Ethnicity and Public Space in the City: Ethnic Precincts in Sydney

Jock Collins
Patrick Kunz


Ethnic precincts are one example of the way that cultural diversity shapes public spaces in the postmodern metropolis. Ethnic precincts are essentially clusters of ethnic or immigrant entrepreneurs in areas that are designated as ethnic precincts by place marketers and government officials and display iconography related to that ethnicity in the build environment of the precinct. They are characterized by the presence of a substantial number of immigrant entrepreneurs of the same ethnicity as the precinct who line the streets of the precinct selling food, goods or services to many co-ethnics and non co-ethnics alike. Ethnic precincts are thus a key site of the production and consumption of the ethnic economy, a commodification of place where the symbolic economy of space (Zukin 1995:23-4) is constructed on representations of ethnicity and ‘immigrantness’. To explore some dimensions of the way that ethnic diversity shapes public space we present the findings of recent fieldwork in four Sydney ethnic precincts: Chinatown, Little Italy, Auburn (“Little Turkey”) and Cabramatta (“Vietnamatta”). This fieldwork explores the complex and sometimes contradictory relationship between immigrant entrepreneurs, local government authorities, and ethnic community representatives in shaping the emergence of, and development of, ethnic precincts. It demonstrates how perceptions of the authenticity of precincts as ethnic places and spaces varies in the eyes of consumers or customers according to whether they are ‘co-ethnic’, ‘co-cultural’ or ‘Others”. It explores relations of production and consumption within the ethnic precinct and how these are embedded within the domain of regulation in the daily life of these four Sydney ethnic precincts.

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