Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gentrification and Chinatown

The Chinatown Working Group has addressed itself well to a variety of interests and issues, but has not adequately, clearly, fully and definitively discussed the ten ton elephant in the room: there's a tension within Chinatown's future between promoting a thriving Chinatown and preserving its character; the danger of gentrifying Chinatown out of existence.

Chinatown gentrification is already evident in rising commercial and residential rents. The Chinatown Working Group can help to direct gentrification, control it or increase it. A lot depends on who attends their meetings.

The CWG understanding of and position with regard to gentrification is, I think, the most important first task before it. Without an unambiguous stance on gentrification, without clearing the air of the conflicting interests that have a stake in gentrification for or against, I don't see how the group can move forward coherently.

If there's a town hall, I'd like to see it address the effects of the gentrification that is coming to Chinatown --

on business
(increased commercial rents are tough on local business, gentrified neighborhoods attract big-capital businesses from outside that locals can't compete with and that alter the character of the neighborhood),

on jobs
(gentrification does not necessarily mean more jobs and gentrified jobs are not necessarily opportunities for local residents),

on residential character and affordability
(higher rents bring increased landlord harassment and change in residential character),

on immigrant housing and opportunities
(gentrified neighborhoods do not accommodate new working-class immigrants, and it is likely that the character of Chinatown immigration protects Manhattan's Chinatown from the sterility that has affected Chinatowns everywhere else in the US).


ChowJobs said...

Good luck on your quest to address gentrification issues. We have been experiencing that here in Jersey City, and so far we are locking we still have our home.

ChowJobs said...

I mean luck not "locking". Ooops.

rob said...

I don't know of any successful anti-gentrification policy measure. But neighborhoods that continue to receive new working-class immigrants tend to retain their cultural character and resist gentrification. Chinatown has that in its favor. But many residents and business owners have interests that do not prioritize new immigrant needs.

The issues before the Working Group are both complex and difficult, and I haven't seen them fully hashed out.

Hunter College's Urban Studies Dept. is producing a study of Chinatown which I hope will address these issues and conflicts. The consequences of policies need to be fleshed out clearly on paper so that all parties know what is at stake. Right now the teams seem too splintered.