Name, age, occupation, where are you from and where do you live now.
Amy Chin, 43, Program Consultant for the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation (and professional New Yorker). Born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx, and now living in Manhattan (in the fur district or, according to my snootier newbie neighbors, Chelsea Heights).
Can you explain what the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation does?
The CPLDC was formed after September 11th as a way to address some of the devastating effects on the neighborhood both spiritually and economically. The overarching goal is to make Chinatown a cleaner, safer and more attractive place to live, work and visit. Partnering with community leaders, business people, residents, government entities, and private funders, CPLDC is hoping to improve the neighborhood on many different fronts and to give Chinatown its own voice in the broader growth and development plans for lower Manhattan.
Over the next few months, CPLDC is embarking on an ambitious ‘Clean Streets’ campaign deploying about 20 workers to scrub the streets of Chinatown clean 7 days/week. We’re also developing a system of wayfinding to help folks navigate Chinatown with maps and pretty signs; initiating a comprehensive community newsletter to inform folks on where to find services and events in Chinatown; sponsoring and producing public cultural events in traditional and non-traditional places; providing services to help local businesses; promoting tourism with an international marketing program called ‘Explore Chinatown’; creating a Night Market to bring more varied activity and clientele to the neighborhood; and designing new lighting to enliven the nighttime streetscape and highlight architecturally interesting buildings in Chinatown.
One of the events that your organization organizes is the Taste of Chinatown. How is tomorrow's event different than the last one? Are there any foods that our readers should be looking out for? Taking a quick glance at the menu, there seem to be a lot of items. What's the strangest thing you've seen on the menu and what are you most excited to try?
The event has grown each time. April 22nd TOC is bigger and better than ever before with a designated tented dining area on Mott Street complete with palm trees, birds, and fish. There will be more family friendly activities sponsored by local museums and cultural organizations.
Each time, the food has grown more diverse too. In the first TOC, it was lots of noodles, egg rolls and dumplings. Then the last time, I was surprised to find restaurants offering tastings of shark’s fin soup and ‘3 cup chicken’. My advice for adventurous readers/eaters is to look to try dishes that are being hawked under a ‘Chinese name’ and don’t forget to wash it down with a ‘bubble tea’. Also, because the Chinese are such world wanderers and food-obsessed, there’s a broad range of cuisines in Chinatown -- Cantonese, Shanghai, and Mandarin specialties, but also Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian and Malaysian. At the southeast Asian restaurants, look for sweet confections in neon bright colors flavored with pandan.
Strangest thing? Well, vegetarian snails. It’s kind of an oxymoron, no?
I’m just excited to try any food --- who can ever get tired of dumplings every way, whether stuffed with shrimp, meat or vegetables, fried or steamed, round or long, try dozens of varieties in one afternoon. Don’t miss the fresh steamed tamales stuffed with sticky rice, Chinese sausage and mushrooms and wrapped in lotus leaf.
Ooops… just drooled on the keyboard. Sorry.
The CPLDC is one of the groups behind the 48 "state-of-the-art "garbage cans in Chinatown. How do they differ from your everyday garbage can? And how much are they actually helping the garbage problem in Chinatown? Do you think the some of the sanitary conditions in Chinatown are somewhat of a cultural phenomenon?
Aside from being over 200 lbs of solid, reinforced, shot blasted steel with a custom powder coated teal green finish, they will not likely get moved as a temporary filler for a New York City pothole. We also think they’re prettier than the Dept of Sanitation’s standard issue ones. (Here’s an interesting factoid -- roughly 1/3 of the Department of Sanitation’s standard litter baskets go missing or get irreparably damaged each year. In addition to filling in potholes, rumor has it that they make great backyard grills……)
But seriously, new ‘state of the art’ baskets are only the tip of the iceberg. Because they’re bigger, they hold more litter. Because they’re more conspicuous, maybe folks will remember to put litter in the baskets instead of on the street. And, because they’re bright, shiny, and new, maybe folks will be more reluctant to dirty or deface them (and the area around them).
I wouldn’t say the sanitary conditions are a cultural phenomenon. If you go to cities in Asia, you don’t encounter these same conditions. There are many factors – old infrastructure and streets combined with a high population density (of both residents and visitors) and an intense concentration of food based businesses. A lot of refuse gets generated and there isn’t enough room for it to go. But, it is also true that Chinatown has a sizeable newcomer population and many start-up businesses who need to be better informed about city sanitation rules.
What are some of the other planned improvements coming for Chinatown? And after all these changes, will Chinatown even be recognizable?
