Cut Fruit Means I Love You

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1 Cut Fruit Means I Love You

A Community Land Trust in Toronto’s Downtown Chinatown Master of Architecture Thesis by Phát Lê

University of Toronto Toronto, Ontario, Canada Phát Lê, 2021



This thesis was produced in and about Tkaronto. The University of Toronto and Downtown Chinatown are situated on Indigenous lands of many First Nations. This sacred land has been a site of human activity for 15000+ years, serving as the home of Indigenous people and nations long before the colonial documentation of time. The territories of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, hold space for the daily activities of every settler that resides in the meeting place of Tkaronto. This territory exists in connection to the One Dish, One Spoon Wampum belt, a peace treaty dating back before the 18th century which is a mutual agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to share and care for the land and the resources around the Great Lakes; the dish representing the land itself and the spoon representing responsibility in sharing its resources.


Thesis by Phát Lê Thesis advisor, Michael Piper Contributions from Miranda Fay, and Philip Ocampo




Introduction 16


Learning from Toronto’s Downtown Chinatown 22

The Chinatown BIA x Friends of Chinatown Toronto The Means of Survival through Intergenerational Conflicts 28

Chinatown Community Land Trust

A Land Trust as a Method for Community Power and Control Against Displacement 32


Hyper Density and Utilization through Design Systems 48


Design Proposal for a Community Land Trust

Abstract How can a community land trust combat displacement and produce resilient intergenerational networks within Toronto’s Chinatown? Currently proposed developments in Toronto’s Chinatown threaten the agency of space often found in Asian diasporic communities, continuing oppressive systems of displacement. Using the model of a community land trust, this thesis envisions collaboration between members of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area committee and the activist group Friends of Chinatown, representing two generational groups that are advocating for the legacy of Chinatown but sometimes in conflicting ways. The proposal mediates these tensions while providing a potential model for how architecture might respond to community power and control.



I keep thinking, like, how is my nephew going to learn about their Vietnamese and Taiwanese heritage when he grows up? What will happen to the spaces that make me feel a part of my culture when they’re no longer there for him?


01 Change



315 - 325 Spadina Avenue, 2020

On July 25th, 2019, developers proposed and submitted a rezoning application to the City of Toronto for 315-325 Spadina Avenue for a 13 storey mixed-use building. The new proposal will be slated to take over established institutions like Rol San Restaurant and the other businesses on the block which include Ding Dong Pastries, and many Medical offices that provide multiple languages. In its place would be a 13 storey mixed housing commercial development with apartment rentals starting at 2500$ a month for a small bachelor apartment. This development has really become a watershed moment in the neighbourhood - and has posed questions about the future of Chinatown and what will happen once this development moves in - threatening further ideas of ownership and agency often found in Asian diasporic communities that are already losing it.


Proposed Development for 315 - 325 Spadina Avenue, 2020

Change is inevitable, however these changes aren’t suiting any of the needs of the community. If community members can barely afford to live in this neighbourhood, nonetheless this building, how can people stay in Chinatown? What will happen to the adjacent properties once a bigger retail shop moves in? How could someone like my nephew be able to even afford to live in this neighbourhood when I barely can today?


San Francisco Chinatown , 2018

Development and change isn’t new for Chinatown, and reinvention has always been a part of Chinatowns history - reinvented themselves as a means of preservation and anti-displacement. For example, the San Francisco Chinatown was designed in the way we tend to see “Chinatowns” - a mix match of Chinese architectural vernaculars designed by white men as a means to make Chinatown a lot more palatable for the white middle class. This actually worked well, bringing in tourists and customers while boosting the economy in the neighbourhood making many North American Chinatowns start adapting this same model.


RIBC Bank, Toronto, 2020

Is there a way that we can get away from this model of development and stop looking at using orientalism as a means of survival? What if it wasn’t based on fetishizing “asian aesthetics” but rather based on the activities and behaviours that exist within the community.


Groceries Spilling onto the Street , 2020


Veggie Grannies on Dundas and Spadina, 2020


02 Site



Toronto, Canada

Spadina comes from the Anishinaabe word “ishpadinaa” meaning “a place on a hill”. Laid out by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1836, his family owned the avenue that resided residential units and was surrounded by the commons (Doug). What remains of the original designs and characteristics by Baldwin are its large width and the circle that is now known as 1 Spadina Crescent. In the 1870s, the first wave of British immigrants contributed to the rapid growth of the avenue, building commercial buildings, housing, and Knox College at 1 Spadina. By the 1910s, an influx of Jewish immigrants began to occupy the area surrounding Spadina, residing as well in Kensington Market, previously referred to as the Jewish Market. Around the early 1920s, many Jewish businesses established themselves along Spadina Avenue - replacing many houses with commercial spaces. The Hebrew Men of England Synagogue was also established in 1922, becoming an important


