CHINATOWN FOR WHOM? P O W E R A N D P A RT I C I P A T O RY P L A N N I N G I N B O S TO N â€™ S C H I N ATO W N
MEGAN DO 2
Submitted to the Department of Architectural Studies of Amherst College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with honors. Advisor: Gabriel Arboleda Committee: Jessica Hejny, Ronald Rosbottom May 1, 2018
COVER IMAGE: â€œthe gatewayâ€? by Kate Wheeler (Flickr)
“I’m scared that one day Chinatown will be gone, that there will be no Chinese people because it has become too expensive. All we will have left is this empty shell of a Chinatown.” HENRY YEE, CO-CHAIR OF THE CHINATOWN RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S ABSTRACT
PART ONE: JUSTICE, PLANNING, AND POWER
I n t ro du c t io n
1 . 1 R e co gn i z i n g In ju st i ce
1 . 2 S pace i s Po we r
1 . 3 T he Pro mi se o f Part i ci pat i o n
S u m mar y
PART TWO: BOSTON’S CHINATOWN
I n t ro du c t io n
2 . 1 T he C hi n e se Mu st Go
2 . 2 H o me : A Hi st o r y o f B o st o n’s Chinato wn
2 . 3 Fe ars o f D i spl ace me n t
2 . 4 Pat t e r n s o f Po we r
S u m mar y
PART THREE: A Tale of Two Phillips Squares
I n t ro du c t io n
3 . 1 O v e r v i e w o f Phi l l i ps Squ are
3 . 2 B o st o n’s V i si o n o f Phi l l i ps Square
3 . 3 Yo u t h V i si o n s o f Phi l l i ps Squ are
3 . 4 . Faci ng O f f: T he Yo u t h, T he City, and the 2010 Chinato wn Master Plan
3 . 5 . Cat al y z i n g D i spl ace me n t an d Gentrific ation
S u m mar y
PART FOUR: A THREATENED COMMUNITY
ABSTRACT In this paper, I challenge the assumptions of equity surrounding contemporary rhetoric regarding participatory planning. Specifically, I question whether the City of Boston’s current methodology of participatory planning for the redevelopment of Phillips Square, in Boston’s Chinatown, will be able to produce justice in Chinatown’s built environment. To answer this question, I engage with environmental justice and New Urbanist literature alongside an exploration of the social history of Boston Chinatown. I establish how the state has specifically harmed this low-income community of color through urban planning to understand how these injustices can be remediated. By comparatively analyzing the practices and products of two participatory schemes – one, used by the City of Boston, and the
other, by me – against the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, I reveal the multifaceted needs of the Chinatown community which are neglected by the state in their inadequate participatory planning schemes. I argue that the City of Boston’s participatory planning method in Chinatown is a theoretically and practically limited approach which will only exacerbate economic and social differences in the community. The City’s model, while seemingly “engaging” the community, does so on a shallow plane by seeking input and feedback rather than substantively addressing the community’s explicit social, public health, and environmental needs. This negligence may exacerbate economic and housing disparities in the community, potentially catalyzing displacement, gentrification, and the eventual erasure of a vital ethnic enclave.
P R E FA C E My first memory of Chinatown is more a collage of senses and scenes, than a real memory. I know I am eight years old, in New York City for a weekend vacation with my parents and older sister. I see my mother move from stall to stall, bargaining fiercely in Mandarin. I paw at her, confused by this new language spilling out of her mouth. In the background, my father meanders slowly, browsing the aisles by himself. I’m caught off guard how easily they move through this space - both of them unencumbered by the usual fear of being misunderstood. There is no hesitation and no need for my sister and me to do our usual translating. Instead, we are the ones made an Other. This scene fades, clearing the way for another: my mother leans over restaurant counter and I am next to her, my face pressed against the foggy warm glass, overwhelmed by the prospect of restaurant food for dinner - a rare treat. Again, she yells in Mandarin to the woman behind the counter our order. My father chimes in, too. Next, we are in our motel room and on the small desk, we have piled plastic bags overflowing with groceries - bitter herbs for medicine, tea, and soft, strange fruits. My parents carefully peel the fruits and cradle the flesh into our hands. My sister and I eat the fruit ravenously. Smiling, my mother says in our Teochew dialect - when I was small, back home, I ate this all the time. Eyes gleaming, my father tells us, I haven’t eaten this in years. The idea of their homes always catches me it is a tightness in my chest, the hard lump in my throat. My parents crossed sea and sky to find their way, somehow, to suburban Connecticut. When I was young, my parents would lull me to sleep with stories from their childhoods in China and Vietnam, telling me the all the details they missed. For my mother, she missed the many lakes of her city. For my father, he missed his home, confiscated by the Viet Cong after the war. As such, the un-thriving Chinese-Vietnamese community in central Connecticut has left
much to be desired. Yet, our infrequent trips to Chinatown - both in Boston and New York City - helped fill that large, lonely gap. In those places, my parents understood and were understood linguistically, culturally, and socially. It is for them and all the others who have relied on Chinatowns that I write my thesis. *** During the summer after my freshman year, I found myself in Chinatown, interning with the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC), a nonprofit dedicated to building affordable housing. While surveying tenants, I learned of the injustices they faced, ranging from rat infestations to hostile landlords while luxury apartment buildings were being built only blocks away. Yet, these people found it necessary to live in Chinatown - it gave them access to friends, family, a familiar culture, and a language they could speak. Working as a facilitator for ACDC’s youth program, A-VOYCE (Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Engagement), I saw how dedicated young people in the community were to their home. They all were willing to fight for it and its respect in the larger fabric of the Boston cityscape. Through this experience, I first learned about social vulnerability, institutional power, hostile landlords, displacement, and gentrification. That experience and subsequent experiences with ACDC and the A-VOYCE youth have inspired me to keep learning, questioning, and challenging urban planning and policy, in Boston and other cities. In my thesis, I have sought to question the current day development trajectory of in Boston’s Chinatown. For me, the essence of my thesis is extremely simple: how can Boston’s Chinatown - a home and safe haven for so many people - continue to be one? 8
