Historic Chinatowns are valuable cultural and economic assets in major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Historic Chinatowns are difficult to replicate because they evolved organically as unique ecosystems with an ability to bridge the gap between lower-income, recent immigrants and outside visitors. Known to outsiders mainly as a place for food and commerce, Philadelphia’s Chinatown is also a residential neighborhood and a vital hub of community and services for immigrants. It is an important place of cultural exchange; a “home away from home” for immigrants that helps them adapt to American life and also a “city within the city” where native-born Americans can learn about another culture.
In Philadelphia, the balance of this ecosystem is shifting as working class immigrants are increasingly being priced out. Chinatown is the locus where two of the fastest growing population segments in cities - immigrants and millennial professionals - meet. Rising income inequality and limited opportunity for lower income and immigrant populations are shared concerns of Chinatowns around the country as they face increasing development pressure and a fight for survival as viable places for immigrants to live and work, not just tourist destinations. The story of other historic Asian American Pacific Islander communities around the country serve as a cautionary tale: as Asian residents dwindled, the businesses and institutions did too, leaving behind only a trace of what was. Philadelphia is not yet in immediate danger of suffering such a fate but timely intervention is needed to protect and strengthen the authenticity of its Chinatown.
The Chinatown Neighborhood Plan seeks to strengthen Chinatown as a vital residential neighborhood, a destination commercial district, and a home away from home for immigrants across the city and region. With generous funding from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) sought to bring together the voices and perspectives of the communities of Chinatown, Chinatown North and Callowhill, with a targeted effort to engage a hard to reach low-income and immigrant population, to develop a vision for the future of this changing neighborhood.
A wide-ranging outreach approach was needed to engage a traditionally hard-to-reach population, including low-income and limited to no English proficiency immigrants. This included employing bilingual PCDC staff and volunteers, meeting people at the places they naturally congregate in the neighborhood, and using smaller group formats to make residents more comfortable speaking up.
Utilizing a framework of health and equity, the plan makes the case for placed-based approaches to health with regard to the built environment, economic opportunity and community life. Residents and stakeholders identified upgrading and expanding affordable housing, bridging the community across Vine Street Expressway and creating a more inviting public realm, providing more open space and programming for the community, expanding the commercial district north of Vine Street, and supporting community wellness.