After participating in the full seven weeks of the Chinatown Urban Institute, I definitely learned a lot more about Chinatown than I did before. I was just another tourist/consumer, exploring the neighborhood and going to restaurants with friends and family, but I feel that after the program, it gave me a better understanding about Chinatown and how it is not just a destination for tourists. Chinatown is like any other neighborhood with its own beauty on the surface and issues that the community faces within. It was overwhelming as we dove further into the different topics each week, such as maintaining sustainability, transportation, and affordable housing. The highlights of the Chinatown experience are very unforgettable and it was fun to experience Chinatown in a different perspective rather than just being a tourist/consumer. I definitely liked being apart of different tours throughout the program as it gave me a more valuable experience instead of just exploring on my own.
Even though I do not have a background in urban planning, the program gave me an insight of how organizations plan and help the community and also what the living conditions in some apartment units were like. For example, such as how the Public Utilities Commissions try to make Chinatown more sustainable by utilizing green infrastructure to increase water supply and to increase the sewer system capacity. And also how the Planning and Urban Renewal Association advocates for affordable housing. The most interesting aspect was the SROs. It is difficult for the people living in SROs as it can get very tight and crowded and also since it is one of the more affordable housing options people can live by. Making money and finding a place in the Bay Area can be a struggle.
Organizations try to meet the needs of the community and if people do not engage with them and voice their thoughts, it can be proven futile for change to actually happen. It is very important to communicate with members of organizations and the community to help make and improve change. Meeting different people who were actively trying to improve the community was a great way to get insight on how the community might be affected and for those who live there and what the expectations they had were. Projects can take a long time to go into effect as you need to factor in funds, staff, and location depending on the project.
Another interesting aspect was that SPUR also had different future scenarios of Chinatown and I hadn’t thought about those possibilities because those four future scenarios are very drastic from each other. The four are high and low social inclusion and low and high economic growth. It allowed me to think more about the future of Chinatown and how that would come to be. Chinatown can be well-off or it can be struck with poverty and a low quality environment (contaminated air/water, damaged buildings, decrease in business, etc.) Many don’t think about the future and just focus on the present and it’s good to think about what will happen later.
It is a little depressing, but the reality is that as many new generations continue to grow, they might care less about the community and improving it. Thankfully, there are still those who continue to fight for better change. It is also very important to build relationships with one another in the workplace and also just your daily life because you don’t know when you will be needing that support. Despite this, people need to consider how their actions and voices affect the community. This will remind me about the actions that I take and what the consequences are going to be and also will keep in mind that these are issues (affordable housing, transportation) are long term. Even if it is quite expensive here, I need to be grateful for the resources that I already have. And that even though I might not like being around people that much, it will do me good to build relationships with others.
Off tangent, but for the event I had gone to was the dancing at Waverly. It was just nice to see young people dancing and connecting to their culture and others. The dancers were wearing traditional clothing/costumes and traditional music were playing as well. Some of them were as young as age four! At age four, I was barely learning how to connect with others or something. I like cultural events like these even though I don’t get out often. It was nice to see the event attracting tourists as they made their way through Chinatown.
As for the final projects, I hope that they will help better the community even if it is just slightly and give CCDC staff and others ideas that can be implemented in the future. I had a great seven weeks of Urban Institute and even though I probably won’t come back here, I will still remember CCDC.
- Michelle Mei
Dancing at Waverly!