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Gentrification gives Chinatown’s New Year celebration special meaning

The Chinese New Year kicks off today, with dancers, dragons, and firecrackers. The celebration is particularly meaningful to a community that is being displaced by rising Manhattan rents. For shops and restaurants in Chinatown it is also a good opportunity to do business. For more we go to Juliette Jabkhiro in Chinatown.

JABKHIRO: This is the sound of a firecracker kicking off the ceremony. . It’s the first event of the Lunar Chinese New Year celebrations. In the Sara Roosevelt Park in downtown Manhattan, a crowd is watching women dance  in traditional clothes – mostly red for good luck. Kelly Luan is Chinese American – she’s one one of 400 high school students helping with the event.. She says she wants to be an active member in her community

LUAN: Chinatown is just really such a good place for me to go,  it’s a place where I can see my own culture in NYC, I think it’s a place where I can really feel at home.

JABKHIRO: Steven Tin hopes more young people will feel like Kelly. He’s the head of a Better Chinatown USA.

TIN: We are trying to do everything in our power to help, to bring awareness of what’s going on in Chinatown.

JABKIRHO: And what’s going on, is that the Chinese population is dropping.

TIN: The neighborhood, basically, the traditional community is moving out or passing away.

JABKIRHO: And the population replacing them is wealthier, and white – that’s according to data collected by the cityBut Tin is not giving up – he says business can attract tourists and other Chinese from the other boroughs.

TIN: One of our mission is to keep this going, not only the culture side, but also the business side.

JABKHIRO: David Lei is the owner of the Grand Advance supermarket, right at the corner of the Roosevelt park. He says he sees a jump in business about 10 – 15 percent this time of year – that helps with rising rents.  

LEI 1: Every year we have a little increasement for that, compared to the normal. It is rising because some of the Chinese community they move out like to Brooklyn and the emptiness leave it to the new comings and the rent prices are going up.

JABKIRHO: And the rent isn’t going up just for stores – restaurants are getting hit, too. Wellington Chen is member of the Chinatown Business Improvement District.

CHEN 2: The days of you coming expecting to get really really cheap food, those days are long passed.

JABKHIRO: Chen says it’s just a natural consequence of the neighborhood evolution.

CHEN: Compared to other communities going through this retail change right now, Chinatown is actually holding his own and increasing its diversity.

JABKHIRO: That diversity will really be on display over the next couple of weeks as Lunar New Year celebrations continue. The big dragon parade is next Sunday. Juliette Jabkhiro, Columbia Radio News.


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