As a resident of North Beach, walking to CCDC's office on the outskirts of Chinatown for the past six weeks has been rewarding. I've had the opportunity to observe Chinatown outside of what I had already seen growing up and to support many local food establishments.
This past Tuesday, as I prepared to participate in a pedestrian safety focus group at the historic I-Hotel, I was excited to interact with seniors who can share a different perspective and experience of Chinatown. As an able-bodied and young healthy individual, I do not often think that Chinatown’s steep hills affect its senior residents or that I have the ability to quickly cross the street without the fear of being hit by a vehicle. While listening to my group of seniors share about their daily activity, I am reminded of why it is crucial to include everyone in the community at the table when talking about or making decisions on community development. For example, they share that it is dangerous for seniors to cross Kearny going up Jackson St. because many cars make right turns without looking out for pedestrians. However, they use Jackson St. most often to walk up to Stockton St. for groceries or restaurants because it's convenient and gives them access to all other parts of Chinatown such as Broadway.
These seniors may seem shy or quiet, but their everyday experiences in Chinatown inform organizations such as CCDC on how they can continue to support Chinatown residents. They most definitely informed me on how much they can contribute to what makes a community. In essence, they are a Chinatown asset because they see and experience Chinatown in a very different way than someone like me who visits Chinatown for groceries. Participating in this focus group was worthwhile on a late Tuesday afternoon because I gained an understanding of their daily Chinatown experiences.
This morning as I walked through Chinatown, I expected to see the usual routines of many Chinatown residents and visitors: grocery shopping throughout Stockton St. and stopping by the occasional bakery or take-out dim sum shops. Normally I would be joining in these activities as I am a frequent visitor of San Francisco's Chinatown for fresh produce and meats. This morning however, I was on my way to a different activity. Today I visited the Community Tenants Association (CTA) meeting and witnessed seniors socializing and sharing community knowledge such as health & wellness information. This morning's meeting included karaoke, an English lesson, and current news. I also had the honor of sitting in on their board meeting as members go through a process of discussing important points and voting on them. I didn't find any signs of Facebook, Twitter, or even internet, this group simply uses the power of their networks to share information and mobilize for campaigns and protests concerning tenants/housing rights. Immediately I understood the significance of their networks because this generation of seniors may not have an understanding of social media like the younger generation, but they too have identified their networks as a strong asset and they organize for community issues via community meetings and phone calls.
Overall what I took away is that CTA is an association that supports community members through housing disputes and they also provide a sense of community and camaraderie for folks. Historically they have already accomplished much for San Francisco Chinatown's residents and they will continue to have many more successes in the coming years as the city continues to develop and as tenants refuse to allow displacement/gentrification.