Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chinatown, City Hall, and Neglect

In discussions surrounding Philadelphia's growth and development, Chinatown is largely ignored. It's considered dirty, poor, and crowded. However much of the statistical research that paints Chinatown as an impoverished ghetto ignores the fact that much of its largely immigrant population are elderly or self employed.

Philadelphia claims to embrace immigrants, but when they don't fit into what we think Center City should be, many would rather relocate them if they don't come to the city with loads of investments.

Americans approach culture enclaves in a uniquely specific way. Outside looking in, we often find them interesting, but when they deviate from our isolated comfort zones some begin to view them as too Chinese, too Italian, or too gay. Of course xenophobia only exposes itself behind the anonymity of message boards, so people vocally express their discomfort with neighborhoods like Chinatown by calling it out as dirty or citing bias statistics to justify their anxiety.

The truth is Chinatown is bighted. But the city views Chinatown as an onlooker. Household trash is dumped around public trashcans, unpermitted street vendors go unchecked, and illegal parking is ignored throughout Chinatown North. This would run rampant and does in any neighborhood ignored by the city.

Despite being boxed in by the Convention Center, The Gallery, Market East Station, and the Vine Street Expressway, Chinatown's population continues to be one of fastest growing in Center City. As more residents move into Chinatown it's reputation won't get any better until the city begins to work with the neighborhood, truly accepting it as a part of Philadelphia.

The city that once attempted to drive an expressway off-ramp through the heart of the neighborhood and drop a baseball stadium just north of Vine Street seems to hold onto the notion that Chinatown has no place in Center City. The city eviscerated the Furnished Room District, Franklin Square, and the Tenderloin in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Chinatown is the sole survivor of a Philadelphia that City Hall once wanted to forget.

Fortunately the Chinatown Development Corporation has a hold on what's left between 9th Street and 11th Street, much to the chagrin of city planners who don't understand how an ethnic enclave should be addressed by a modern city.

While the city continues to push growth and private development, wildly advertising subsidies for sites like Cira Centre South and potential investments in the Delaware Waterfront, the city has mentioned nothing of the PCDC's Eastern Tower and Community Center at 10th and Vine.

The tower stands to alter the skyline of the city and bring more residents and businesses to the struggling Callowhill neighborhood. Although the city has supported residential developments on the Parkway, Franklintown, and the Schuylkill River, neighborhoods that succeed on their own, they've expressed no interest in the ETCC which is poised to bridge multiple neighborhoods, dilute the visual impact of the Vine Street Canyon, and improve a Chinatown long neglected by City Hall.

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