Monday, May 05, 2008

Ethnic Cleansing of Chinatown

If this rezoning plan is approved as is, Chinatown will be defenseless against hotel development.

The plan's selectivity is disastrous. By protecting the old Jewish LES (Forsyth to Pitt) from over-development it pushes developers into the nearest vulnerable neighborhood: the Bowery and Chinatown.

We saw this in Williamsburg. As soon as their rezoning was implemented, developments sprang up just outside the periphery of the rezoning. Well, hotels are already appearing along the Bowery. This rezoning will accelerate a trend we can already see.

Community Board 3 has tried to defend this selectivity by claiming that wherever the boundary of a rezoning is drawn, there will be a vulnerable periphery, so a line must be drawn somewhere.

Not true. The Bowery/Chinatown C6 zones of Community District 3 have undevelopable boundaries:

Little Italy to the west of the Bowery is protected by a special zoning district. The Tombs and huge court houses of Foley Square to the west of Chinatown are not residential and in no danger of development. Neither are the housing projects and residential zones by the river.

The board members are grasping at straws, knowing full well that they made an error by not considering Chinatown, an error that has turned into a disaster.

The framers and supporters of this rezoning are responsible for the unmistakable consequence of this plan: the ethnic cleansing of Chinatown. Almost every inch of Chinatown has been excluded from this plan and left unprotected.

Ethnic Chinese are the largest demographic in Community District 3. Why didn't the community board factor them into their plan and consider the consequences for Chinatown? We know the city wants to displace low-income communities from Manhattan. The community board, representing the community, is supposed to protect those communities.

And Councilmember Gerson's indolence is unfathomable. Chinatown is in his district.

Even more damning, for the one street that was included, Chrystie Street, the community board has asked for more residential bulk than the DCP plan itself, claiming that "the Chinese don't mind density" and "want development."

80% of that dense development will be luxury housing. In case the picture is not clear: the community board was speaking to Chinatown organizations involved with banks and developers, not to Chinatown residents.

The councilmember's and CB3's lack of foresight, their myopic inability to see the largest demographic within their districts, echoes America's long and deep Sinophobia:

until 1965 Chinese were prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens and until 1963, Chinese were not even allowed into the country by the Chinese Exclusion Act and Scott Law. There was even a Page Law (1875) prohibiting Chinese women from entering, a law specifically designed, false pretexts aside, to end the settling of Chinese families, to prevent a permanent population, encourage Chinese to return to China and to ensure that Chinese male labor would be transient -- available only as needed to meet market demand.

Enforced transience: the consequences of this rezoning's 'Chinese exclusion' are clear and familiar.

The area included in the plan has already been gentrified; it is largely upscale and largely white. It will be protected by the plan, although it's not clear that there's much need for protection: tall towers are not being built in the EV, and the air rights may already have been exhausted in the old Jewish LES where the hotels are already built.

Our immediate priority therefore must be the areas excluded from the rezoning plan. The Community Board and elected officials' response to this plan must be a strategic demand that the areas excluded, especially the C6 zones, be included, even at the expense of temporarily delaying implementation of the plan.

DCP, which is dedicated to following through with a rezoning of the neighborhood, must be coerced into protecting the excluded C6 zones, one way or another. A firm demand that the EIS be expanded to include the C6 zones is the only strategy that can save Chinatown. I don't see any other negotiating position from which to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Chinatown.

City Planning has been displacing communities in the name of development and "affordable housing" that is unaffordable to most people in those neighborhoods. Harlem, Willamsburg and Greenpoint are the most prominent examples. There is no question that this administration's urban planning is racially and ethnically discriminatory. In the case of Chinatown, City Planning is cleverly washing its hands -- rather than propose a plan that would decimate Chinatown, the city is going to allow market-rate developers to do the dirty work by themselves.

We mustn't help them. Oppose the plan now, while we have leverage on City Planning.

By the way, I do not speak for the people of Chinatown. They can speak for themselves. I speak for myself and what I see.

1 comment:

Jason D'Orazio said...

Well, the housing markets in Chinatowns across the nation are discriminatory against non-Asians, and probably illegal. So I have no sympathy for them.