After participating in the Urban Institute and working on our final group project, I definitely have a different perception of Chinatown SF than prior to commencing. The main reason for this was that I was previously more of a “consumer” of Chinatown, only going to eat at restaurants or be a tourist, whereas now I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of the neighborhood, and hopefully our final project will actually benefit the community, even if only slightly.
One of the most surprising aspects about Chinatown to me was around the SROs since I was unfamiliar with them beforehand, and did not comprehend just how ubiquitous and important they are to the neighborhood. It has also been interesting to see how they have been changed over time from places for single male immigrants to being marketed towards young tech professionals. Conversely, a highlight has been seeing the activism of the local people as they contend for their rights and livelihoods. I loved being able to meet various residents such as Mrs. Lee and some of the board members of the CTA, and learning about their lives, advocacy, and how they have positively impacted their communities. It was inspiring to hear how long they have fought to protect themselves, because I think that our generation can be less resilient than previous ones, and it is encouraging to know that this struggle is not new. Plus, personally it is helpful to hear that it is not a short-term struggle, since if we have the expectations that things will improve rapidly, we will be quickly and easily discouraged when this proves not to be the case.
I think my favorite outing/activity from the program was when we visited city hall and were able to go on a dome tour (particularly special since this is not open to the public), and then talk to the two legislative aids. I have been interested in how the government views Chinatown and the resources and methods that they bring to the table. Another one of my favorite parts about the program was simply getting to know Chinatown better in terms of the geography and the differences between the various streets, blocks, parks, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the tours at the beginning for this, plus the fact that we walked most places, since slowing down really allowed us to get to know a place better than if we had just taken buses or not had the opportunity to explore. I think this personalized the experience more as we became more familiar with the people, businesses, and even eating places.
I continue to have additional questions as to how the current zoning systems address the dearth of residential housing for low-income residents, and what plans are being created and maintained to stop the spread of the Financial District and other high-income residents and businesses from moving into the area, since Chinatown is still based upon a capitalist framework where money has a lot of sway and power. Furthermore, since Chinatown seems to be more economically stagnant compared to the rest of San Francisco, I am curious what is being done to address this, or if people are more preoccupied about the preservation of the neighborhood rather than its growth. My question is then whether cultural preservation and conservation are community values which is why they seem to be the main foci of CCDC.
I definitely plan to apply much of the community-based planning methods in my future work and life. I appreciated when Matthias and Sam came to speak about policy form CCDC’s and the Coalition for the Homeless’ perspective, and discussed how policy is always local and political. I think that this is something that federal and state governments often miss because they are concerned more with the large picture and do not always think through how their actions and policies actually affect people and their lives. It was additionally good to be reminded that coalitions are extremely important. I think this was something that CCDC does well, and especially the Urban Institute in exposing us to the plethora of perspectives and methods of tackling various community issues. Overall, it was great to be able to visit and hear from such a diverse group of people and organizations, from think tanks to public utilities, to housing developers, all of whom will hopefully work together to maintain and build a better Chinatown. Finally, I did not know what to expect from the program, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to participate. So thanks Erika and Deland for creating and providing a great learning experience!