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Chinatown fears community and loses business in 76ers arena plan

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Philadelphia (AP) — Wei Chen tells visitors to Chinatown, Philadelphia, two elderly people on the stairs to the apartment above, looking in front of the amber roast hill hanging in the window of a restaurant. I want to notice that the woman is chatting in Mandarin.

“These apartments are full of low-income people, the elderly, and new immigrants,” said Chen, Community Engagement Director of the Asian-American Union. “We need to think about how Chinatown was created. It wasn’t welcomed elsewhere.”

Chen, along with other organizers and members of Chinatown, said he was surprised at the announcement of the Philadelphia 76ers. Thursday of a proposal to build a $ 1.3 billion arena just one block from the Community Gateway Arch. Prior to the announcement, they said neither the organization nor the real estate owners were seeking the views of the community.

A spokesperson for 76 Devcorp, the developer behind the arena, said in an email statement that the process was in the early stages a few years after “something changed” and the company helped shape the project. He said he plans to work with the community to do so. Make sure it was “correctly done”.

“We are very sensitive to the concerns of the Chinatown community in the light of previous Center City proposals and are committed to listening to and cooperating with the community in ways never seen before,” the statement read. rice field.

But those are promises that many in Chinatown have heard before. After decades of development, like the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which brought home from 200 families. Interstate 676. Also known as the VineStreet Expressway, it threatened to block parts of the community. Proposals for prisons, casinos and other sports facilities are all overwhelmed by the community and residents have a deep playbook of their own choosing.

There are less than 50 Chinatowns nationwideSome are more lively and bigger than others. Many have settled in areas of the city that were considered entertainment districts. And as cities grow and change around their communities, many Chinatowns have been under threat of gentrification or development.

Like everyone else, the Philadelphia community is just bouncing back after a restaurant in Chinatown lost its business during a pandemic closed for food. Many older people didn’t want to leave their neighborhood, as hate crimes for Asians have quadrupled since 2019.

Historian John Kuo Wei Chen, director of the Clement Price Institute for Ethnic, Cultural and Contemporary Experiences at Rutgers University, said: “In the case of Chinatown, which plays an important symbolic role in the city’s international claims, the interests of the sports authorities often take precedence over such a role.”

The 76ers’ current home is in southern Philadelphia, a few miles from downtown, alongside most other professional sports teams in the city.

Many Chinatown residents and business owners will find that new arenas will eliminate affordable street parking, increase traffic, and make it more difficult to host traditional celebrations and festivals. I am concerned that there is. But they are also worried that the already increasing asset value will skyrocket and many people who depend on the community may be forced to leave.

Debbie Wei is a founding member of the Asian-American Union and began in Philadelphia in the 1980s to build communities and unite Asians to fight oppression. She was also the organizer of a protest against the Phillies Baseball Stadium, which city officials proposed in 2000 to place on the doors of Chinatown.

“If it’s not a stadium, it’s a highway or a convention center. Seattle … Detroit … Chicago, Boston, and Washington DC I have a friend who grew up in DC Chinatown.

The Washington Capitals hockey and Wizards basketball teams moved to the Chinatown community in DC in 1997. Economic development experts say increased foot traffic and more desirable real estate have brought about revitalization, but for the Chinatown community, it meant higher rents and forced chain restaurants to put them out.

In 1990, census figures identified approximately 66% of people living in the DC Chinatown area as Asian-Americans. It decreased to 21% in 2010. And as of the 2020 census, it had dropped to about 18% in the two regions that make up part of Chinatown.

Wei explains the signs of chains like CVS and Starbucks, with a Chinese translation next to them, which he calls a “cosmetic illusion.” Chen fears that a change to DC’s Chinatown could occur in Philadelphia.

“When you enter a restaurant or company, the workers are no longer Asian, the owners are not Asian, and many customers are not Asian,” he said. “So where is Chinatown? No more.”

However, according to the census, Chinese-speaking households are one of the fastest growing populations in Philadelphia. The community has recently crossed the 5% threshold. This means that Chinese has become the official voting language. Asia and other immigrant communities have contributed to cities that have reversed decades of population loss in recent censuses.

Herenjim, the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Philadelphia City Council and a large number of members, has two T-shirts from a previous battle with a potentially harmful development that wants to come to Chinatown. Was raised. The first said, “There is no stadium in Chinatown,” and the second was a 2008 proposal that wanted the casino to be closer to the current arena proposal, canceling the word stadium to “casino.” I replaced it.

Jim had previously participated in the fight against the stadium and, now as a member of the council, said she was “very skeptical” of the 76ers’ proposal.

“For us, this is one of the most important parts of Philadelphia and its neighborhoods and communities,” Jim said. “This side is itself a community that continues to invest in its people, small businesses, and in fact, this side is the one that has grown the health and well-being of the city.”

According to Jim, after the stadium broke down in 2000, the community developed a nearby space north of the highway, including public charter schools, community centers, expansion of the Chinese Christian Church, the first Cambodian art center, and other cultures. A group has been added.

Wei was the first principal of the school, a folk art and cultural property charter school. She said the building owner declined an offer from a developer who wanted to build a condo.

“People don’t understand what Chinatown means to people in this community, people all over the area who consider it their home,” Way said.

“There are few precious or real communities left in Philadelphia. They are not just geographical. They are about relationships and memories. They are systematically, not just in Philadelphia and the United States. It’s a destroyed place-based core, but all over the world, “Way said. “And when Chinatown is gone, it’s gone. It can’t be rebuilt.”


The Associated Press writer Shawn Marsh in Trenton, NJ contributed to this report.