By John Chin
and Cecilia Moy Yep
City officials will have a unique opportunity over the next several weeks to reverse some of the historical injustices perpetrated against Philadelphia's Chinatown.
For generations, Chinatown has faced attacks from a series of urban renewal projects, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Vine Street Expressway, and the Gallery. These projects benefited the region but hemmed in our neighborhood, displacing businesses and a quarter of our residents.
One of the most egregious urban displacement projects occurred at a key parcel at Eighth and Race Streets, where the city razed businesses and homes more than 50 years ago to build the Commuter Rail Tunnel and Broad-Ridge Spur of the Broad Street Subway.
After decades as a parking lot, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority is now considering two competing development proposals to revitalize the block.
The city's decision will have wide-ranging implications for the future of Chinatown.
After carefully considering both proposals, we believe that the one spearheaded by Parkway Corp. and Presby's Inspired Life, Another Village, best meets the needs of our community. It provides desperately needed senior affordable housing, additional open space, and opportunities for the Asian business community to expand. The project will also help stitch Chinatown back into Center City's urban fabric by removing barriers and connecting the neighborhood to Franklin Square Park.
Since 1969, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. has played a unique role in the effort to preserve, protect, and defend Chinatown from urban renewal and development schemes that threatened our community's existence.
Our advocacy saved the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and School, which functions as Chinatown's cultural heart, from being demolished as part of a highway project. In the decades since, we have helped turn Chinatown into one of Philadelphia's most vibrant neighborhoods by implementing a series of comprehensive plans designed to provide much-needed amenities to Center City's poorest section.
We strongly endorse the Parkway proposal because it best advances the community development goals embodied in Chinatown's master plan, which has been endorsed by both the city Planning Commission and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
The development team worked hand-in-hand with us to assemble a project with a laser-like focus on meeting Chinatown's needs and helping our neighborhood grow.
First, this proposal addresses a desperate shortage for affordable senior housing. Presby's Inspired Life has pledged to develop 60 new units and provide wraparound services that will allow seniors to age in place in a neighborhood where 46 percent of households earn $20,000 a year or less.
The proposal addresses Chinatown's need for more open space by providing an intergenerational park where children and adults can exercise together in a neighborhood without a recreation center or playground. This space will function as a gateway to the revitalized Franklin Square.
The developers also want to grow Chinatown's entrepreneurial community. They have pledged to seek capital from Asian investors and want to build a new 20,000-square-foot Asian supermarket for an existing neighborhood business that is looking to expand, as well as add additional storefronts in a new mixed-use development. Moreover, the team is working to bring a groundbreaking aeroponic urban farm to the site to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
All of these initiatives will create badly needed jobs for Chinatown.
The developers are working with a neighborhood real estate firm to identify potential owners for a market-rate condominium building to expand housing opportunities for middle-class families who want to remain in Chinatown. The Realtors have already documented great demand among potential buyers.
The development team has a proven track record working with our community. Presby currently operates the On Lok House as senior affordable housing, and Parkway has developed the Pearl condominiums to provide additional commercial and residential space for Asian residents. Both projects have strengthened Chinatown.
The competing proposal would expand access to legal services for low-income Philadelphians through the construction of a new Equal Justice Center. While the goal is laudable, Chinatown already shoulders more than its fair share of regional services.
That proposal also calls for the construction of a hotel, which the community does not need. We believe it would exacerbate parking and traffic problems.
The city must use the opportunity to develop Chinatown's last remaining open parcel to meet our community's specific needs while undoing the damage from previous urban renewal projects.
Parkway and Presby's proposal advances these goals, which is why we urge our city leaders to enable us to take advantage of this historic opportunity to improve our neighborhood. The plan that best fits our community is Another Village.
John Chin is executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp (PCDC).