Chinatown acts as a stepping stone as well as a cultural landmark for many Asian-American immigrants.
There have been high hopes for the neighborhood to expand as a community. The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. has been developing plans to help both residents and business owners envision Chinatown as a more engaged, urban neighborhood.
The PCDC is always looking for new ideas on how to improve its community. New housing for seniors and low-income residents is one plan it has visualized as an improvement for the future of the neighborhood. Creating more job opportunities has also become one of its ideas for the plans to help enhance the quality of life for local residents.
The neighborhood’s other expansion efforts include bike lanes, parklets and the Vine Street Expressway Enhancement Project. The VSEEP was completed this May and the bikes lanes and parklet will be finished by the end of summer.
Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, said the commission has been very supportive of the proposals the PCDC has been putting forward.
“Back in 1988, the plan for center city was adopted by us. It called for a Chinatown expansion north of Vine Street. These expansions have currently been happening more frequently,” Jastrzab said.
Jastrzab said he believes the area north of Vine Street would be an ideal location for any new housing developments. “I am glad to say that a new high rise development was just recently approved to be located on the north block of Vine Street.”
In 1992, there was a proposal for a federal prison to be constructed at Eighth and Callowhill Streets. After two years of arguments over this plan, it was eradicated. Six years later there was another proposal to build a baseball stadium in the heart of the neighborhood. PCDC members joined together to halt this construction as well.
In April 2011, Councilman Frank Dicco passed a proposal to transform the Chinatown northern district into a Neighborhood Improvement District.
The proposal was to focus development plans and city funding on the area and call the new neighborhood the Reading Viaduct Neighborhood Improvement District. The plan, however, would increase real estate taxes for residents and business owners within the area.
The plan ignored the neighborhood’s most pressing need which was for the development of affordable housing. The PCDC claimed that the proposal was introduced without any consideration for residents. Once again, the PCDC and residents united to stop the effort from passing.
Over the course of these developmental plans, local residents have joined together several times to form a strong community and engage in public policy to advance their community’s growing needs. However, this neighborhood alliance was unable to prevent the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Gallery Market East shopping mall from being built in its community.
Despite the many instances of community displacement the neighborhood has encountered, it has been overcoming obstacles and moving forward in the right direction.
The Vine Street Expressway acts as a barrier between the northern and southern sections of the neighborhood. A solution to this problem is currently being worked on as the community looks to expand north.
“We’re taking a closer look at the area to provide a better connection to the north and south fractions of Chinatown,” Jastrzab said.
Although there has not been much progress with expansion, the neighborhood has continued to grow rapidly in recent years. Many of its restaurants and grocery stores have proven to be successful. This success has been capturing the attention of potential home buyers.
“The area is beginning to generate interest of private residential buyers. We want to see a larger residential area created in the upcoming years,” Jastrzab said. “It can definitely be done.”
Eric Law, resident and owner of Asia Crafts Inc., views the expansion plans for the neighborhood’s residential housing as not only an important solution to the growing population but also a logical one.
“The north part of Chinatown is a great place to add additional housing because it’s in the heart of the city,” Law said. “It’s easily accessible to a wide range of people whether they are tourists, residents or work-folk.”
Another advantage of the expansion’s location is that it would not be too costly for young business owners to get started. It allow an opportunity for economic growth at a beginner’s level. This location has been appealing to the PCPC as well as other organizations. “It’s close to center city without the center city prices,” Jastrzab said.
In 2004, the William Penn Foundation provided a generous amount of money to fund the neighborhood’s plan for expansion. This move was one of several demonstrating what Jastrzab said he believes is an acknowledgement of its potential.
Law said he would love to open up another gift shop on the the proposed expansion location. “I think that many Chinatown businesses will slowly move north in the future,” he said.
However, the planning commission has been doing all that it can to push for the growth of the neighborhood. It believes the northern expansion can create a bigger industry for entrepreneurial or web-based businesses.
“I feel like Chinatown is such a unique neighborhood of the city. The continuing growth of [it] would benefit Philadelphia as a whole,” Law said.