Chinatowns Threatened by Gentrification

UNITED STATES

Chinatowns are at risk of disappearing due to accelerated gentrification, according to a new report. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) surveyed Chinatowns in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and found that the Asian populations in all communities are decreasing while rent and median housing value are increasing. (China Daily)

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Chain stores and high-rent condominiums are changing the character of Chinatowns in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, according to a new report. If you can read Chinese, you'll know where this is—the large Chinese characters on the arch say "Philadelphia Chinatown." Photograph by Evrik, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Chain stores and high-rent condominiums are changing the character of Chinatowns in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, according to a new report. If you can read Chinese, you’ll know where this is—the large Chinese characters on the arch say “Philadelphia Chinatown.”
Photograph by Evrik, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Discussion Ideas

  • The AALDEF report and China Daily article talk about the threat posed by the process of gentrification. What is gentrification? How is gentrification impacting the Chinatowns described in the article and report?
    • Gentrification is the process of a neighborhood becoming a wealthier community. Gentrification is controversial, and usually involves discussions of class, ethnicity, land-use, and economics.
    • In the AALDEF report, gentrification includes the marginalization of small, family-owned businesses in favor of large chain retailers. The report also singles out how gentrification has changed housing in Chinatowns, from family dwellings to high-end condominiums that favor young, single workers. New immigrants are less likely to be able to afford increased rents for businesses or homes in gentrifying neighborhoods.
    • The China Daily article offers stark statistics about the changing demographics of Chinatowns: white income in Boston’s Chinatown increased to $84,255, while Asian income dropped to $13,057; the number of family households in New York’s Chinatown dropped by 12.6% while non-family households increased by 21.4%; the white population of of Philadelphia’s Chinatown grew by 233%. (!)
  • Read our short encyclopedic entry on “neighborhood.” “Sometimes, the dominant ethnicity in a neighborhood defines its character,” it says. What are some characteristics that identify a neighborhood as a Chinatown? Which characteristics do you think are most threatened by gentrification? Which characteristics do you think are least threatened by gentrification?
    • These are just some examples of characteristics of Chinatowns. Real neighborhoods are much more diverse and fluid!
      • a large population of Chinese and Chinese Americans!
      • signs—almost all traffic and business signs are displayed in Chinese characters.
      • Chinese restaurants—not just more Chinese restaurants, but more diversity: restaurants may specialize in Cantonese, Sichuan, or Hunan cuisine, for example.
      • Chinese groceries or pharmacies, with goods not often offered by Western supermarkets.
      • Buddhist or Taoist temples.
      • Chinese architectural styles or motifs, such as roofs with decorative tiles and large, often-red arches.
      • Chinese bookstores and video stores, which provide a variety of entertainment in Mandarin, Cantonese, Min, or other Chinese languages.
    • Threatened by gentrification: A smaller Chinese population will probably reduce the need for Chinese-language bookstores, libraries, and video stores.
    • Less-threatened: Architectural and engineering firms are likely to maintain and even increase the use of decorative “Chinese” architecture, which is a major tourist draw.
  • Is there a Chinatown in your city or town? Is there another neighborhood that is defined by the ethnicity of its residents, such as “Little Saigon” or “Tehrangeles“, which have large populations of Vietnamese or Iranian immigrants? What characteristics do you associate with these neighborhoods? Do you think gentrification would threaten the characteristics of these neighborhoods?

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