This Chinatown is divided by highways.Bold project could reunite community | Philadelphia

IIf you ask for directions in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, you may be directed to head “North of the Highway” or “South of the Highway.” That’s because this community is split in two.

It is one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in America.But landmarks like the Holy Redeemer Church and Crane Community Center are well-known dim sum spots By Way and chinatown fire station – 6 lanes of heavy traffic.

This highway is known as the Vine Street Expressway. “This place is the busiest. [area] For Chinatown,” said Debbie Way, who founded the Asian American Coalition, a grassroots activist group. “It’s a pretty big space to cross.” A few times a week she crosses a sunken highway via one of her six road-level lanes. “This is not a place where residents are like, ‘Oh, let’s take a walk here.'”

But that could all change, thanks to a bold plan to physically cover the highway and reconnect the two divided parts of Chinatown. Last month, the city announced plans to investigate “caps.” It is a structure built over a highway that acts as a lid, making way for new green spaces, recreational spaces, and even buildings.

The city has allocated $400,000 to research what locals want the cap to look like. again, Secured $4 million to design it, including $1.8 million in federal funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. Construction of the project, known as “Chinatown Stitch,” is scheduled to begin in 2028.

Video of the Vine Street Expressway, a sunken highway across Philadelphia’s Chinatown

“This is what the community has been organizing for 30 years,” said Christopher Puchalsky, who oversees policy and planning for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability. “In addition to noise pollution and air pollution, pedestrian-trafficked highways are dangerous.”

It follows other plans to reconnect communities like the one in the South Bronx, New York. Cross Bronx ExpresswayA similar plan is underway in Richmond, Virginia, and has been secured by the city. $1.3 million Plan to cap a portion of Interstate 95 through Jackson Borough. Thousands of people were displaced in historic black neighborhoods when highways were built in the 1950s.

The Federal Highway Act of 1956 began construction of a 41,000-mile (66,000 km) interstate highway system, reshaping travel and trade within the United States. However, this convenience comes at a price: air and noise Pollution, safety risks from vehicle crashes, and even Increased traffic congestion.

Communities of color bore the brunt of the devastation that accompanied highway construction. In the 1920s, urban planner Robert Moses bulldozed New York City’s black and Latino neighborhoods and built highways. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation, but the design of these highways perpetuated racism. destroyed house, low value property and a divided community.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown is one such place shaped by highway infrastructure.

A map of highway caps that could reconnect Philadelphia’s Chinatown, which was divided by the construction of the Vine Street highway

The first Philadelphia Chinatown business dates back to 1870, when Lee Fong opened a laundry shop at 913. Race Less than a mile from the street, City Hall and the Liberty Bell. Amid mounting anti-Asian sentiment, discriminatory immigration laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prevented all but merchants from bringing family members to the country. As restrictions eased, Chinese immigrants settled there with their families, started businesses, and founded churches and schools. These churches still thrive today, despite facing the challenges of new development projects.

In 1966, the City of Philadelphia developed plans to expand Philadelphia’s Vine Street Expressway to connect a growing portion of the southwestern portion of the city to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River into downtown Camden, New Jersey. Announced. Construction of the highway required the seizure of more than 300 of his properties through eminent domain, demolishing entire blocks of homes and businesses, and dividing the community between north and south of the highway.

“It created an artificial barrier to Chinatown’s physical expansion,” said the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), an organization founded in 1968 to represent community opposition to the highway. said John Chin, executive director of

“I have friends who I grew up with who had to leave the community,” Chin said. “Some people were lucky enough to move into alternative housing, which is something the PCDC founders have fought against. I need to build.”

The original plan called for the demolition of the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and the adjacent school. Both were serving Asian majority. But churches and schools survived, thanks to overwhelming and united pressure from the community. Today, more than 300 people attend Holy Redeemer’s Sunday Mass, and approximately 150 of her children are enrolled in his K-12 school.

Demonstrators hold signs supporting the Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Chinatown during a city council hearing at Philadelphia City Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Temple University Library Special Collections Research Center

“The current situation is a matter of environmental justice,” said Puchalski of the City of Philadelphia. “I am determined not to make the same mistake,” he said in formulating his stitches for Chinatown.

We are currently working on: investigation community, especially in Mandarin and English. So far, residents want green space and parks that Chinatown lacks, as well as emphasizing the importance of pedestrian safety. Other green spaces created by highway capping include Clyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas. Freeway Park in Seattle, Washington. Lyle Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sutton Park in New York City.

“I think it’s a small token of recognition for what happened to the community,” said Wei. “There is little to no greenery in Chinatown, and even the exhaust fumes from cars alone are detrimental to the environment for people.”

But even as Chinatown appears to be on the brink of reunification, some say another threat looms.

The community is rallying to cancel the proposed 18,500-seat basketball arena. Philadelphia 76ers The gateway to Chinatown. It was his second attempt to build a stadium in the neighborhood, and in 2000, Wei and others rallied against a Philadelphia Phillies baseball stadium.

The new privately funded $1.3 billion arena is led by 76 Devcorp, run by Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer and billionaire developer David Adelman. The NBA team’s current arena lease expires in 2031, and the developer said, “The current location does not further our vision of building a championship-level franchise for decades to come.” They also said that “most arenas have only been in use for 30 to 40 years”, raising concerns that in decades the community will be forced to move again and the arenas will close. is growing in Chinatown.

The PCDC, which opposes the arena, surveyed over 90% of Chinatown residents and businesses and found overwhelming opposition.and statementthe organization cited fears of gentrification. case When stadiums are built in areas that are predominantly populated by people of color. Additionally, residents expressed concerns about relocation, rent increases, parking and traffic congestion.

“That would kill Chinatown,” Wei said.

The region is already facing demographic change. About 5,000 people live here. 50% The Asian population has declined from 58% in 2000. The situation is similar in New York City, where factors such as high rents have been roughly kicked out. Ten% of the Asian population living in Manhattan’s Chinatown from 2010 to 2020 6%.

But perhaps the most harrowing example of how gentrification and development have wiped out a community is found in Washington DC’s Chinatown. Founded in the 1930s, now Shell. less than 300 Chinese Americans who live there today. The construction of what is now known as the Capitol One Arena in 1997 followed by driving out local businesses.

PCDC’s Chin fears the same will happen in Philadelphia if the proposed 76ers arena is built.

Chinatown Gate in Chinatown, Philadelphia.
Chinatown Gate in Chinatown, Philadelphia. Photo: Conchi Martinez/Alamy

“It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” Chin said, recalling walking through the remains of Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown and not finding a single Asian supermarket. “Communities in the U.S. capital have become empty towns.”

For now, Cap is poised to address some of the harm caused by the highway, but locals like Debbie Way are worried about Chinatown’s future. and they are determined to fight.

“Chinatown is a true community in the deepest sense,” Wei said. The stadium’s developers keep saying, ‘This is going to help us, not impact us. Show us proof that it works socially and culturally and that our community is intact,” she said. This Chinatown is divided by highways.Bold project could reunite community | Philadelphia

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