I N T RO D U C T I O N
Boston’s Chinatown community has persistently faced injustice in the past and present manifested in a lack of public space, widespread environmental health problems, and a housing crisis from discriminatory urban planning decisions made by the City of Boston. An environmental justice lens is especially useful in understanding the racial, class-based and environmental dynamics which affect the Boston Chinatown community. By recognizing these relationships, environmental justice not only elucidates the privilege and power afforded to wealthy white communities (at the expense of lowincome communities of color) but also broader structural inequities in the built environment. By understanding the Chinatown landscape as a product of governmentality, this literature exposes deficiencies in existing urban planning practices conducted by the state. This thesis will explore the intersection of power, planning, and people through investigation into the historical and current day development in Boston’s Chinatown. My first research for my thesis question sought to understand how public park space could remedy environmental justice issues for the Boston Chinatown community. I hoped to collect data from Chinatown youth – a twice marginalized group – in order to analyze and transform this data into a concrete design proposal for a public park. I refer to the Chinatown youth as “twice-marginalized” for the following reasons: (1) as youth, they are often not well received in public spaces and seen as a nuisance; as such, they are pushed out of public spaces in both formal (i.e. no loitering signs) or informal ways (2) as Chinatown residents, they are part of a predominantly low-income and racialized community.
However, after reflection and research, my research interest began to shift. Moving from aesthetic and environmental streetscape upgrades concerned only with design, I began to think more deeply about justice and how power was wielded in the community. However, I recognized that this project centered me as a subject, rather than the community. Recognizing this, I pivoted towards understanding how the community could better self-actualize their wants and needs. By turning towards a methodology meant to empower the community by thinking and advocating for themselves, this laid a foundation for future advocacy and resilience building against displacement and gentrification. By working with the youth in this way directly places power in their hands, unlike typical schemes which rely on the expertise of professional planners, designers, and architects for decision-making. As such, in the latest version of my research question, I problematize the current strategy of participatory planning used by the City of Boston. In doing do, I reveal the contradictions and shortcomings of community engagement and participation facilitated by the state and argue that in the end, under the guise of progress, this methodology will do more harm than good by catalyzing displacement and gentrification. Chapter one reviews literature from environmental justice and new urbanism to establish a precedent of power wielded by the state and neoliberal interests via urban planning and development. The development processes for urban spaces and their subsequent use reflects relationships of physical, economic, and social power. Chapter two narrows this lens, explicitly contextualizing broader environmental justice and urban 10
planning trends seen in the previous chapter in the historical and contemporary landscape of Boston’s Chinatown. Then, I describe the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan’s elements that seek to repair these lapses in the landscape. In the second half of my thesis, I analyze both the processes and designs that emerge out of two participatory schemes conducted by the City of Boston and the author. Chapter three is an introduces the site of interest – Phillips Square – an inactivated public space currently undergoing a streetscape renovation as a result of an incoming luxury development, PBX Residences. Chapter four dives deeper into the specific participatory methodology used by the City of Boston for the redesign of Phillips Square. By analyzing primary documents from community meetings and the City of Boston as my main source, I contend that the development process does not substantively engage Chinatown residents, but instead uses them to validate their designs. In response to this, I engage in participatory action research (PAR) with high school youth from the Chinatown community (via a charrette workshop) to better understand how community power can be wielded and expressed to produce more just outcomes in the built environment. By putting the process and results of the City of Boston’s participatory process in conversation with the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan and my own PAR research, I reveal the blind spots and myopic framework inherent in the participatory planning process used by the City for the redevelopment of Phillips Square. As such, this participatory process is limited in its ability to atone for past injustices built into the Chinatown landscape. Ultimately, I contend that the City of Boston’s redevelopment process is at best, a tokenistic scheme with a façade of empowerment that is ill-equipped to guarantee just outcomes for the community. These limitations may lead to displacement Chinatown’s low-income population and subsequent gentrification of the community through aesthetic upgrades geared towards tourists, rather than the 11
neighborhood’s marginalized residents. By targeting beautification and economic development while wealthy white residents move into the neighborhood via luxury rentals, this overwhelming threat will not only put Chinatown’s historical and cultural legacy at risk but the well-being of thousands of ChineseAmericans who depend on the neighborhood’s economic opportunities and social support systems. For Chinatown residents, Chinatown is not merely a place to live, it is a home. For such a socially vulnerably community to lose such a home that has long been considered undesirable by outsiders would be reprehensible.
