually unprecedented in human history.
Documentary film crews from Asia and Europe are among those trekking to this West Coast Canadian suburb to discover what happens when a once-sleepy, semirural municipality suddenly turns into a buzzing city of more than 200,000 in which more than six out of 10 residents are born outside the country.
No other city in Canada has a population in which 62 per cent of permanent residents are foreign born. It is rare for most global cities to contain even a fraction of non-nationals. In Mumbai and Shanghai, for instance, only one per cent of the population is foreign born.
When a Fox News commentator caused an international uproar this year by claiming the British city of Birmingham had become a ‘no-go zone’ because it was overrun by foreigners (he was speaking of Muslims in particular), it turned out only about one in 10 residents of Birmingham were born outside the United Kingdom.
While there have been no race riots in peaceful Richmond, residents of the city have mixed feelings about the dramatic demographic and physical changes they’ve been witnessing in their city at the mouth of the Fraser River, commonly known before 1970 simply as Lulu Island.
Richmond’s residents tend to say they like the city’s parks, waterfronts, playing fields, public schools, coexisting ethnic groups and a pace that is a bit more relaxed than the neighbouring city of Vancouver, and especially less hectic than the ethnically homogeneous megalopolises of Asia.
Yet, though many Richmond residents talk about how polite most people are, they also admit tensions exist, including over language differences, skyrocketing housing prices, Chinese-language signs, political trends and ethnic self-segregation.
The RICHMOND Series:
Along with its rapidly growing ethnic populations, the physical shape of the city has grown – up.

Despite the general peace, Richmond residents admit tensions exist, including over language differences, skyrocketing housing prices, Chinese-language signs and ethnic self-segregation.
Despite the general peace, Richmond residents admit tensions exist, including over language differences, skyrocketing housing prices, Chinese-language signs and ethnic self-segregation.

Three decades ago, the intersection at No. 3 Road and Westminster Highway featured nondescript one-storey commercial buildings, parking lots and a gas station (see before and after photos, at bottom).
Now, it’s the centre of the ‘Golden Triangle,’ where University of Victoria urban geographer David Chenyuan Lai has counted more than 50 bustling Asian-themed malls and outlets.
Meanwhile, giant houses, which more than a few call McMansions, are steadily replacing small bungalows. And many residents are urging City Hall to deal with how much of the city seems to have turned into a cluttered, noisy construction zone.
Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, has expanded into a global hub, while the so called ‘Highway to Heaven’ on No. 5 Road now features massive Christian churches side by side with grand Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist temples.
How is Richmond ‘hyper-diverse?’
Once-leafy Richmond has transformed into what geographers call a “hyper-diverse” city.
Indeed, with more than six of 10 born outside the country, Richmond is a contender to be the most hyper-diverse city on the planet, measured by the proportion of immigrants.
Only Persian Gulf emirates such as Dubai and Qatar have more foreign-born residents than Richmond, but almost all are temporary migrant workers, often living in squalid conditions.
Richmond’s demographics are unique. Based on ethnicity, Richmond is 47 per cent ethnic Chinese, 29 per cent white, eight per cent South Asian, seven per cent Filipino, two per cent Japanese and seven per cent ‘other,’ according to the 2011 General Household Survey.
Between 1981 and 2011, Statistics Canada figures show the ethnic Chinese population grew by almost 80,000 people, with the first wave from Hong Kong and Taiwan, followed more recently by those from Mainland China. In the same period, the white population of Richmond dropped by a total of 28,000 people.
Many factors go into Richmond’s popularity among ethnic Chinese.
Chinese-language media have reported Richmond has auspicious feng-shui, referring to the ancient Asian practice that discerns energy patterns. In popular Chinese spirituality, the Vancouver International Airport is said to appear like a pearl in the mouth of a dragon.
UBC cultural geographer David Ley, author of Millionaire Migrants, adds that the chance to live near Vancouver International Airport is itself a big draw for immigrants, as airports tend to be around the world, especially if they’re wealthy newcomers from China who travel a lot.
“It’s been quite interesting to see that the districts around YVR have quite a high proportion of immigrants,” Ley said.
Those high-immigrant neighbourhoods include north Richmond and Vancouver’s Marpole.
“Both are very accessible to the airport.”
Geographers also emphasize that Richmond is popular because of the desire many immigrants have of living among members of their own ethnocultural group. At least three communities, most obviously Chinese, have reached what cultural geographers consider a critical mass in Richmond.
Richmond City Councillor Alexa Loo, elected in 2014, says one of the reasons her Canadian-born parents came decades ago to 'multicultural' Richmond was it generally appeared to enjoy “racial harmony.”
That was unlike in northern Alberta, where she said her ethnic Chinese family had felt stereotyped. Loo thinks recent arrivals find comfort living in their own familiar ethnic communities, especially when, for the most part, they coexist peacefully with other ethno-cultural groups.
In addition, Loo believes many ethnic Chinese have been attracted by the name, Richmond, because it includes the word rich. Since Chinese people often see significance in the power of homonyms, particularly those to do with success, Loo said it’s also a key reason they’ve been moving to Richmond Hill, Ont., which is 24 per cent Chinese.
Little-noticed trend
Due to the unprecedented demographic eruption that has occurred in Richmond, many urban Canadians have noticed what has happened and are disturbed  by it.
That’s in part because Canada has the world’s second highest proportion of immigrants – at 21 per cent, after Australia at 26 per cent. And almost all immigrants to both countries choose to live in its biggest urban centres.
Metro Vancouver, with a population of 2.4 million, has for decades been growing by more than 30,000 new people each year, nine out of 10 have been Chinese.
Indeed, demographers view the entire region of Metro Vancouver, of which Richmond is considered an ‘ethnoburb,’ as hyper-diverse, with 45 per cent of the region’s population Chinese born.
The population of the Metro ethno-burb of Burnaby, for instance, is 50 per cent foreign born. For the city of Vancouver proper, the figure is 44 per cent.
Coquitlam is 42 per cent foreign born, Surrey 41 per cent, West Vancouver 41 per cent and North Vancouver City 37 per cent. And these proportions don’t include Metro’s more than 100,000 international students.
In contrast, even the global financial hub of London is just 37 per cent foreign born.
In the rest of Canada, only a few urban Ontario cities come close to Richmond for their concentrations of international newcomers. In Metro Toronto, 46 per cent of residents are born outside the country. The metropolis’ most hyper-diverse ethnoburbs are Markham, at 58 per cent foreign born, and Richmond Hill, at 55 per cent.
The migration-based changes that have struck the demographic epicentre that is Richmond offer, arguably, the most singular signs of what is happening to similar regions in Canada.
Not-so-quiet
What’s it like to live in a formerly quiet suburb in which more than 62 per cent of the population is born outside the country?
The answers range from good to bad to indifferent. Changing Richmond elicits a range of feelings from residents.
Henry Yao
Jiun-Hsien Henry Yao, 35, a first-aid teacher who moved No 3 Road: Top, the Canadian Bank of Commerce on No. 3 Road in Richmond in 1958. Right, the 2015 view from the same spot, with the Moore’s clothing store where the bank stood. At right is the Canada Line.
H moved with his parents to Richmond from Taiwan in 1990, is loyal to the place and believes Richmond residents have gone out of their way to welcome newcomers.
Yao said young ethnic Chinese people like him are caught trying to do two things at one.
“We want to protect our Chinese cultural identity. But we also realize we need to share with the mainstream culture.”
Yao added: “At the same time, the city is becoming a bit cold. Richmond has a lot of ethnic groups, but very little is happening to connect them. … There’s not a lot of interaction.”
Smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk of one of Richmond’s many mini-malls, David Yau, 69, said he has for the past 15 years been living partly in East Asia and partly in Richmond.

