Amid the changing face of America, non-affluent areas of concentrated ethnic populations are caught in a net of gentrification; driven out of their homes while the affluent settle in with no issue.
Many neighborhoods in Boston are dramatically impacted by gentrification: a process in which an area - typically one where lower income minorities reside - becomes overpopulated by incoming wealthy, privileged people. The wealthier class settles into the new neighborhood because it is more affordable, has good housing stock, and is conveniently located. But, their presence and spending power bring expensive stores, increased rent and higher mortgages. For longtime residents of these neighborhoods, the once welcoming place they called home becomes too expensive to live in, and they are often forced to move out.
The neighborhood of Chinatown is an area currently being affected. Chinatown is a great example of immigrants taking a piece of their heritage into a new nation. Yet, when the town they established for themselves is gentrified, it presents some striking questions.
The history of Chinatown is compelling, enriched by the hardship and heart of the immigrants that established it. Chu Huang, a former Youth Program Associate at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC), shares her knowledge regarding the rich history of the town.
“In the 1860s, Boston’s Chinatown had already been established,” says Huang. “The town had a history of a combat zone and red light districts for which people feared the area; a place only the Chinese resided as they had no choice.” This included X-rated film stores, prostitution, and alleyways scattered with pitched tents serving as temporary homes of impoverished immigrants.
In the modern spotlight, Chinatown has refined its image. In contrast to the streets lined with family-owned businesses, Chinatown has been introduced to new chains owned by large corporations; stripping the town of its unique cultural heritage instilled by those who established it.
Kathy Lee, a junior at the John D. O’Bryant High School and active member in the Chinatown community, said, “I’ve been to a workshop organized by BCNC and they talked about Chinatown's rent being extremely expensive these days and people are trying to find housing within the area but fail.”
Not only is this an inconvenience, but it would also increase sectionalism and isolates the already underprivileged minorities within the city. This would profoundly impact current immigrants settling into the area in hopes of entering a comfortable ethnic enclave.
“When we lose places like Chinatown, I feel that the tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion of people diminishes,” says Huang. “This makes it tougher for immigrants to reach that ‘American dream.’”
For neighborhoods like Chinatown, and many others across the city affected by gentrification, it is in our best interest to protect these places by maintaining their authentic flare and assuring affordable housing to its’ residents. It may appear that gentrification is beneficial because of the clean, modern look it may bring along with new businesses. But, it is in our best interest to protect these places as they are towns created by the people, for the people and should remain that way.