Chinatown recognized as a great American neighborhood 

click to enlarge Chinatown
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  • A Chinese musician plays an erhu, a Chinese string instrument, for tips on a street corner in the Chinatown section of San Francisco. The city's Chinatown neighborhood is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia.
San Francisco’s Chinatown, the most densely populated neighborhood west of New York City and an evolving planning challenge, has been named a Top 10 Great Neighborhood for this year by the American Planning Association.

The recognition went to Chinatown for its storied “Oriental” architecture, role as a cultural capital, community activism, and planning efforts to protect its neighborhood and identity. Its housing sustainability also received praise; single-room-occupancy units make up 40 percent of neighborhood housing stock, and less than 20 percent of residents own cars.

“Chinatown is an authentic, ethnic community that has successfully maintained its cultural heritage and tourist appeal despite natural disasters, prejudice and incompatible development proposals,” association CEO Paul Farmer said in a statement.

Since the 1906 earthquake, major planning projects have included the 1986 Chinatown Rezoning Plan, which prevented high-rise commercial and residential encroachment from the Financial District, and the 1995 Chinatown Area Plan, which helped preserve the neighborhood’s urban character and increased the housing supply.

Planners involved with Chinatown are proud that such work has been done inclusively, said Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu, community planning manager at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

“In planning, we use the term ‘participatory planning,’ but I think that we really live it,” she said. “And I’m really proud of the fact that every day residents are determining what their neighborhood looks like.”

While planners have been ramping up neighborhood improvement work in the past decade, their priority now is affordable housing, according to Wu.

“The residential base is a very important component of Chinatown, so to lose that would mean to lose the customer base for all the retail on the ground floors,” Wu said.

The City remains committed to improving Chinatown’s character to serve its 15,000 residents and the millions of tourists who visit annually, Planning Director John Rahaim said.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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