PART ONE: JUSTICE, PLANNING, AND POWER
INTRODUCTION In this chapter, I clarify the connections between urban planning, environmental justice, and the distribution of power. I argue that urban planning and environmental justice are intertwined; urban planning is a tool of state in the production of unjust landscapes. These landscapes – how they are formed, designed, and used – speak to the relationships of power between the communities which occupy these landscapes and the state that governs them. Unjust landscapes are physical manifestations of disempowerment in communities unable to counter state power and/or private interests. By recognizing these mechanisms, remedies may be sought. The theoretical work of David Harvey and Julian Agyeman provide a theoretical path forward in understanding how spaces are reflections of power and what may be done about it. This narrative of state power and marginalized communities is an allegory for the City of Boston and Chinatown. These dynamics of power and disempowerment provide a theoretical framework to understand the diverse manifestations of injustice in Boston’s Chinatown. By discussing environmental justice, Julie Sze, David Harvey and Julian Agyeman, we can begin to more concretely understand the specific shape in injustice in an urban, low-income, predominately Asian community. The frame of environmental justice contextualizes this case in a broader framework of injustice, which extends beyond just Boston, but to the United States and abroad. Julie pushes against a traditional take to be more inclusive of the specific struggles (like housing) affecting Asian Americans which will be central this paper’s discussion of displacement and gentrification. The work of David Harvey and Julian Agyeman illustrates current deficiencies in justice for urban dwellers and theorize how these defects can be alleviated. Altogether, this chapter seeks to ground the case of Chinatown and the City of 13
Boston in an existing paradigm of injustice.
1.1 RECOGNIZING INJUSTICE The concept of environmental justice acts as a crucial framework to assess the environmental and social impacts of historic urban planning decisions in the Boston Chinatown community. By placing current environmental and social outcomes alongside the history of the built environment, we are able to uncover how planning transforms into social inequality. Environmental justice specifically connects the historical actions of the past to current day outcomes, revealing the persistent nature of injustice. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. This recognition of justice by the state is important to note. It reflects a government consciousness and reflexivity that recognizes its own role in the creation of marginalized communities. The same reflexivity is noted in Boston’s newest master plan document, Imagine Boston 2030, in which the City expresses, the legacy of busing, redlining, and urban renewal policies that concentrated
poverty and uprooted communities is still affecting many of Boston’s communities of color. These inequities endure today and have not been sufficiently addressed by government policies and investments. As we plan for Boston’s future, we will address the disparities of the past and present. The sentiments echoed at the both the federal and local level showcases an important recognition and acceptance of government complicity in the creation of unjust communities. Building on this understanding of injustice, an alternative framework, Asian American immigrant and refugee environmental justice (AAIREJ) activism, argues housing is a valid and significant matter in environmental justice discourse. It is especially important to discuss how environmental justice affects Asians, as they are often excluded from environmental justice discourse because of the model minority myth which erases marginalized, low-income groups of Asians in the United States. Julie Sze writes about the long-ignored intersections of environmental justice, urban planning, and race. Sze highlights the important work of AAIREJ activism in clarifying these connections in their advocacy work. Specifically, Sze writes Instead of seeing health, environment, and housing as distinct categories, Asian American immigrant and refugee environmental justice activists connect them. The ability allows them to increase community engagement in ways that could lead to more dynamic and effective solutions for multidimensional communities… In an ideological context where neoliberalism and gentrification are intensifying, moderating the excesses of urban redevelopment and dominant discourses of privatization may be the closest thing to justice that [AAIREJ]
activists can achieve. Here, Sze establishes how AAIREJ responds to neoliberal hegemony manifested in urban spaces. AAIREJ activism’s goal, in essence, is to create more resilient communities that resist the seduction of limited economic gains at the expense of community empowerment. A legacy of AAIREJ is reflected in the story of Boston’s Chinatown. The City of Boston has been aligned with local institutions – like the New England Medical Center (NEMC) and Tufts University – since the mid-twentieth century. The razing of Chinatown structures through eminent domain takings for the development of these institutions aligns closely with patterns of privatization and neoliberalism suggested by Sze. Specifically, Andrew Leong pointedly substantiates these claims of environmental injustice by the state and neoliberal actors, asserting that state-produced environmental racism (by way of federal highways and private medical institutions receiving state support) directly cause air pollution, traffic congestion, housing shortages, and lack of open space in Boston’s Chinatown. In the 1990s, Chinatown activists, fearful of environmental and public health impacts to the neighborhood, successfully blocked the construction of a Tufts-NEMC parking garage with Leong as their general counsel. More recently, the community has advocated for affordable housing and pedestrian safety, two areas typically ignored by the mainstream environmental justice movement. Here, we see AAIREJ activism deployed as a response to inequitable power relationships between the City of Boston and Chinatown residents to mediate neoliberal excess and governmental negligence. Compared to other communities, Boston’s Chinatown environmental justice advocacy is not in opposition to pure environmental harms, but rather, land-hungry hospitals and highways that affect residents’ ability to attain a higher standard of environmental 14
and social quality of life. Yet, just recognizing environmental injustice is not enough. In the next section, I cite theory more deeply understand what may be done to produce a more just landscape.
