Chinatown, Philadelphia

Chinatown, Philadelphia – This is one of those communities that might not be long for this world. Philadelphia’s Chinatown seems in a perennial fight for survival from the interests of the city’s business and political establishment, which over the years have chipped away at Chinatown as a viable community or sought to exploit residents for commercial gain.

Located in the Center City district of Philadelphia, the area is a stark contrast to the blocks that envelop it. Bound in by the Vine Expressway to the north, a convention center to the west, the Gallery Mall to the south, a transit line to the east, and the smaller developments that trailed these, each of these public works projects has made Chinatown a successively smaller place.

The area is routinely targeted for major development projects that in all likelihood would’ve upended the neighborhood completely had they been allowed to proceed. In the late 80s, Chinatown was eyed as the site for a federal prison. In 2000, the Philadelphia Phillies saw it as a great spot on which to build a new stadium. Most recently, it nearly became the site of the new Sugarhouse Casino, whose interest in the area stemmed from high rates of problem gambling in Asian communities.

Though none of these projects ultimately made Chinatown their own, the message was clear: among civic leaders, Chinatown doesn’t seem to matter. Smaller development has already begun to gentrify Chinatown, consequently pricing many  lower-income residents out of the area. Many of its small businesses, like most small businesses, have suffered greatly in the recession. But few have the added stress of coming under direct attacks that would not only hurt your business, but would bring little if any benefit to the community over all.

For now, Chinatown remains a thriving, ethnically diverse and economically viable treasure of Philadelphia. But it’s only a matter of time before yet another visionary developer wants remake it in his eyes. Here’s to hoping they never succeed.

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