According to a report on land use put out by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the biggest threat to Philly's Chinatown (and its affordable housing) is gentrification between Race and Spring Garden streets, mostly in the form of luxury loft developments, and the developers branding the area as the Callowhill neighborhood.
The area north of Race Street, between 9th and 13th was once the site of industrial and manufacturing businesses that supported Chinatown restaurants and grocery stores. Though many of those businesses still exist, many more left, leaving behind industrial buildings ripe for luxury condo conversions.
The report connects this upswing in luxury loft development with a Chinatown that became vastly more expensive for both owners and renters: median rents nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and by 2010, median rents and property values are greater in Chinatown than in Philadelphia as a whole, even though median rents were roughly the same in 1990 and 2000. Surveys of the neighborhood found insufficient affordable housing for the neighbhorhood.
One of the key findings of the report is that the Asian population in Chinatown is dropping slowly while the White population is rising quickly: between 2000 and 2010, the White population in Chinatown nearly doubled. Though the report calls this the strongest indicator of gentrification in Chinatown, it's worth remembering that much of the new White population lives in Chinatown North, otherwise known as Callowhill, in new residential units fashioned from old factories and warehouses. The issue isn't that lots of affordable housing is being converted to luxury housing (though some affordable housing has been converted), but rather that the affordable housing supply is low, and it doesn't seem that developers branding the area as Callowhill will be too keen to build more affordable housing.
Is the area between 9th and 13th above Race Street Chinatown North, or is it Callowhill? It appears that this particular gentrification battle has everything to do with a dearth of affordable housing, and that development of subsidized or cheap units could change the scene. In the meantime, use the poll to tell us how you think of the neighborhood.
· Chinatowns Are Gentrifying at an Alarming Rate [The Atlantic Cities]
· Chinatown Then and Now: Gentrification in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia [AADLEF]