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Volume 78 - Number 41 / March 18 - 24, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933



Villager photos by Isaac Rosenthal

The red Explore Chinatown booth at Canal and Baxter Sts., above and below, has become a “navigational beacon,” providing helpful information about the neighborhood.

You are here! @Y! Signs, markers to make it clear

By Michael Moi

“How do I get to Chinatown?” is a question asked frequently by new visitors to New York City and even longtime natives. They are generally instructed to take the subway to the Canal St. station, then walk eastward toward the Manhattan Bridge until Chinese calligraphy characters appear on the storefronts. However, the rapid growth of Chinatown since the 1960s has extended its boundaries beyond what had been considered the “traditional” core of Mott, Bayard and Pell Sts.

Tour books and visitor guides offer differing interpretations on Chinatown’s location Downtown, with no consensus on where the neighborhood actually begins or ends. Does the neighborhood edge beyond Baxter St. onto Lafayette St., or as far west as Broadway? To what extent does it adjoin Soho, Tribeca, Little Italy and the infamous Five Points of yore? How big is Chinatown really? Lines have blurred as new residents, new arrivals, new businesses and new services outgrew the twisting streets, and expanded outward from the center to the neighborhood’s perimeter, block by block. The post-9/11 street closure of Park Row seals off Chinatown from various Lower Manhattan access points and compounds boundary struggles.

The Chinatown Partnership was formed in 2006 to bring residents, business owners and community groups together to rebuild Chinatown following 9/11, and to preserve the neighborhood’s unique culture while ensuring its vitality into the future. 

To stabilize Chinatown as a unified district, the Chinatown Partnership has proposed and created services and programs that better define the community’s borders and provide assistance in navigating its serpentine streets.

A potential installation of special streetscape enhancements and directional signage around Chinatown is a project currently being planned with community leaders and stakeholders. Design and installation costs are being covered by a $1.6 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and $314,000 received from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Office, which the Chinatown Partnership will administer as a result of our community advocacy efforts.

As other areas in the city have implemented elements to reflect their own distinctive neighborhood characteristics, this way-finding project will mark Chinatown with bilingual signs, maps, in-ground compasses, LED lighting, historical markers and other tools to clearly define its periphery. The upgrades will direct the public to and through the neighborhood, clearly identify Chinatown’s central streets and underscoring its uniqueness with a clear cultural delineation.

There have been many community discussions about what constitutes Chinatown. Taking this golden opportunity to clearly define boundaries will help preserve this historic community, make it shine and make ourselves proud.

Adorned with its colorful dragon and neon pagoda, the Explore Chinatown information kiosk that sits on the Canal and Baxter triangular divider has become a navigational beacon and provides helpful dining, shopping and special events information to the public in several languages by a dedicated staff.

Plum blossom-inspired illuminated garlands drape across Chinatown’s busy streets to welcome in the holiday season and symbolize the resilience and perseverance of the local residents and businesses.

A recent installation of streetlight “pedestrian arm” additions for underlit Canal St. has enhanced safety and made the strip more welcoming in the evening.

New streetscape elements will distinguish Chinatown’s individuality and history, and provide a clearer, identifiable district. Bringing together its winding lanes and corridors will revitalize the community’s heart and spirit and produce economic benefits by efficiently directing the public to the neighborhood’s abundance of eating, shopping and artistic offerings.

Moi is a director, Chinatown Partnership

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