Press Release

AALDEF Previews Findings from First-Ever Three-City Chinatown Land Use Study


Chinatown Then and Now.JPG

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is releasing land use data on New York City’s Chinatown, as a preview of its forthcoming three-city study of Chinatowns and surrounding areas in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

“We have assembled data on the make-up of small businesses and properties in Chinatown that will enable us to document the effects of gentrification on Asian immigrants, who have been fighting for their community for decades,” said Bethany Li, staff attorney at AALDEF.

AALDEF, in collaboration with community partners, academic institutions, and hundreds of volunteers, spent a year recording block by block and lot by lot the existing land uses in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia Chinatowns and surrounding immigrant areas. Today’s initial release of land use data, combined with detailed analysis of Census data from the 1980s, provides a snapshot of the existing uses of New York’s Chinatown and describes its startling transformation in the past three decades.

New York’s Chinatown has served as the gateway for thousands of immigrants from Asia and is home to a thriving network of low-income residents and small businesses. However, property values in Lower Manhattan have increased substantially, and gentrification is threatening the neighborhoods’ historical and cultural significance. According to Census data, the overall population in New York’s Chinatown decreased 7% between 1990 and 2010 (from 125,574 to 116,722 people) due largely to the increase of non-family households and a decrease in family households — a significant indicator of gentrification. As a result, many Asian immigrants face the prospect of displacement.

For example, AALDEF’s study indicates that an overwhelming majority of commercial use in New York’s Chinatown consists of small businesses (94%), approximately 12% of which is classified as “high-end.” However, our survey shows that the most significant cluster of “high-end” businesses is in the area between Houston and Delancey Streets, where students and young professionals have displaced immigrant families in the past decade. “High-end” stores also dot the landscape along Allen and Orchard Streets heading towards more traditional parts of Chinatown.

“Gentrification threatens to transform these previously neglected neighborhoods into tourist centers and destroy the places where Asian immigrants have lived and worked for decades,” said Li. “We hope this data can be used to support organizing and planning efforts that help retain resources for New York’s Chinatown for current and future immigrants.”

This data was collected with the assistance of AALDEF’s community partners including Chinese Progressive Association and Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center in Boston, Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association in New York, and Asian Americans United in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania’s City and Urban Studies Department provided technical assistance on mapping and data analysis.

Download Chinatown: Then and Now >


Ujala Sehgal
212.966.5932 x217

Bethany Li
212.966.5932 x213

Image courtesy of Reena Joy Flores and Gina Chung, Open City.