Chinatown’s Fight for Survival

A picture of a protestor outside of Chinatown's gates | Source: 34th Street Magazine
A picture of a protestor outside of Chinatown's gates | Source: 34th Street Magazine

Chinatown, Philadelphia, has been a sanctuary for Asian Americans for a long time, holding years of culture and tradition. Chinatown brings thousands of tourists to Philadelphia every year, exposing them to the beauty and diversity of the City of Brotherly Love, but it isn’t peaceful for this part of the city... 

The first instance was in 2000. Chinatown first came under serious siege when the city pushed to build a baseball stadium at 12th and Vine Streets, right outside Chinatown. It was clear that the stadium would begin pushing into Chinatown with the stadium being built and the stadium’s parking lots.

Hundreds of Chinatown residents and Philadelphians were angered by the construction. Protests started at City Hall to get the project stopped. "On the west, we are blocked by the Gallery, on the east the Ben Franklin Bridge, and to the south the Convention Center. The only place for us to expand is north, across Vine Street," protester Andy Toy said. This Project was stopped, but sooner than later, Chinatown was once again pressured by the city.

Towards the end of 2008, another project was proposed by the City of Philadelphia that would affect the economy of Chinatown. Suffering from a billion-dollar budget deficit and near double-digits in unemployment in the city of Philadelphia, developers unveiled a project that was said to promise jobs and tax revenue: a casino.

Seeing all the addictive games and bright lights, some people may take their chances and bet it all. It lures them in, and for a majority of people, takes all their money down to the last penny. Chinatown has a high middle aged to elderly population, so the casino was a huge danger to Chinatown and its residents. This project, in particular was hard to get rid of, with the government focusing on the revenue it would bring but not the lives the casino being built would possibly ruin.

“We're just tired of having to fight these battles over and over again. We are a small community that's been disproportionately hit by these projects,” said Deborah Wei, principal of a 400-student charter school built on land where a future project would have been built. 

Li Ting Zou, a 13-year-old girl whose father had a gambling problem, said, "We had a lot of debts. We didn't have enough food to eat. Then my mom got sick, so he stopped; I don't want other kids to experience this. It's too much to go through at a young age." The people of Chinatown, worried and tired of fighting, continued to rally at City Hall. Their protest proved fruitful as they were able to stop the construction plans in 2009-2010. 

In 2020, talk arose about “76 Place.” The project to build a $1.3 billion dollar 76ers stadium became a city-wide conversation in 2021 and 2022; ingoing into 2023, it was officially a plan set in motion.

This Grand Stadium was a project set in place to be right next to and essentially on top of Chinatown. In Philadelphia, the people of Chinatown and other residents are protesting, negotiating, and arguing to stop the stadium. It leaves Chinatown residents frustrated. “They kept saying they would not build more parking space but direct people to other parking spots.

When people raise safety concerns, they said something like, ‘It’s not our job to ensure safety, it’s the government’s job,’” a Chinatown resident quoted. The residents feel the Philadelphia 76ers, their management, and the city are worried about how it will benefit the team and not how it's affecting the economic structure of Chinatown and its people.

The 76ers corporation seems to show no hesitation to stop the project. Adelman, who is chairman of the development company for the stadium, hopes to get zoning approval in the fall and aims to open during the 2031-2032 season.

These projects are only a few of the many times Chinatown has been attacked. When will Chinatown’s fight for survival end? When will Chinatown be able just to live and thrive? 

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