Dr Carina Meares at the Northcote Shopping Centre.
Ethnic precincts like Auckland's Asian-style Northcote Shopping Centre add to a city's cultural diversity but are not well understood by mainstream policymakers, according to sociologists Professor Paul Spoonley and Dr Carina Meares.
They say such precincts epitomise a high level of immigrant entrepreneurship and ethnic retail, food and cultural activity reflects the establishment of a distinct sub-economy that is markedly different from anything that has previously existed in New Zealand.
Professor Spoonley says the Northcote centre has, in the course of a decade, been transformed from a collection of 40-50 shops serving a largely working class clientele to one that has a predominantly Chinese presence.
He and Dr Meares have conducted a study of two Auckland ethnic precincts – the purpose-built centre in Meadowlands and the converted Northcote centre – that provides insights into how migrants get established and succeed in a new country without following prescribed business frameworks. Called Transforming Space and Place: the growth of ethnic precincts in Auckland, the study examines these visible hubs of migrant commercial activity, as well as their impact on the local community and economy. It explores the extent to which migrants are forced to become entrepreneurs operating in ethnic precincts due to difficulties accessing mainstream business networks.
Dr Meares says the research looks at the key functions of ethnic precincts in an Auckland context, "how they provide an access point into unfamiliar business and cultural environments for new migrants, allowing them to operate more easily without extensive local networks and fluency in English."
"They also provide migrants with the opportunity to get together, buy familiar products and services, or share a meal and celebrate important cultural events such as Chinese New Year."
Professor Spoonley says it is surprising that so little attention has been paid to ethnic precincts and what they mean for New Zealand's economic competitiveness, given the investment of New Zealand Immigration in skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants.
The study will be presented at an immigration conference in Wellington next week. Keynote speakers include the University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor, Sir Mason Durie, who will discuss the impact of new migrant settlements on the role and place of Maori as tangata whenua.
The December 6-7 conference; Immigration Pathways: Policy and Practice, is run by Massey University and the University of Waikato's Integration of Immigrants Programme, in collaboration with the Department of Labour.