1.2 SPACE IS POWER David Harvey and Julian Agyeman, from the disciplines of urban planning and environmental justice, depict urban space as a battleground for justice in which various stakeholders of urban space – communities, the state, and private interests – vie for land for each of their priorities. I will explain the works of these theorists to illustrate how space is a medium of political, social, and economic power and thus. The theoretical framework of right to the city emphasizes democratic participation in urban development to guarantee social and environmental equity. French philosopher Henri Lefebvre famously discussed the notion of the right to the city in his 1968 book Le Droit a la Ville. Since this work, right to the city has been enshrined as an urban planning virtue, legitimized with the United Nations’ World Charter on the Right to the City. David Harvey has built on Lefebvre’s concept, describing the human rights imbued in the right to the city. Harvey argues that in the ideal, right to the city allows the collective “dispossessed” to redefine the city on their own terms by wielding authority over the built environment. Right to the city will transform and empower. He writes, The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization… Increasingly, we see the 15
right to the city falling into the hands of private or quasi-private interests. In New York City, for example, the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is reshaping the city along lines favourable to developers, Wall Street and transnational capitalist-class elements, and promoting the city as an optimal location for high-value businesses and a fantastic destination for tourists. He is, in effect, turning Manhattan into one vast gated community for the rich… Important in Harvey’s critique is the emphasis on democracy and the empowerment of the socially vulnerable against neoliberal market forces. He identifies gentrification (“one vast gated community”) as a symptom of neoliberal development controlled by the wealthy and powerful. The recognition of this power imbalance is salient to the argument in support of community responsive urban planning, prominent in New Urbanist discourse. The democratization of right to the city enshrines legitimacy to the needs and desires of ordinary citizens, validating and valorizing their voices within the social and economic power structures that often fail to address community concerns in development projects. More than that, however, it provides a vision of how justice can be rendered in our landscapes. Through the assertion of individual right and authority over space, landscapes will become more equitable through the equal participation of all individuals in the determination of the built environment. In envisioning justice for Boston’s Chinatown, Harvey’s right to the city naturalizes Chinatown residents’ right to determine land use outcomes. In this way, residents are empowered to improve their quality of life, by their own hands and on their own terms. Right to the city plays a critical role in this paper, primarily informing considerations of justice. Building on Harvey’s understanding of the built environment, Julian Agyeman’s
argument in his book, Just Sustainabilities, illuminates the power dynamics which govern our everyday landscape by highlighting the intimate connection between urban design, planning, and justice. He states that it is through the public space that justice can be materialized, writing Nonetheless, it is these (public) spaces in a city that stand to offer the most value for community empowerment, and for social and cultural inclusion, all of which are essential to achieving... higher quality of life and wellbeing... Agyeman demonstrates this claim by comparing two streets - Sodra Vagen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA. He argues that the streetscape of Sodra Vagen is one that exemplifies physical democratization of the street (by prioritizing walkability and pedestrian safety) which “[reallocates] rights to space in favor of the least powerful users.” This theoretical framework is necessary to understand how public spaces act as a stage and battleground of democracy, justice, and human rights. In the case of Boston’s Chinatown, this is a useful lens to employ, since the neighborhood has such few spaces dedicated to formal public or open space making new developments impactful. In a direct application of Agyeman’s ideas on democratic space, the Chinatown landscape rarely operates with the goal of uplifting the least powerful users. The large disparity in acreage offered for parking compared to open space reveals that the landscape has favored motor vehicles over pedestrians. The current Chinatown landscape is representative of racial violence, state-backed authority, and environmental hazards. But through the equitable development of public space, community empowerment can be physically manifested in the built environment. The landscape can be substantively transformed
through a physical evolution of space that prioritizes the ordinary Chinatown citizen. Agyeman’s emphasis on public space as a site of community empowerment is significant, as it validates the need for accessible public space to address more than social life, but the community’s access to justice. In this view, the equitable development and distribution of park spaces can act as a vehicle to serve the aims of environmental and social justice. Altogether, using the combined rhetoric of Harvey and Agyeman, these ideas can be used to establish a model to combat legacies of disempowerment. This may be practically deployed by redirecting governance and production of places into the hands of Chinatown residents.
