The "Decline of Chinatown" Nonstory

MLewyn's picture

The headline in "Wired" seems to say it all: "Mapping the Alarming Decline of America's Chinatowns." The Wired story breathlessly proclaims that "gentrification" and "development" are causing Chinatowns to "go extinct"- with the apparent agenda of trying to prevent new urban housing because of concerns about gentrification.

But the story is, to put it charitably, misleading.  The story claims that the percentage of Asians in the Boston, Washington and Philadelphia Chinatowns is declining.  But if you look at the fine print in the report, the story is based on, you notice some numbers that show a more complicated story.  In particular, the raw number of Chinatown Asians has actually increased since 1990.  For example, in Boston's Chinatown, the number of Asians has increased from 4881 to 5848, roughly a 20% increase. The Asian percentage has decreased only because the numbers of whites, blacks and Latinos has increased even more rapidly.  In Philadelphia, the number of Asians has more than doubled (though again, the white population increased even more rapidly, and the populations of other racial groups also increased).  In Manhattan, by contrast, the picture is quite different.  The number of Asians in Manhattan has increased only slightly since 1990- but the overall population has actually declined, so the Asian share has actually increased.   

Rents have increased in these neighborhoods- but in two of the three Chinatowns (New York and Boston) rents are still below the citywide average. And the Chinatown with the highest (relative to the city as a whole) rents, Philadelphia, is the one with the highest increase in the Asian population. 

In sum, the "Asians being displaced by gentrification" story is not supported by the facts. 


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