Downtown Chinatown

gathering space for the community. In the 1960s, the Jewish community began to relocate further north along Bathurst, and the Synagogue was demolished in 1962. With this migration, the Chinese community began to settle along Spadina Avenue, becoming our current downtown Chinatown today. With the development of the new City Hall in the 1950s, this led to a displacement of many Chinese immigrants from the original old Chinatown which bordered King Street, University Avenue, Gerrard Street East, and Bay Street (“Local Chinese History at the City of Toronto Archives”). Many Chinese businesses and residents were displaced by this development, and more than two-thirds of old Chinatown was expropriated, without any consultation. The community eventually settled along Spadina Avenue, becoming our current downtown Chinatown today. With


340 - 346 Spadina Avenue, 2020

the latest census data for Kensington Chinatown, 60.3% of its population is of visible minority groups (Statistics Canada, 2016). The three top languages spoken in the area aside from English are Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese, which speaks to the fact that although the neighbourhood is named Chinatown, it still contains many diverse groups and communities.


340 - 346 Spadina Avenue, 2020

Currently in Chinatown, acting as a threshold (and a black hole) between Chinatown and Kensington Market, 340-346 Spadina Avenue are three parcel lots that have been left empty since 2007. But because it’s too small for any major development, it’s been this way ever since. Most likely, developers probably rather wait for the properties beside the site to sell their land, so that they can sweep up the block and build a bigger development like the 315 Spadina proposal.


03 The Chinatown BIA x


x Friends of Chinatown


A press conference hosted by the Chinatown BIA at Dim Sum King included a dim-sum lunch. 2016

There are two voices in Chinatown today that are interested in the futures of this site. First, the Chinatown Business Improvement Area organization, who are a collective of property and commercial owners that carry out improvements and promote economic development within the Chinatown area in partnership with the city of Toronto. They also represent this much older generation of residents and members of the Chinatown community - being around my parents age. On the flip side, we have another group named Friends of Chinatown Toronto or “FOCT” that is a grassroots group comprised of artists, architects, writers, journalists, business owners, residents, and community activists fighting for community-controlled affordable housing, economic justice, and racial justice in Toronto’s Downtown Chinatown - Often representing this younger generation of


Friends of Chinatown Meeting, 2019

Chinatown community members like myself. However, like many of these different generational groups, they tend to not see eye to eye - often disagreeing on many things. On one hand you have the Chinatown BIA who are advocating for “new blood” and want to have outsider influence and businesses come in to invest in Chinatown. On the other hand, you have Friends of Chinatown that is really against a lot of this bobbafication, and are advocating keeping Chinatown affordable, and wants to promote methods of community control and power.


With all these differences in ideas and methods, there is one commonality between the two groups, and it’s understanding the importance of legacy in Chinatown. The idea that regardless of how both parties feel, there is this common mission of trying to find a way to take care of the next generation and keeping Chinatown for them in their own ways.


And so what are these models of development that can benefit both parties and advocate for this legacy of Chinatown? By having the BIA and FOCT work together, who represent two dominant populations in the neighbourhood, there are opportunities to bring in more partnerships from their pools, and to have multiple methods of occupancies in the site. Establishing a community land trust can be a model to push this.


04 A Community Land T




This report documents Chinatown’s history, patterns of gentrification and displacement in the neighbourhood, and discusses feasability and support for a Chiantown community (2019)

In December of 2020, Friends of Chinatown in collaboration with students from the University of Toronto Planning Department collaborated to develop a written report about Chinatown’s history, patterns of gentrification, and displacement in the neighbourhood, and discussed the feasibility and support for a Chinatown Community Land Trust. Their goals are centered around providing affordable housing, and really being able to take the land off the market and away from developers - keeping the site for the community and their future generations rather than giving the power away to developers.


Cut Fruit Means I Love You, 2021

A community land trust can act as an ownership model that works well for both parties and for the project by investing in community players and stakeholders already within their circles - the more players in the project, the stronger the land trust!


05 Systems



The building uses CLT post and beam construction The building is divided into a two by four grid with each “unit” being 4x4m


The building is organized into three components; 1 Thicc Boy (Core / Poché) 2 Medium Size 30 (Closet System) 3 Skinny (Furniture Deployment)




1 Thicc Boy Within the 4x2 Grid that comes out of the plan, the core centres along the darkest portion of the building - containing the amenities and utilities of things that really can’t move - stairs, water systems, kitchens, etc. This core or poché is thicken and juts inwards to house all these systems - allowing for the rest of the surrounding unit spaces to be as open as possible.







1 Thicc Boy Stairs Unit Wet Room Collective Shower and Sauna Shared Baths Kitchenette Laundry Shared Kitchen





2 Medium Size 30 Medium size 30 is a system of moveable closets or walls which pertains to all the more flexible yet chunky kinds of programs - things like secondary storage closets, shelving, benches, ryan murphy beds. The system can be stacked against each other to basically be a wall, but also can be moved to create a series of scenarios and spaces depending on the conditions and needs of the use and to act as a means to divide the open floor plan up.