2010 Chinatown Master Plan Community master plans developed since 1990 have worked to combat and challenge business as usual in the community by setting goals and standards for improvement. The master plans have identified the major issues and community concerns related to planning, design, and residents’ quality of life which need to be addressed to improve neighborhood conditions. The most recent Chinatown Master Plan, published in December 2010 in Chinese and English, built on the past goals of two previous master plans. The 2010 Chinatown Master Plan was a two-year project headed by an oversight and technical committee, with support from Taintor and Associates (urban planning consultants), elected state officials, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The oversight committee was made up of 13 elected community members, including 6 residents, a representative from Tufts Medical Center, a representative from the Josiah Quincy School Parent Council, a representative from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England, the former principal of Josiah Quincy School, a 16
representative from Chinatown/South Cove Neighborhood council, a business owner from RWCO Construction Co., and a representative from the Chinatown Resident Association. The members of the technical committee included professional planners, architects, and academics from the following institutions: Bruner/Cott & Associates, Chinatown Main Street, Imai Keller Moore Architects, MIT, Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown/ South Cove Neighborhood Council, Tufts University, Harvard University, and the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC). The executive summary of the master plan succinctly states its ultimate goal by developing a vision of a future which â€œmaintains [Chinatown] as a destination and cultural center for a network of Asia American communities in the city, state, and region.â€? Beyond this underlying goal, there are important practical considerations which make the 2010 CMP necessary. The plan is able to summarize community needs and recommend strategies to succeed in these goals, providing a roadmap for both private developers and the state for future development. The process of building this master plan occurred in two steps â€“ Phase I and Phase II. Phase I consisted of three public meetings, key stakeholder interviews, a youth focus group, resident focus groups, a parent workshop, a workshop with English as Second Language students, workforce focus groups, surveys of Chinatown businesses, social services, and a comment board to identify vision and goals for the master plan. As such, the following goals and visions, taken directly from the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, have been established as a result of these efforts: 1) Visions of the Plan a. Chinatown will be a diverse residential neighborhood anchored by immigrant and working-class families. 17
b. Chinatown will be a sustainable social, economic, and cultural hub for a network of Asian American communities in neighborhood communities. c. Chinatown will enhance its history and character as a unique neighborhood and cultural center that is important to the city, state, and region. d. Chinatown will develop and diversify its economy by building on both its cultural identity and strategic location. 2) Goals of the Plan a. Preserve and strengthen Chinatown as a gateway for new immigrants and as a regional center for Chinese and Asian American culture and services; b. Ensure the preservation of existing affordable housing; c. Expand the number and range of housing options with a priority low and middle-income family housing d. Identify, create, and prepare community members and businesses for economic development opportunities which will serve the needs of local residents, the regional Asian American community, neighboring institutions, and the Downtown and Theater Districts e. Increase public safety, improve the pedestrian environment, and engage in transportation planning to address community needs f. Foster more sustainable and greener communities g. Cultivate a healthier and cleaner
environment and promote the health and well-being of its residents h. Expand civic spaces and increase the number of open spaces and parks i. Develop policies that improve the quality of life for community members j. Increase community civic participation k. Reaffirm Chinatown’s connections with its neighbors A major theme carried throughout these goals and visions is the ability to support Chinatown residents and community members. Specifically mentioned in the first few goals of the plan are the need to maintain Chinatown as a gateway for new immigrants and production of more affordable housing. Similarly found in the visions of the plan, it explicitly states that Chinatown should be “anchored” by the immigrant and working class. These are particularly of note for their emphasis on the socially vulnerable, reflecting the consciousness of Chinatown leaders and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (then, the Boston Redevelopment Authority) how valuable Chinatown was to the greater Asian and immigrant community in New England. Phase II sought to further build on these goals and actualize these ideas into a plan by engaging in two public meetings, a youth art contest, and presentations to five community groups. Both Phase I and Phase II contributed to the development of the master plan, which analyzed the community-at-large (researching trends of population, land use, economy, housing, physical environment, social services and environmental health), specific sites and parcels for re/development, urban design interventions, as well as short-term and longterm action plans. In understanding the current landscape of
Boston’s Chinatown, the issues of pedestrian safety, traffic, and lack of open space have been recognized as major areas in need of improvement. All these issues are rooted in systemic issues regarding land use and planning decisions made through the twentieth century which have influenced the inequitable land use and design of Chinatown today. In each of the Chinatown Master Plans produced since 1990, pedestrian safety, traffic, and green space have arisen as some of the predominant issues impacting the community. While recent community initiatives and some city government policies have attempted to tackle these issues, they are not fully resolved. As development opportunities occur in Boston’s Chinatown, the master plans are an effective document to represent community needs clearly. By using the master plan as a framework of future development, development may be more responsive to the community’s environmental and social conditions. By using these tactics together, future development will be obliged to be more conscious of its impacts. As such, in the City’s current redevelopment of Phillips Square, these factors must be considered if the City is to create a space truly suited for residents. By disregarding the environmental and social needs of the community’s residents, this will further jeopardize the health and livelihood of an already low-income, home-insecure, and environmentally burdened immigrant community.
1.3 THE PROMISE OF PARTICIPATION Contemporary urban planning practice exalts the promise of participation and what it can offer to communities in combating historical and contemporary power imbalances with the state. Today, there are more than 450 New Urbanist design movements that prioritize “citizen-based” design across 18
America – making it an especially pervasive philosophy. As a whole, participation – particularly community-engaged processes of participatory planning which work alongside private developers and state actors – has been proffered as a solution to address concerns of displacement and gentrification. By deploying participation, it is assumed that by giving communities and residents a seat at the table with developers, architects, planners, and state officials, the end results will be more just and equitable. Participation is envisioned as an arena of pure democracy – where voices will be heard and listened to. This is an optimistic idea that pervades New Urbanist discourse on participation and community engagement. While participation is demonstrated as a potent tool of democratic value, it is important to challenge these assertions of equitable outcomes via community engagement and participation to ensure its success in creating substantively just outcomes.
SUMMARY In combination, Harvey’s right to the city and Agyeman’s conceptions of public space contend that space and the right to use such spaces is a political and social act, informed by power relationships between the government, private sector, and the everyday citizen. As such, utilizing right to the city to build inclusive public spaces can produce substantive justice for the Chinatown community. Applying this frame to Boston’s Chinatown context, the creation of just public spaces by citizen input and engagement can be a method by which the community can be empowered. As the community and its physical landscape have historically been disempowered by state and private interests through acts of environmental racism and injustice, it is pertinent that the community is able to remediate these harms in some way. As such, it is theoretically logical that Chinatown residents are able to determine 19
and design their own public spaces which will better address their needs. By employing the theoretical right to the city, this offers a potential pathway for injustice to be undone in the redesign and redevelopment of physical sites in Boston’s Chinatown. The 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, a document produced directly by the community offers a comprehensive view into the most pressing issues in the community, from the perspective of its residents. Participatory planning – often with the assistance of state governments – is considered to be a central facet of New Urbanist practices that can help promote more just landscapes for all. The practice seemingly affirms the idea of right to the city and justice by prioritizing citizens, rather than the state or private interest. Yet, these contemporary, citizen-based participatory planning practices must undergo more scrutiny to understand whether they are effective tactics for remediation and reparation for lowincome communities that have traditionally been excluded from such conversations. Can participatory planning truly achieve these goals?
PART TWO: BOSTONâ€™S CHINATOWN
INTRODUCTION In this chapter, I connect the history of the built environment to the current day conditions of Boston’s Chinatown, illustrating a legacy of exclusion and disempowerment since the community’s founding. Specifically evoking the social history of Boston’s Chinatown and recent studies on the community’s environmental health, I make clear the myriad of social and environmental injustices that have affected the community in the past and the present. Drawing from a national history of anti-Chinese sentiment, highway building, institutional development, an environmental health survey, and contemporary neighborhood demographics, I show how the legacy of development continues to affect the community today. More pressingly, however, current day development poses a substantial threat to this neighborhood, as an influx of white wealth simultaneously occurs with increasing Asian poverty, epitomized in the development of luxury apartment buildings while an affordable housing shortage continues. As such, fears of gentrification and displacement of low-income residents are widespread among the community. Placing the past actions of the City of Boston in Chinatown in conversation with existing literature, I show how the City has created a landscape of racial violence and inequity which survives today. A normalization of such inequity is illustrated in the public opinion of local people, who largely advocate for the redevelopment of Chinatown. In doing so, these people bolster governmental power in advocating for gentrification and displacement. By elucidating these relationships of power, I seek to answer how the City of Boston can build more just environments for Chinatown by way of contemporary urban planning. To achieve such goals, the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan is a resource which the City can use to atone for past mistakes by 21
building more environmentally and socially equitable environments that are responsive to community needs.
2.1 THE CHINESE MUST GO
The history of American Chinatowns as a whole is important in understanding Boston’s Chinatown landscape today. Today’s American Chinatowns are direct products of xenophobia, as Chinese-Americans were driven to insularity as a result of intense anti-Chinese sentiment during the early twentieth century. The nativist policies that governed Chinese-Americans movement were concretely enshrined into law with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Other laws, like zoning policy were used to police the movement of Chinese people on a more local scale. In San Francisco, Chinese migrants were restricted by an 1885 ordinance which banned the establishment of laundries in residential areas to protect white neighborhoods from integration. While the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 and widespread anti-Chinese sentiment has largely disappeared, historical actions still shape the modern Chinatown landscape. These actions have taken subtler forms, enshrined in the planning of cityscapes.
