Gentrification in Chinatown: What Do Teens Think?

Chinatown,_NYC_(2014)_-_12“With every new blue-eyed blonde-haired person moving into Chinatown or starting a business in Chinatown, my fear of being left without a place to live grows and continues to affect the daily lives of my family,” said Andy Wang.

Wang, a 17-year-old student living in Chinatown, witnesses what he sees as the detrimental effects of gentrification everyday. He noted, “Many of the old businesses and markets in Chinatown have closed and been reopened as stupid things, like art galleries.”

As higher-income New Yorkers make plans to renovate and change Chinatown, the prices in the neighborhood rise. Rent, food, and general services rise and force long-time residents out of the neighborhood, as they can no longer afford to live there.

According to the NYU Furman Center, the percentage of Asian people living in the Lower East Side/Chinatown decreased from 35% to 32% from 2000 to 2014. The report also revealed that the median rent in this neighborhood rose a sharp 12% from $881 to $987 between 2005 and 2014.

Vanessa’s Dumplings is a popular store that has increased its prices over the years. The little store on Eldridge Street recently raised the prices of its dumplings to 4 for $1.25. “I grew up eating dumplings that were 5 for $1,” recounted Amy Lin. Although Lin moved to Astoria 3 years ago and no longer lives in Chinatown, she still feels deep ties to the neighborhood where she grew up. “Shops on Grand Street are empty and face bankruptcy,” said Lin of the various fish and vegetable markets that line Grand Street.

While gentrification has the most significant effects on the elderly in Chinatown who have nowhere to go, teens also see why the changes to the neighborhood are detrimental to its future. “Gallery openings with cheese and wine on Mulberry is not what Chinatown is known for,” says Maggie Loh, who lives on Mott Street. The transition from local businesses that sell herbs and tea to hipsters showing off their art is occurring at a somewhat alarming rate. “One benefit I can think of is the sharing of culture, says Loh. “But the line is drawn when people start to take over and try to profit or take advantage of a cheap living situation,” she warns.

While many teenagers enjoy the benefits of gentrification, such as modernization and cleanliness, many have problems with the erasure of Chinese culture that consequently follows. “Chinatown isn’t really Chinatown if the majority of the people are no longer Chinese,” says Sophia Wang, a former resident of Chinatown who now lives in the East Village.

“The drawbacks are that culture is going to be destroyed and Chinese families, who already make not a lot of cash, are going to have to relocate to cheaper neighborhoods,” says Nick Feng. This is already happening in New York. According to a New York Times article, Sunset Park in Brooklyn recently had an influx of Chinese immigrants from Chinatown. Many Chinese people have spread out from Chinatown in Manhattan and moved to other neighborhoods such as Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and Flushing, Queens.

Gentrification has threatened many New York City neighborhoods in the past and continues to creep up on many more. Chinatown is next. It is clearly an important issue to those directly affected by it and even those indirectly affected by it.

“Most teens are subconsciously aware because they experience it everyday but don’t fully try to grasp the detrimental effects,” said Loh.

About Cody Liew


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