Virtually all of Chinatown’s parks are slated for renovation and remodeling in the near future and the East River waterfront development is poised to make Manhattan’s Chinatown the only one in the nation with direct water front access. I’m also very involved with a group called CREATE in Chinatown that has been developing plans and lobbying for an arts center and theater to be built here. The Museum of Chinese in the Americas is planning a major facility expansion in the coming year. Further down the road, If we ever see the 2nd Avenue subway built, key stops will deposit riders in the thick of Chinatown. It’s partly because of these many long term and short term improvements that the CPLDC was formed. We want to make sure that Chinatown people have an active role in shaping whatever improvements are coming through --- that’s the only way to guarantee that Chinatown remains ‘recognizable’ to the people who know and love it most.
We've read many stories about how Chinatown still struggles post-9/11, yet we see the streets bustling every weekend. How far is the area from economic recovery and will it ever recover to a pre-9/11 level economically?
I was recently talking to a fish seller on Mulberry Street on a particularly busy weekend evening and he echoed sentiments I’ve heard repeated by other small business people -- things are better than right after 9/11, but are far from pre-9/11 levels. I believe it can recover to pre-9/11 levels, but we need to apply greater resources and creative ideas to make that happen. It is a community with unique characteristics and strengths and the same economic salves that worked in Tribeca and Wall Street will not necessarily work as well here.
What's in Chinatown's future as the lower-income individuals and families, as well as garment businesses, are gradually being pushed by gentrification? Will the Chinese population continue to shift outwards to Queens and Brooklyn?
National and regional demographic trends indicate that the population of Chinese like other immigrant groups will continue to shift to Queens, Brooklyn and the rest of the surrounding regions. New York City’s population has grown in the last decade largely through immigration and this has a radiating effect on our neighboring areas.
The issues in New York Chinatown remain issues of affordability, code enforcement and displacement. In some of the former garment factories, you will find modeling agencies and luxury residential lofts these days. Rents increase and immigrant businesspeople and long-time Chinese residents can no longer afford to stay.
There is a domino effect on the local economy. For example, the transformation of one garment factory into a luxury residential loft translates into 60-100 daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners now reduced to 2-4 (and that is if the residents of that loft even choose to eat or shop at local Chinese stores).
So, what is a Chinatown without the Chinese community? What we may be left with is what they have in D.C. Chinatown – Chinese-style facades fronting a Boston Market or McDonald’s. It becomes a cultural relic or amusement theme park not a vibrant and lively neighborhood where real people shop, work, eat, and go to school which is the kind of Chinatown we still have and want to keep here in New York.
How would people that want to get involved to help the CPLDC get involved?
We’re working on getting our website up soon, but in the meantime, email us at ChinatownLDC (at) aol.com or go to our partner sites at www.explorechinatown.com and www.rebuildchinatown.org.
What is your favorite part of Chinatown? If someone had only an hour, what are the must-dos in Chinatown?
Lately, I’m liking East Broadway a lot. It’s a part of Chinatown inhabited by a newer immigrant population so there are fewer English language signs and interesting foods and things I’ve not encountered before so it feels more like I’m in a foreign land. So, it’s really kind of hard core as New York goes. I like walking through the labyrinth of stores inside the Triple 8 mall underneath the Manhattan Bridge.
But, if you only have an hour, navigate in the more user friendly areas. Get a bubble tea at Ten Ren Teas on Mott Street near Canal. While sipping your tea, walk down to the bend in the road mid-Mott and browse and sample at the by-the-pound goodies at Aji Ichiban. Turn left and go down Pell Street, stopping in at May May Foods for a Chinese tamale or other good snack. At the corner of Doyer, check out the ‘curiosity shop’ of tsotka. Turn right on Doyers St and before you get to Bowery, look for a doorway surrounded by a hodgepodge of signs (opposite the post office). Go in and down the stairs. At first there are only a few employment agencies, but further down this subterranean hallway is a Feng Shui master whose claim to fame is consulting for the Donald. When you get to the end of the hall, go up the stairs and you’ll be on Chatham Square. That’s a good hour, I think..
Where is your favorite place to eat in Chinatown?
My favorites change weekly, but right now, I’m obsessed with the Vietnamese sandwiches at Saigon Bahn Mi which is a small food counter at the back of a jewelry/gem store at 138 Mott Street (near Broome) and the dragon beard candy maker (he’s not always there) who works in the window of the food mall on Elizabeth Street right above Hester St.
What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
The old public school on Mulberry and Bayard Street.
What advice, if any, would you give to Mayor Bloomberg?
Come to Chinatown more often.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone?
If I told you, I wouldn’t get to be alone there anymore, now would I?