Mapping our ethnicity Part 5: Into the future
As Metro's ethnic enclaves expand, will residents' trust hold?
The Vancouver Sun’s unique ethnic mapping series has revealed a distinct trend — that Metro Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly defined by ethnicity.
What will the diverse face of Metro Vancouver look like in a couple of decades? If recent high-immigration settlement patterns continue, the fast-growing region of 2.2 million will further evolve into a collection of enclaves.
The vast majority of Metro Vancouver residents, of all ethnic origins, tend to be friendly, or, at minimum, tolerant, toward people of different backgrounds, whom they meet every day in offices, schools, on transit and in shopping outlets.
But, in the midst of this apparent inter-ethnic urban calm, The Sun’s ethnic mapping series has revealed Metro Vancouver residents are increasingly choosing to seek comfort by living near people of the same colour or ancestry, whether Chinese, South Asian, Filipino or Caucasian.
Indeed, Metro Vancouver may be the country’s prime illustration of a shift that is occurring across Canada’s major bustling metropolises, which new immigrants overwhelmingly choose over smaller cities.
In 1981, Canada had only six ethnic enclaves, which Census Canada defines as neighbourhoods where more than 30 per cent of the population is a visible minority. Now, the number of ethnic enclaves in the country has mushroomed to more than 260.
The Sun’s mapping series, based on 2006 census data, has determined that roughly 110 of those enclaves are in Metro Vancouver. No major Canadian region has more enclaves as a proportion of its population.
More than 70 of those Metro ethnic enclaves are predominantly Chinese. Most are in the cities of Vancouver and Richmond. Another 40 ethnic enclaves are predominantly South Asian. Most are in southeast Vancouver and north Surrey.
In 2006, more than 42 per cent of Metro residents were members of a visible minority. When the results of the 2011 census are revealed, the number of both visible minorities and ethnic enclaves is expected to have expanded further.
Furthermore, if Statistics Canada eventually begins, as some expect, to start counting whites the same way they do other visible minorities, the number of ethnic enclaves in Metro Vancouver would sharply increase again.
What did The Sun series discover about how the rise of enclaves is affecting the face and culture of Metro Vancouver?
Many Metro residents, of all colours, often declare pride in their ethnic neighbourhoods, professing they are places where people of diverse backgrounds generally get along cheerfully. Metro Vancouver, the series confirms, is home to untold mixed-ethnic business connections, friendships, partnerships and marriages. Some young people are leaders in this intercultural fusion.
But The Sun has also found distinct murmurs of discomfort among young and old throughout Metro, expressed both on the record and off, in private.
Interviews generally backed up the impression captured by a 2010 Nanos Research poll, which found 29 per cent of British Columbians want to increase immigration rates. But 31 per cent of B.C. residents want levels to stay the same, and almost 40 per cent desire fewer newcomers.
There are many echoes in Metro of famous Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s massive survey of 30,000 Americans, which determined that people who live in ethnic enclaves generally tend to be more distrusting of those around them.
Meanwhile, a series of scholarly studies out of the University of B.C., Scandinavia and by Transparency International consistently show that the most contented people and well-functioning governments and economies are those based on a high degree of mutual trust.
The Sun’s interviews fully backed up University of Victoria scholar Zheng Wu’s recent study, which found immigrants say they feel “comforted” and “protected” by settling into enclaves of people of their own ethnicity.
At the same time, however, Wu saw a downside, concluding that life in ethnic enclaves reduces immigrants’ “sense of belonging to Canada.”
Few Metro Vancouverites suggest trust and mutual reliability have disappeared among the city’s disparate residents.
But suspicion often comes out in whispers — over which ethnic group is making housing unaffordable, why schools are so ruthlessly competitive, how store signs are often appearing in languages other than English and whether employers, white or Asian, are willing to hire outside their ethnic group.
Around the planet, Canadians, and especially Metro Vancouverites, are often complimented for their broad-minded approach to living together in the same cities as people of multiple ethnic origins.
Like London and Toronto, Metro Vancouver is becoming a mass laboratory for globalization, an experiment in whether cooperation can flourish in a major metropolis made up of people from different backgrounds.
No one knows how Metro will turn out a few decades from now.
If enclaves expand, will the city come up with the institutions, people or values that can foster a sense of unity among its eclectic residents?
To counter the demographic shifts that are moving residents into distinct neighbourhoods in Metro Vancouver, will there be ties that bind us together, that encourage a sense of common purpose?
The world will be watching to find if this city has the answers.