The first week was an excellent overview and introduction to Chinatown, past and present. We were fortunate to have Gordon Chin lead our group for the preliminary tour of the neighborhood, since he helped found CCDC and thus has deep insight and knowledge of the people, institutions, and histories. In addition to providing context on the existing structures that we walked by, Gordon was able to specify personal connections to the neighborhood, making the tour a more enjoyable and interesting experience. It was also amazing to be able to go to the top of the I-Hotel and look over Chinatown, affording us a different perspective of the area, and especially how zoning has affected the heights of the buildings. Seeing the large buildings of the Financial District running up against the edge of Chinatown is particularly striking from that angle, as it makes it seem imposing and domineering.
During the second day, Malcolm Collier came and presented his research on how Chinatown has changed over the past few decades using qualitative photographic evidence comparing previous photos and new ones he captured himself. This was particularly fascinating as we could see what has changed and what has remained the same (or similar). He was able to take these photos and enumerate the types of businesses in the buildings, as well as the vacancy rates that have increased on many blocks in recent times. The scavenger hunt in the afternoon was extremely helpful in helping to solidify my mental map of the layout of the neighborhood, since I was unfamiliar with the streets and geography. Plus, it was a good team-building exercise (physically and figuratively) since we were running up and down the blocks trying to take pictures. One of my favorite parts of the afternoon, however, came earlier when visiting the Wok store, since we were able to meet the owner of the store, who was extremely exuberant about Chinatown and encouraged us to be proud of our heritage. Overall, this was an excellent introduction to Chinatown as well as the Urban Institute program, and I am especially thankful that we have a solid group of participants.