2 Medium Size 30 Secondary storage closets Shelving Benches Ryan Murphy bed Table Nook






3 Skinny Skinny, is a form of furniture deployment - a system of soft thresholds. From the movable closets would be embedded furnitures like chairs, tables, and curtains that can be used to further divide the space and used beyond the square grid. For example, if you had two of the closets close enough, a curtain can be hung across in order to have a private space to nap in, or the space then becomes a private changing room.


3 Skinny Embedded furnitures Chairs Tables Curtains Everything Else




05 Building



The building is four stories tall. The main commercial spaces exist on the ground floor. The residential units exist on the upper three floors.



Spadina Elevation



The building has these two main conditions - tucked (being closed) and untucked (being open). The ground floor facade can open up during business hours, and act as an awning, and then closed whenever the ground floor stores are no longer in operation. The facade on the upper level act as a double skin system that can open up during the summer months and allow fresh air in, and could also be closed up during the wintertime to still access the balconies.



Ground Floor, Commercial + Residential Entrance 1 Convenience Store 2 Emo Clothing Store 3 Plant Shop 4 Chinatown BIA Museum 5 Chinatown + Kensington Parkette 6 Shared Kitchen



Basement, Baths

Level 02, Residential

1 Service Desk 2 Change Room 3 Mechanical 4 Showers 5 Sauna 6 Cold Baths 7 Hot Baths 8 Medicinal Baths 9 Commercial Storage 10 Pantry

1 Residential Unit Small 2 Residential Unit Medium 3 Balcony


Level 03, Residential

Level 04, Residential

1 Residential Unit Small 2 Residential Unit Large 3 Anti-Gentrification Gardens

1 Residential Unit Small 2 Residential Unit Large 3 Balcony



Daily Activities, Residential 09:00 AM Breakfast, getting tables set for work 01:00 PM Work set up 06:00 PM Dinner Party Gathering 12:00 AM Bed Time


I imagined these spaces as having multiple lives, transforming throughout the day and changing while being constantly occupied by tenants, businesses, and the public. The density of economies and publics create situations and question norms of how collectivity is often portrayed as. Looking at methods of hyper flexibility to maximize its potentials it was important to consider that the building could change for future generations and have a life of its own to fit their needs. Chinatowns have changed so much already in the past 20 years that it’s unclear how the space would be used in the future. Having an open floor plan with larger spans, and a movable wall system, the building as able to cater to any programming and needs of the users - from a store to a gallery space, to a nightclub.


The building can establish permanent programming if needed, but focuses on the adaptation and change of activities throughout a day - reimagining typical uses of a space and seeing how it can transform (ie a store counter as a performance stage). For example, a typical unit apartment could be fashioned into a child daycare - where they would rearrange their bedrooms closet-walls to be pushed aside to have an open space to cater to a group of children. The apartments could also be tucked or moved around to lease out as office spaces for friends while they’re at work and not at home.


Commercial Space as Living Room



Commercial Space as Living Room A ground floor commercial space can operate in its normal hours, however after hours, the space can become a living room - using the store counter as the place to bless the pig on new years and to have family parties in while casually maybe running the store a little later since people keep passing by anyways.



Copyright Secret Kumon From Home



Copyright Secret Kumon from Home The casino goers can drop off their kids at a daycare that one of the tenants fashions out of their apartment - where they could rearrange their bedrooms to become a day care where they teach math in Vietnamese. The apartments could also be tucked or moved around in order to lease out as office spaces for friends while they’re at work and not at home.



Steamy Hot Bath House for Lovers and Gossip



Steamy Hot Bath House for Lovers and Gossip Underneath the building are the communal baths. With smaller wet rooms in the residential units, the baths become a shared resource but also an economic resource as well. During the day when most are away from home, the baths could be open to the public for a fee to be used, When the tenants come back home, the baths are then only available for residents in the building.



New Ho Queen Rave Night



New Ho Queen Rave Night Club The ground floor can also operate throughout the night. When businesses owners are done for the day, the space can be tucked away, and host more night events like the Night Market, and become a drag bar for the queer asian collective New Ho Queen - except maybe on Fridays only because of how the tenants upstairs might be over hearing Crystal Waters 100% Pure Love on repeat.





The project was really my response to trying to understand how these different generations and groups could come together to take on the next generation and was a personal process for me to try to understand how my nephew is going to learn about his Vietnamese and Taiwanese heritage. Chinatowns in North America for a lot of Asian folks are spaces that mean a lot and are hubs we always seek out - seeing your language and people who look like you, where you can practice your mother tongue, and eating the food that you really miss that smell like home, is a huge part of the Asian diaspora experience. I know eventually, these existing shops and hubs will close and disappear once the parents retire, but I guess it’s really trying to figure out what comes next, and finding methods of giving power to existing communities, and finally root themselves in these neighbourhoods through ownership and care.


Hopefully, the land trust can be passed on to these generations. Like the title, the community land trust acts as the seed - by planting the seed, the building becomes the fruit. Through creating relationships and trust with existing partners and residents of Chinatown, the fruit can then be shared.


University of Toronto Toronto, Ontario, Canada Phát Lê, 2021

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