After reporting from New York City’s Chinatown for nearly two years, I learned a lot about what such a neighborhood means to its inhabitants and to the city to which it belongs. Chinatowns are some of the oldest neighborhoods in America’s great cities. Manhattan’s Chinatown is over 150 years old. In Vancouver, Chinatown is more than 100 years old and it holds much of the same significance as it does in New York and San Francisco.
It is a place steeped in history, a place that offered miners, rail road workers lodging and food when the rest of the country only wanted them for their labour and excluded them from everything else. Today, Chinatown continues to provide much needed services for immigrants, new and old.
Chinatown has also become a tourist attraction, capitalizing on good food, the spectacle of fresh produce and dried herbs stacked in cardboard boxes on the street, and for many, the nostalgia associated with a bustling Chinatown that today, no longer exists. As the Chinese become more integrated into mainstream society, they have moved away from Chinatown leaving only the very old or the very new immigrants. As a result, we have a neighborhood that is dying and decaying. So how to revitalize the place? Focus on tourism? Get in more condos to gentrify the neighborhood? Open up new and expensive restaurants? Or keep the old hole-in-the-walls alive? Do we bring in new blood? More Chinese inhabitants or people from all walks? There’s a lot of low-income housing surrounding both Manhattan’s Chinatown and Vancouver’s Chinatown. Do we set aside space for public housing?