Auckland’s Dominion Road has been identified in a Massey University study as a potential Chinatown tourist attraction – the lack of which sets Auckland apart from most other multicultural cities in the world.
Study co-author sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley, research director for the University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, says parts of Dominion Road have become distinct ethnic precincts over the past 20 years and present an opportunity for the Auckland Council for social and economic development with immigrant communities.
The council needs to do more to engage with immigrant communities, and to include them in its plans, he says.
The study, Halfway House: the Dominion Road Ethnic Precinct, by the Integration of Immigrants Programme, set out to assess the contemporary character of two sections of the iconic street – the longest straight stretch of road on the Auckland isthmus stretching nearly six kilometres from Mt Eden through Balmoral to Mt Roskill. Its title captures the “halfway house” reference in the Mutton Birds’ 1993 hit song Dominion Road.
Asian food shops and restaurants dominate retail in the area from Balmoral to Kensington Ave, with 78 per cent Asia-owned (including 51 per cent by Chinese) and only 14 per cent owned by European New Zealanders. Between King Street and Valley Road, nearly half of businesses are Asian.
But for new immigrants, ethnic precincts on Dominion Road represent much more than just a place to shop. “These areas help new migrants maintain their cultural identities by speaking a native language, eating familiar foods and meeting with others born in their homeland,” the report says.
“The evolution and growth of identifiable ethnic precincts on Dominion Road poses social and economic policy challenges both to the Auckland Council and central government,” the report says. The council’s State of the City Report (2010) and its 10-year plan for 2009-2019 “barely mention ethnic diversity and offer no strategies or opportunities for immigrant communities’ engagement in social and economic development”.
Although Dominion Road’s ethnic shopping precincts are negatively perceived by some non-Asian residents, the report says they are still a “place of contact” and “a site of everyday multiculturalism in the Auckland of the 21st century".
However more research is needed on how well immigrant and non-immigrant consumers interact and understand each other, and to canvas support for Chinatown branding, it states.
Professor Spoonley says New Zealand has lagged behind other multicultural cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, as well as major cities in Australia and the United States, in supporting migrant entrepreneurial activity, resulting in lost business opportunities locally and internationally.
“The ‘niche management’ and promotion of ethnic spaces/precincts has not happened in Auckland where there remains a reluctance to see ethnic precincts…as a civic asset,” the study says.
The study, commissioned by the Auckland council and prepared by Professor Spoonley, Trudie Cain, Dr Carina Meares and Associate Professor Robin Peace, recommends the Auckland council invite and encourage Asian/Chinese retailers to participate in planning and economic development, and to liaise with them in regard to overseas business networks.