Project Outputs


FINAL KNOWLEDGE MOBILIZATION CATALOGUE: Revitalizing Japantown? A Unifying Exploration of Human Rights, Branding, and Place Exhibit Catalogue (November 2015)


FINAL PROJECT INTERVIEW REPORT: Continuous Fabric Revitalizing Japantown Resource (2015)



Student Theses


Trevor Wideman (MA Geography, Queen’s 2015)


(Re)assembling “Japantown”: A critical toponymy of planning and resistance in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (click for full thesis)


For many, toponyms, or place names, appear to provide objective descriptions of locations on the earth. But for geographers, names and naming practices are imbued with meaning, and a recent literature of critical toponymy has emerged that studies and recognizes place names as discursive agents of power and resistance that perform active roles in the ongoing production of place. However, the critical toponymy corpus had produced very little theoretically rich empirical research focusing how urban planning and policymaking processes mobilize place names, or how residents fight against such activities. This thesis fills that lacuna, first by generating a novel theoretical framework (toponymic assemblage) that describes the emergent, relational, and spatially grounded properties of place names. It then outlines a robust, extended, and mixed method case study approach that uses archival/newspaper documentation, discourse analysis, and interview data to form a historically based, theoretically driven, and structurally aware study of toponyms in relation to planning and policymaking. The thesis then presents two empirical case studies based in Vancouver, Canada’s impoverished Downtown Eastside (DTES) that are centred around the name “Japantown,” a toponym that recalls the neighbourhood’s long-time inhabitation by a community of Japanese Canadians who were forcibly uprooted from the Pacific coast during World War II. Specifically, this thesis situates contemporary neighbourhood conflicts within a historical context by constructing an interwoven analysis of toponymic assemblages in the DTES (including “Japantown”), noting how they emerged over time in relation to interventions such as planning, policymaking, the media, and activism while highlighting their fluid, malleable, and potential qualities. It then focuses on a recently enacted Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) in the DTES to illuminate how toponymic assemblages like “Japantown” were mobilized through planning to change understandings of place at the expense of current low income residents. The thesis concludes by considering the theoretical and positional limitations of the research, then suggests directions for future study and activism by highlighting how a more complete understanding of toponymic power and its limits can inform rights-based engagement among disparate groups.



Jenna Drabble (MA Geography, University of Manitoba 2015)


The Right to Food and the Right to the City: An argument for ‘scaled up’ food activism in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (click for full thesis)


As food insecurity increases among socio-economically marginalized populations, community based efforts to address these issues have received particular attention for their potential to promote justice in food systems. This thesis presents a case-study analysis of right to food (RTF) activism in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), a community where decades of failed government policies and economic disinvestment have produced high levels of poverty as well as organized resistance and activism. I explored this localized movement through key stakeholder interviews (n=17) and 10 months of participation at a community-based organization. My findings suggest that local efforts to organize around RTF may have had some success in challenging the dominant discourse and practices associated with the entrenched charitable food model. However, these efforts are limited in their ability to ‘scale up’ this work to transform the systems that produce uneven urban food environments. I argue that the barriers to food access in the DTES are inextricably tied to broader historical contestations over urban space produced by processes of capitalist urbanization. Drawing on Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city,’ I suggest how RTF activism in the DTES could benefit from linking more explicitly to the collective struggles facing wider efforts to reclaim the city.



Scott McCulloch (MA Sociology, University of Manitoba 2014)


Reimaging urban space: the festival as a (re)branding vehicle for inscribing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside as Japantown (click for full thesis)


This research study uses a synthesis of theoretical frameworks from sociology and geography to develop critical branding theory that guides an analysis for how urban space is branded with a narrative and identity. The project investigates how a long running Japanese Canadian culture and arts festival called the Powell Street Festival that takes place in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside acts a branding vehicle and reimages urban space with commemorative aspects. The study consisted of twelve qualitative interviews, document and archival research, and a participant observation. Findings suggest that the Powell Street Festival performed as a vehicle for reimaging space, and through subtle-commemorative branding, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been rebranded, in part, with Japanese Canadian facets. The Japantown brand coupled with the high potential for urban revitalization of this space, leads to a concern over the possible social and physical displacement of current Downtown Eastside residents, many of whom are low-income persons.



Project Activities


Project Update Nov 2013 to Dec 2014


Newsletter Oct 2013


Newsletter April 2013


Newsletter Nov 2012


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *