Public Space Design

NYC CHINATOWN

First some background: Chinese immigrants began to settle in the area now known as Chinatown in the 1870s. In the 1970s and 80s, Chinatown was prosperous as the garment industry was at its peak. But today, Chinatown is struggling as real-estate prices rise and demographics are changing.

THE CHALLENGES

Which brings us to the challenge proposed to us by the DOT and The Chinatown Partnership: how can the gateway bring together existing communities and create new opportunities for both locals and tourists to experience the areas in fresh ways?

RESEARCH

Besides desk research, we sought to discover the pain points that both tourists and residents feel in Chinatown. We interviewed 24 people including residents, business owner, local visitors, tourists, and organization leaders. We also went to the Senior Center close to the park and visited all of the remaining gateway locations.

Interviews

Mei Lum, daughter of the owner of Wing on Wo, the oldest business in Chinatown. Mei recently launched a nonprofit called the WOW project to help give voice to Chinatown’s small business owners. 

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Aaron Reiss, the cartographer who worked with MoCA to develop their Chinatown map. He is an urban planner and journalist, who also lived in New York’s Chinatown for several years.​ 

Olympia Moy, who was born and raised in Chinatown, and currently runs the Florentine School, a music and arts enrichment program that her parents founded.

INSIGHTS

1.

Culture is in Chinatown,

but it is hidden to most people,

especially tourists.

2.

Chinatown has lots of economic issues.

3.

Locals are not aware of events happening in Chinatown.

"There’s a richness we don’t put out there. Visitors just come here and see these t-shirts and cheap food.”                                                               - Olympia Moy, Resident

“Food, food, food, food, food.  That’s why people come to Chinatown.”                                                                      - Sarah, Tourist

“Bar owners can’t afford rent here. It is too expensive for them to run the business.”

                                          - Local bartender

“Chinatown is falling into ruin. I feel very sad.”                                                                  - Former government leader of Chinatown

“It isn't just one installation. Tring everybody in. It’s community building.”                                                             - Gary Lum, Resident

“There are all of these little groups and all this energy happening, but nobody knows about it.”                                                                                      - Olympia Moy, Resident

TARGET AUDIENCE

In choosing a target audience, we wanted to focus on both tourists and locals.  In both cases, we want to expose the richness of Chinatown to those that are missing it.  For tourists, that means exposing the beautiful places that are not frequented.  For locals, it’s showing all the activity in chinatown they may not be aware of.

OUR GOAL

From the research we have done, we gradually defined our project goal: How can we create a landmark for tourists that celebrates the richness of Chinatown’s culture, unlock its hidden gems and serves as a resource for residents to connect with their community? We will start with the triangle space on canal street where the existing kiosk is. It is the center of chinatown and also close to several subway exits. 

DESIGN PROCESS

Idea creation & sketch

Testing

Then we discuss the ideas, narrow them down and interview more people, gather the feedback. We also go to chinatown and shows our idea to both residents and tourists. Afterward, we settle the idea down and start working on the video to present our idea to the audience. 

FINAL FEATURES

Timeline

The tourists we spoke with were eager to learn more about Chinatown’s history. Residents talked about its rich culture and the surprising and interesting events that happened there that people simply don’t know about it. With the timeline we wanted to bring the history to the tourists rather than having them have to opt-in to seek it out. They will be able to just stumble upon it.

Digital bulletin board

The digital bulletin board will serve as a resource for residents and the greater Asian American community in New York City. We think this bilingual feature will be especially useful for many of the other gateways which are situated in the more resident-centric parts of Chinatown, like Chatham Square and Division Street. The people who live in Chinatown and come to visit are diverse. Publicizing all that’s going on would be of interest to many New Yorkers, especially recent immigrants and refugees who need to know there are organizations here to help them.

Photo map

Visitors who come to Chinatown often have a superficial experience and are unaware of its many “nooks and crannies,” like the button shop that doubles as an art gallery, or the Chinese opera karaoke happening at Columbus Park. We’re suggesting that the photo map be populated with professional photos managed by the Chinatown Partnership. These beautiful shots will help expose the parts of Chinatown that may not make it to Yelp or Google, and draw visitors to small businesses. A related Instagram will encourage visitors to engage with finding their own hidden gems, with a chance it will get to be displayed on the photo map.