By Ed Diokno
“Between 2000 and 2010, Chinatown’s population increased 24 percent and its Asian population increased 30 percent. Asians make up nearly 90 percent of the neighborhood’s population, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data,” said an article in the Chicago Tribune. “Experts also say that of all the foreign-born Asians living in Chicago’s Chinatown, nearly 10 percent arrived in the last three years — a stark contrast to New York and San Francisco, where immigrants no longer fuel Chinatowns.”
In 2013, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning announced a plan to preserve Chinatown’s cultural identity by improving public education and elderly care, bolstering transportation infrastructure and creating more public parks. In addition, the city built a new library that has turned into a new gathering place for community groups and residents.
But the biggest factor in preserving Chicago Chinatown is growth and the room to grow. Unlike other cities where Chinatown’s housing is at a premium, gentrification isn’t taking place.
In other words, instead of fighting change, Chinatown made sure the change – or some would call it – progress – enhanced the existing neighborhood making for a more vibrant, stronger community while retaining the traditions that make the neighborhood attractive to new immigrants and long-time residents.
San Francisco is trying some of that same strategy with the Central Subway Project connecting Chinatown to BART, Market Street and the South of Market’s Yerba Buena Center, the redesign of Portsmouth Square and the recent addition of the 8-story Patient Tower to Chinese Hospital which will house a new Level 4 Emergency Center facility and will be expanded to 88 beds (an increase from 54), state of the art diagnostic imaging department, Cardio-pulmonary outpatient services, 4-surgical suites, all-private ICU beds, and a telemetry unit. The new building will also house East West medicine services, pharmacy and Chinese Community Health Plan (CCHP) member services center.
Despite these infrastructure improvements, the greatest threat to San Francisco’s Chinatown remains to be the landlords and developers who want to cash in by switching their low-cost rooming houses and apartments to high-end housing for the cash-rich tech workers moving into the city. If the residents can’t afford to live there, those services are all for naught.
Despite the racist laws and attitudes that created America’s Chinatowns, they serve a purpose as a way-station for newly arrived immigrants and for those who want to live in a community in which they don’t need interpreters and are not considered as outsiders.