(Re)assembling "Japantown": A critical toponymy of planning and resistance in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
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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.