Equitable Development Plan Aims To Protect Philly's Chinatown

As the historic neighborhood experiences increased redevelopment around the new Rail Park, community activists are working to ensure older residents and businesses aren't displaced in the process.

2 minute read

March 2, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Philadelphia, Chinatown

Philadelphia's Chinatown dates back to the mid-19th century, with its first business recorded as opening in 1971. | Scott McLeod / Flickr

Philadelphia's Chinatown is changing—but residents hope the development boom in the area won't drive out long-term Chinese-owned businesses in the area, reports Sophia Schmidt.

A 2020 study prepared by the consulting firms Strategic Economics and Urban Partners for the Chinatown CDC found that since Friends of the Rail Park — the polished nonprofit that continues to raise money to make the 3-mile park vision a reality — formed in 2013, sale prices of apartment buildings near the first phase of the park grew faster than in the rest of the city. The authors estimated up to 16% of this increase may be attributable to the Rail Park, and projected the amenity could generate more than $2 million in additional real estate tax revenue for the city per year.

Yue Wu, neighborhood planning and project manager at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, acknowledges the economic and cultural diversity currently present in the neighborhood, but expresses fears that it won't last as costs rise and older residents are displaced. According to the article, "Friends of the Rail Park has tried to counter the cultural displacement that can come with gentrification by co-hosting events like Mahjong nights, plant swaps, elder hour — geared toward low-income and low-English language proficiency seniors — said Friends of the Rail Park Director Rebecca Cordes Chan." The organization is also launching a planning process that will evaluate the equity impacts of new development and develop ways to prevent potential displacement. Ideas include a land trust, local procurement, and 'value capture strategies.'

Planetizen has previously covered one such strategy, tax increment financing (TIF) districts, a mechanism which, as CityLab explained, "has become the most popular incentive tool for economic development in the United States as the federal government has decreased its urban development spending." Philadelphia already boasts several examples of TIFs, but "None of the TIF districts created to date in Philadelphia have funded community benefits, according to the 2020 Strategic Economics report."

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