This week I focused on the streetscape of Chinatown. As put by NYC Design on their website, streetscapes play a part “in the wellbeing and quality of life of the neighborhoods they inhabit and connect”. Part of the success of businesses is how presentable and maintained the streets are. The street’s maintenance impacts public health, quality of life, and perception of neighborhood safety. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, studying and understanding ways to improve and maintain streetscape has become more relevant than ever. Nice outdoor dining has been associated with clean, safe streets that people can dine out on where they can feel safe while eating. With my research this week, I got a better idea of the correlation between the quality of the streets and its impact on the local Chinatown businesses.
For my study into the streetscapes of Chinatown, I focused on examining Division Street. Division Street is one of the four major Chinatown streets that Think!Chinatown is examining and researching for the Small Business Services Commercial District Needs Assessment. For my research, I approached examining the street with a given criteria for ranking and examination: positive elements, negative elements, opportunities for intervention, and then I gave a score of the streetscape. I looked for whether there were public seating options, wide sidewalks, bustling storefronts, and more. I realized that a lot of action must be taken to change some of these poorly maintained areas on Division Street and streets in Chinatown in general. Some of the action that can be taken consists of removing the graffiti, having more trash cans on the street, improving the storefront facades, and fixing the cracks on the sidewalk.
Through my study I have found an obstacle that Chinatown faces in revitalizing foot traffic and the livelihood of the neighborhood that can not be easily fixed. The streets are narrow and thus it makes it hard to incorporate outdoor dining, public benches, and more. At the moment I am not sure how to address this but I want to hear what business owners have to say about this challenge that impacts their ability to have outdoor dining as a sufficient option to attract customers.
While my research question centers on the factors impacting struggling Chinatown businesses, the quality of streets is essential to unpacking what can be improved in Chinatown to revitalize it and draw in more visitors. In regards to exploring more about streetscapes and how it has impacted Chinatown throughout history, I examined Urban Archive’s Shopfronts of Chinatown which consists of an online map with stories and images about the streetscape of this historic neighborhood. I noticed that Chinatown has always had bustling businesses over the course of many streets but its borders and the kinds of businesses that have existed in the neighborhood have changed over time.
While this week was centered around my observations of the physical landscape of Chinatown, I now have questions I want to ask business owners about their hardships. How has COVID-19 impacted your business practices? What changes do you believe are necessary by the city government? What is the main problem hurting your businesses? In preparation for this I have started reading a report by the Asian American Federation from 2021 titled Small Businesses, Big Losses to see what existing research there is on the struggles of Asian American businesses.
Thanks for reading my blog post!