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Town Hall on the future of Chinatown

The Chinatown Working Group, the local community planning group including over 50 local tenant associations and tenant and labor advocacy organizations, family, community and business associations and social service organizations, will hold a town hall on its work so far and the future of Chinatown: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, from 6pm to 8:30pm, Middle School 131, 100 Hester Street, Manhattan. For flyers in English, Chinese or Spanish, or for more information, contact

Details below:

The Chinatown Working Group and its consultants, the Pratt Center/ Collective Partnership invite you to a

TOWN HALL on the future of Chinatown and the surrounding areas

The Chinatown Working Group (CWG) has been developing recommendations aimed at ensuring appropriate development in Chinatown and its surrounding areas that benefits existing residents and businesses and strengthens this important cultural and historic neighborhood.

Concerned about losing Chinatown’s affordability and unique character and culture?

DATE: June 26, 2013
TIME: 6pm – 8:30pm
PLACE: MS 131 (Auditorium), 100 Hester Street (corner of Forsyth street), Manhattan. Closest subway: Grand Street (B & D trains).
Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujiannese, Spanish translation will be available.
Light refreshments will be provided.
For further information please contact:

TOWN HALL on the future of Chinatown and its surrounding areas

 Come and hear about the CWG’s work

Share your thoughts on housing, jobs, cultural and historic preservation and new development


Dr. Jays in the house

11 buildings on the Bowery from Canal Street to Houston Street (83-5, 88, 103-5, 219-21, 262, 276-82-84) have just been bought by the owner of Dr. Jays, hip-hop clothing stores. With the exception of 276-84 at the corner of Houston, most of these parcels are not ideal candidates for demolition and redevelopment but the likely replacement of Chinese local-serving retail in 83, 85, 88, 103 and 105 — many of the leases are coming due — will carve out a piece of the Chinatown community.

If new commerce succeeds, it spreads. That’s bad news for Chinatown, even though this portfolio was never Chinese-owned. Those four buildings are also residential, so watch out for evictions. The current hotel residents in 88 may be threatened as well. The building is overbuilt, so it’s unlikely to be demolished, but it could be renovated and turned into an upscale hotel like the St. Mark’s for those seeking the “authentic New York experience.”

The Chinatown Working Group will be holding a town hall on the future of Chinatown. This troubling news could be the introductory context of the town hall. Shouldn’t the public know how the future is already being prepared by real estate and retail speculators? Isn’t this what community planning is supposed to respond to?

AAFE, development, gentrification and community displacement

I posted the following in the Villager’s comment section on an article about Margaret Chin’s election campaign. Although this blog is not intended for campaigning, the issues are important and cannot be ignored in the planning process. Here it is in full:

What troubles me most about Chin is what she’s been doing to Chinatown. Despite broad Chinatown protest, Chin supported a Chinatown business improvement district (BID) which will destabilize small property owners, increasing the likelihood of the selling of Chinatown properties and redevelopment that will lead to gentrification and community displacement especially of the low-income community.

While her association with AAFE and the First American International Bank may be well-intentioned, under city zoning the construction of affordable housing brings 80% market-rate luxury housing, raising real estate values and commercial rents. NYers saw this in Williamsburg — the community was sold an affordable housing program that resulted in wholesale transformation of the neighborhood. The affordable housing non profits can’t back off the city’s Inclusionary Zoning program because affordable housing development is their mission and that’s what they are funded to do. The result of collusion between upscale development and non profit affordable housing is a net loss of affordable housing, deeper gentrification and low-income community displacement.

The close relationship created in the law between those non profits and market-rate developers has placed a destructive wedge between community and the non profits that should be protecting those communities. The fault is the city administration’s, but the city’s gentrification program succeeds by using those non profits. AAFE strongly supported the upzoning of Chrystie Street, Houston Street and Delancey, opening the door to upscale development for the sake of 20% affordable housing, playing the city’s game rather than resisting, protesting, refusing and leveraging.

Supporting NYU development, the demolition and redevelopment of 135 Bowery (for the First American International Bank again), the Chinatown BID and the SoHo BID — intended or not, it’s a constellation of development and upscaling. Chin is a good-hearted, hard-working activist, but she’s been caught in a game that is headed in the wrong direction for community. That’s why CSWA, a Chinatown labor organization, and a Chinatown small property owners group oppose her. That’s an unusual coalition spectrum — property owners and labor. Says a lot to me.

Antifragility swans

Nasim Taleb has written two books on economic unpredictability. The first The Black Swan contended that certain kinds of phenomena are prone to unpredictable, catastrophic calamities. These include economies. The more recent book looks into phenomena that are resillient to those clamities or even benefit from them.

