Day 1: June 18
In the afternoon, we got our first taste of field observation as Gordon Chin, the founding Director of Chinatown CDC and author of our course textbook, took us on a walk around town. This kind of learning is what excites me so much about Urban Institute (especially since every class session seems to include an outdoors session) b/c I have spent most of my past two years here at Stanford in an engineering lecture hall staring at slides or in my room crushing through a problem set. I can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch the things we are talking about – the restaurants serving the community, the retail stores peddling their wares to both tourists and residents, the din of the crowded streets, the deluge of red that marks Chinatown so distinctly from other American architecture.
I don’t remember the specific details from Gordon’s tour – and that is largely b/c I don’t quite have the streets down (Stockton, Powell, Jackson, Grant, these streets float around in my consciousness, but I can’t quite place them on a map and don’t even know which point north-south or east-west). We hit some landmarks like the Chinese Hospital, the streets w/ the Family and Church Associations, Portsmouth Square, the construction site for the new subway stop, Mandarin Tower (and its surprisingly chilly wind tunnels), I-Hotel.
Yet, as Gordon wrapped our tour, I slowly felt a sense of community – that Chinatown is not only just a tourist district for authentic cuisine and exotic wares, but a great community to be part of – a district that enshrines the Chinese experience in America, a district where Chinese people look out for Chinese people, a district that both captures the dynamism of Silicon Valley and the sense of community. I look forward to learning more.
Day 2: June 20
In the morning, Walden, a consultant w/ a small-business development organization, and Malcolm, a faculty member in ethnic studies at SFSU, came to speak more about economic development. Through their lectures and readings, I learned a lot more about downzoning and honestly – what the Chinatown Plan looks like. I’ve heard about residential and commercial zoning, but I’ve never understood the input and process that constitutes an urban plan.
In the afternoon, as we embarked on a scavenger hunt, I felt a distinct difference from our tour just two days prior. As we raced from picture to picture, from Bruce Li’s birthplace to an alleyway w/ paw prints, I felt my geographic intuition slowly falling into place. I know how Kearney, Grant, and Stockton partitioned Chinatown as north-south lines into east-west portions. I saw how much Kim+Ono differed from the other shops on Grant Street in catering to a younger, professional class that is non-resident to Chinatown. I felt a small inkling of confidence in learning about Chinatown.