2.2 HOME: A HISTORY OF BOSTON’S CHINATOWN The land that Chinatown currently occupies was marginal land, riddled with railroad tracks, streetcar routes, and other industrial uses, far from the core of downtown Boston in the 19th century. The first settlers of Boston’s Chinatown arrived from Sampson’s Shoe Factory in North Adams, MA where they were meant to break a strike. Yet, out of fear of violent repercussion, these Chinese sojourners kept on, riding the railroad to the last stop – Boston’s South Station. They disembarked and walked to the site of Boston’s Chinatown today, setting up a small settlement of tents.
Figure 1: Aerial view of Boston’s Chinatown. Source:
By the 1880s, Chinatown had grown along Harrison Avenue, integrating with a tenement neighborhood where Irish, German, and Jewish immigrants also resided. Tunney Lee, Professor of Urban Planning at MIT, describes Chinatown at this time as “a community base for the isolated [Chinese] laundrymen and had stores selling groceries, restaurants serving familiar foods, barber to cut and trim queues, village associations where letters from home could be picked up, and kinsmen to talk to.” Chinatown offered both important economic and social functions in the lives of these early settlers who were far from home. Yet, Chinatown was not a wholly safe utopia for Chinese migrants. In 1903, more than 300 people were arrested and deported for insufficient documentation. After the end of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, the impacts of Sino-Vietnamese War
in 1976, and the Family Reunification Act in 1979, this spurred an influx of people to Boston’s Chinatown from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Accompanying this population boom, businesses began to expand into old garment factory buildings and along Washington Street. Despite the expansion in population and commercial opportunities in Boston’s Chinatown, the community has faced disempowerment at the hands of the city government and local powerbrokers, significantly impacting the community over the past seventy years. Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government commissioned the development of two major highways, the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Southeast Expressway. These highway projects cut directly through the middle of Chinatown. To make room for the highways, the projects 22
called for the complete demolition of the western side of Hudson Street, a residential street seized through eminent domain takings. As a result, at least 700 Chinatown residents were displaced from their homes for this construction, destroying a lively multi-ethnic community. These changes in the landscape of Chinatown can be palpably felt in the writings Cynthia Yee, a former Chinatown resident who grew up on Hudson Street, who writes fondly about her childhood before the land seizure and demolition: If you were to ask us, former children of Hudson Street, what it was like to live there, each of us will tell you about each house and who lived in it, every rail we slid down, every sidewalk we traversed, every pole we climbed, every stoop we sat on, and every face. It was the landscape of our childhood: always sunny, always a playmate nearby… It was on Hudson Street that I had my first lessons in love, generosity, neighborliness, and a belief in my own agency. “Buck, Buck, Buck, Lo Si Buck, how many fingers do I have up? “, “Ah-Hing, Hek Fan La!” “AhHing, time to eat rice!” The echoes of chanting games, of children giggling, of my mother calling me to dinner in her melodic country dialect, recede and fade. On visiting Hudson Street today, Yee describes a much different image: I went into the lobby of the new, modern high rise building on the corner. I spoke to the young concierge and I told him I once lived on this street. He listened and nodded and welcomed me to look around. A man rushed to me. He was picking up and dropping off dry cleaning. Young men and women, dressed in business suits, scurried in and out. People lounged on leather couches. A bright chandelier hung overhead. There 23
was not one Chinese face. Nor did I see any children. The stark contrasts in Yee’s experiences on Hudson Street represent changes which mirror the narratives of other communities touched by urban renewal projects. Yee’s story is typical in the urban planning literature, demonstrating a systemic legacy of social and cultural community displacement by urban renewal projects. Illustrated in Yee’s writing, the dislocation of her and her neighbors has drastically altered the social life of the community today. Later, an exit for the Central Artery highway was built in Chinatown, further exacerbating development tensions in the neighborhood. Ultimately, the three highway projects caused the loss of half of the neighborhood’s land and eradicated a third of the housing stock. While the original plans for the Central Artery development had initially been proposed to cut through the Garment and Leather District, powerful garment and leather factories and corporations lobbied against the city’s plans. Capitulating to the desires of these local economic powerhouses, the city government redirected the highway through Chinatown instead, believing that the neighborhood residents would be complacent to the changes as they were assumed to be “reticent, closeknit, and self-contained” by city planning officials. While the Chinatown neighborhood did fight back against these proposed developments for the Central Artery, the state government continued with its new plans. These urban renewal projects were continued with the adoption of the 1965 South Cover Urban Renewal Plan that sought “slum clearance” for the Chinatown neighborhood. As a direct consequence of this plan, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, once again, seized property from Chinatown landowners by eminent domain and sold this land to the Tufts-New England Medical Center, which as
