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Young hearts in Chinatown = 青心在唐人街 : Activating Public Space in Vancouver’s Chinatown Lennon, Kathryn Gwun-Yeen


Over the summer of 2015, the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown worked to activate public spaces in Vancouver’s Chinatown in an intergenerational, intercultural manner through a series of events: the “Hot and Noisy” (熱鬧) Chinatown Mahjong Socials. On the surface, our goal was simple: to bring back Chinatown’s 熱鬧, or “yeet low” in Cantonese, – literally, “hot and noisy”, or liveliness and energy. Below the surface, we had more complex goals of being able to bring a youth voice to planning processes about the future of Chinatown, and building up political and social capacity of young generations of Chinese Canadians. We decided that our approach to activating public space had several criteria. It needed to be visible. It needed to be collaborative. It needed to demonstrate a cohesive, coordinated effort undertaken by younger generations, with the ability to involve many others. It needed to be intercultural and multilingual. It needed to foster relationships between young and old. It needed to be feasible to implement within a very short time frame. It needed to involve no to low hard costs. And it needed to be possible with the resources and skills we could readily bring to the table, amongst our team of organizers. By temporarily activating a public space, there is an opportunity to both share and transform the stories that we tell ourselves and each other in relation to it, and to create spaces of belonging. Based on participant observation/action as a member of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, I describe the “Hot and Noisy” (熱鬧) Chinatown Mahjong Socials as a case study of a youth-driven, grassroots process in public space activation. I discuss lessons learned and the implications for planning, urban design and community organizing.

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