David Yau, 69, said he has for the past 15 years been living partly in East Asia and partly in Richmond. He likes Richmond for three reasons: The summers are not as hot and humid as in East Asia, "there's not too many people," and "you can talk freedom, not like in China."
David Yau, 69, likes Richmond for three reasons: The summers are not as hot and humid as in East Asia, “there’s not too many people,” and “you can talk freedom, not like in China.” Photo: Chinese market in Richmond

Yau likes Richmond for three reasons: The summers are not as hot and humid as in East Asia, “there’s not too many people,” and “you can talk freedom, not like in China.” But he’s also concerned there are too many big, empty houses owned by people who spend little time in Canada.
Greg Halsey-Brandt, who represented Richmond as mayor, councillor or as a B.C. Liberal cabinet minister for 23 years, thinks the demographic changes to the city in the past three decades have been fascinating, but “not particularly good.”
“The volume of immigration was too large over too short a time period. The host community of Richmond and Metro Vancouver in many instances did not have time to adjust, nor did many of the immigrants have time to adjust to us. Many returned permanently (to their homelands) to work.”
Halsey-Brandt, whose wife Evelina served on Richmond council for two decades until she chose not to seek re-election last year, said previous periods of immigration to Metro Vancouver and Canada may have gone smoother than what has occurred in the past three decades.
“The influx has created a lot of stress on the city in terms of cultural relationships, jobs, traffic, education, health care and communication amongst our citizens.”
Still, Halsey-Brandt believes Richmond is a great city of parks and dikes “which has it all.”
He confines the migration that has already happened into Richmond to history. Richmond politicians can’t control immigration levels, he said; that’s the responsibility of the federal government. Residents have “adapted as best we can to deal with this new reality.”
Even though newcomers now make up the majority of Richmond’s residents, Halsey-Brandt hopes they will fully embrace “the host culture.”
But he knows integration is a two-way street.
He calls on long-term residents to continue to work with immigrants to reshape library collections with more foreign language content, balance hospital staff, firehouses and police forces to reflect the city’s ethnic make up and ensure as many residents as possible exercise their right to vote.
What kind of example is Richmond for the world?
The revolutionary changes in Richmond have caught the eye of journalists and documentary makers from around the world, including Japan, Hong Kong, Germany and Korea.
Sung-Han Lee
Sunghan Lee, a filmmaker from South Korea, said by email from Asia he had come to Richmond to make a documentary so Koreans can see what happens when an influx of house-buying wealthy Mainland Chinese move into a city.
Lee said his footage shows how new Asian money is “heating up the real estate market” in Richmond, including leading to the construction of empty mansions. Migration is creating a “huge gap between local Canadian people and new Chinese immigrants,” Lee said.
A stream of rich Mainland Chinese, the Korean documentary maker said, is also buying up luxury housing in a region of Korea called Juju Island, as well in parts of Seoul.
Lee urged Canadians to follow Korean politicians’ lead and bring in new immigration policies, including one that would deal with some empty houses by stopping migrants from owning property in Canada unless they can prove they live here more than 200 days a year.
Ramesh Ranjan, a digital marketer, said the city he grew up in is “becoming a place we’ve never seen before.”
Although the 25-year-old Simon Fraser University economics grad thinks many of the younger offspring of immigrants are integrating into Canada, he acknowledged, “Some people say Richmond doesn’t feel like a community anymore. They say it feels fractured. I understand that.”
However, even though councillor Loo, 42, acknowledges “some of the pace of growth has been too fast” in Richmond, she still finds the city appealing.
Most Richmond residents are not that friendly, Loo said, but the city is full of “fantastic restaurants.” It’s also replete with parks and green space and, in contrast to the city of Vancouver, it has “mostly free parking.”