For urban planning, the lesson is clear: there are measures that open the door to unpredictable catastrophe, others that minimize unpredictability, and underlying relations that are resilient to radical change or that survive change well. For Chinatown these are particularly clear. East Broadway was undisturbed by 9-11; the core of Chinatown, which is less locally supported, took a bad hit. The reasons are familiar. Locality is like a business fundamental. If residents shop locally, then the local economy will thrive.

The danger is losing the local residents or landlords renting to non local services. For planning, it means that the small landlords and big developers require the most attention, anchoring the one and walling out the other; incentivizing local commerce for the local owner.

Dept of Injustice and NYC Big Corporation Services

A post from Amy Chin:

The Chinese bus companies created the curbside bus market from nothing and once they became lucrative, the big old established companies took over the market and the Chinese bus companies are getting shut down one by one. I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination, but this article really raises some questions.

And what did Chinatown’s non-profit business assistance organizations do to help the Chinese bus companies?

Economic plans awry

Back in 2010, the Chinatown Working Group Economic Development Team presented a plan to CWG which CWG did not vote on. Shortly afterward, the Economic Team disbanded, most of its members never appearing at CWG again. In 2011, the CWG co-Chairs convened a series of Economic Team meetings to consider economic plans for the RFP for a planning consultant. The author of the 2010 plan attended and proposed a review of that 2010 plan rather than create a new plan. Attendees at the convened meetings roundly rejected a variety of provisions and statements in the old plan. Their criticisms eventually led to a new, alternate plan and then to a consolidated plan, which was presented at CWG but without any decision by CWG.
So it is with alarm that I see the 2010 plan (nominally revised in 2012, but without significant changes) revived in the Pratt matrix as goals to accomplish. Language like “transformative development,” “broadening the base” and “negative image” had been unambiguously and strenuously rejected by members attending the reconvened meetings. The 2010 pan was largely a rehash of previous studies, mostly either business and management-oriented or tourism-oriented, not labor- or residence- or local-oriented. It’s as if we are being set back three years. The documents given to Pratt have to be given in the context of their history and their prior reception, otherwise Pratt will get all the wrong signals and be led in all the wrong directions.

Candystore planning

One model of community planning uses zoning limits and bonuses to get community benefits. Limit the size of possible developments, giving a bonus for community benefits. I call it the candy store model of urban planning. When you and your friends walk into a candy store, all the goodies you could ever possibly want are set up all in front of you. All you have to do is pick your favorites — and pay. In the city, communities pay by giving a bonus to the developer who owns the store.
In a city, the cost of each goodie is development rights. If you want a community center, well, you give a developer a bonus if and only if he builds a community center. No center, no bonus. How about a job training center. Give another developer a bonus for it. A cultural center, an ESL institute, and immigration center, a senior center, an affordable housing complex, many affordable housing compexes. Bonuses, bonuses, bonuses for every developer, who then distribute all the benefits to everyone. Let’s bring every member of the community to a town hall and ask each one what they want, give a developer a bonus for it, and everyone will have everything everyone could poosilby have. Heaven! The perfect candy store.
Until you look around at your neighborhood. It’s suddenly full of new development everywhere, filled with new, wealthy residents from somewhere outside of your neighborhood and who don’t belong to your community, a neighborhood completely transformed as you never imagined, and your community decimated and displaced. It’s a new place, not your place, and all those goodies benefit the new people, not the people they were bought for. Eventually, even those goodies will be recycled for uses suitable to the new community.
The candy store model gives a community an ultimatum: develop, gentrify, upscale and transform your neighborhood, or you can’t have any goodies. Sell your land, or you can’t have what you want. It’s a deal with the devil. “You want this lollipop? Give me your soul, your land, and I’ll give you a box of lollipops.”
Candy store planning divides the community against itself. The wise and prudent protectors of the community who want above all to keep the land and keep away the developers who will drive out the community — the protectors are now the enemy of every community wish and whim. They are slandered by the developers: obstrcutionists!, upstarts!, nay-sayers!, backward! And the community believes it, because they know that the developer is offering candy, and the wise protectors have no candy to offer, only stability and foresight. The community fights; the developers unite with the non profits that build the goodies — the non profits that swear they are the heros of the community, bearing gifts — and the wise are buried under a tide of hype and promises and goodies. The developers win, the neighborhood is developed, the community disappears. The wise weep.
There is another model: the priority list. The wise come together to figure out what is most important to the community. By the very process, that priority will be stability — keeping the community in place. Everything else is secondary. If you want a community center, let’s figure out how to get it under the priority assumption that the rest of the community will not be sacrificed.
The priority model brings the community together, uniting behind its self-preservation as a community. It requires that the community answer its wishes together under one way forward. It’s not instant gratification, like a candy store. But it’s much better for your long-term health.
The CWG has, through an arduous process, reached that unity and priority. It mustn’t be led into the candy store, or all that work, all that hard-won unity, may be lost.