a “tax-exempt entity… received federal funds to acquire and demolish Chinatown properties to develop its own buildings.” In this way, the state supported and bankrolled the claim, destruction, and total redevelopment of Chinatown land. This pattern of government complicity is reflected in the deliberate zoning decision of the city government to relocate Boston’s red-light district (the “Combat Zone”) to Chinatown in 1974. City officials, worried about protecting wealthier, white residential neighborhoods like Back Bay and Beacon Hill, decided it would be best to zone the Combat Zone in Chinatown. In 1993, the New England Medical Center sought to purchase Parcel C – a critical piece of Chinatown land, located in the heart of the community – from the City of Boston to build an eight-story parking garage. Andrew Leong, a lawyer for the Coalition to Protect Parcel C, recounted the community’s struggle against state power and institutional expansion in the early 1990s through organizing and protest. Leong explains, writing, Chinatown residents knew that New England Medical Center’s garage was going to present a significant environmental hazard to their neighborhood. A great deal of the outrage, though, involved another party – the City of Boston. In approving the proposal, the City government had broken an important promise to Chinatown… Chinatown received a commitment that [Parcel C] … would be reserved for community use… The [Boston Housing] Authority promised that Parcel C would be reserved for a community center, and pledged its assistance in building this center. In this specific example from Leong, he describes an explicit betrayal of the
Chinatown community by the City of Boston regarding a prized piece of Chinatown land. While the community was able to successfully block the development of a parking garage on Parcel C, this act by the City showcases the city’s willingness to disregard the interests of the Chinatown community to support the interests of much more powerful and wealthier institutions, Tufts University and the New England Medical Center. In numerous instances in the twentieth century, the state government ignored the concerns of the Chinese-American community on urban development projects that affected their land. From these examples, it is clear that Chinatown residents’ needs, in a historical context, were secondary to the promise of economic gains from major development projects. This pattern of neglect from the state has created social and environmental problems for the community today.
2.3 FEARS OF DISPLACEMENT Today, as a result of increasing ChineseAmerican populations in the greater Boston area, residential satellite Chinatowns can be found just outside the city in Malden and Quincy. However, these Chinese-American population centers are different from Boston’s Chinatown, which is a historical economic and social hub providing both goods and services to Boston’s Chinese diaspora. Yet, the urban development projects of the twentieth century have detrimentally impacted the present-day landscape, despite its importance in the greater Chinese-American community. Current conditions in Boston’s Chinatown reveal a predominantly low-income and socially vulnerable community. Despite these social vulnerabilities, Boston Chinatown still acts as a cultural hub and gateway for New England’s Chinese-American population. However, demographic changes, an affordable 24
LAND USE AND LUXURY HOUSING IN BOSTON’S CHINATOWN (2018) PBX RESIDENCES
660 WASHINGTON PHILLIPS SQUARE
1 BR + 1 BA starts at $3000/month studio starting at $2955/month
studio starting at $2641/month
1 BR + 1 BA starts at $3000
Tufts Medical Center and School
studio starting at $2670/month
THE METROPOLITAN studio starting at $2614/month
Josiah Quincy School
1 BR + 1 BA starts at $2400/month
studio starting at $2310/month
KEY Chinatown parcels
Institutional Government Luxury Housing Green Space Industrial
condos starting at $1.5 million
Figure 2: Map of luxury housing in Boston’s Chinatown (2018). Illustration by the author.
studio starting at $2444/month
Chinatown Border (BPDA) Chinatown border (AALDEF ground survey) Source: BPDA, Buzzfeed
housing crisis, and public health concerns all threaten the viability and vitality of this neighborhood, ultimately making it susceptible to displacement and gentrification. Figure 2 maps the current land uses in Boston’s Chinatown, focusing specifically on the distribution of luxury housing and green spaces in the neighborhood. As seen in the map, many luxury developments dot the Chinatown landscape. Beyond showing the widespread development of luxury housing around the community, this map also makes clear the large institutional footprint of both Tufts Medical Center (5.9 acres), Tufts Medical School (2.7 acres), and Emerson College and the small pockets of green public space in the community. Being able to visualize these disparities highlights the inequities physically manifested in the landscape.
Chinatown’s demographics have significant ramifications for the Chinatown community, a vital ethnic enclave which is at risk of disappearing. Previously, Chinatown has been a haven for people of Asian descent, but the overall Asian population has declined since 1990, dropping from 70% to 46% in 2010. Accompanying this decrease of Asians has been an influx of white residents in Chinatowns, whose population has increased by 40% from 2005 to 2011. Figure 3, featured below, highlights population changes in Boston’s Chinatown, based on five year estimates, providing evidence of an increasing white presence in Chinatown in comparison to a stable Asian population. Between the years of 2009 and 2016, the presence of whites in Chinatown has increased. Regarding income, 41% of the households in Chinatown make less than $15,000 yearly, with the average annual income for a Chinatown family around $13,057 (in 2009), the lowest average annual income for all Boston neighborhoods. Similarly, the actual
poverty rate for Asians increased to 44% in 2009, which is the highest poverty rate for any racial group in Boston. At the same time, however, white wealth in Chinatown doubled in the years between 2000 and 2009, increasing from a median household income of $40,554 to an average of $84,335. Viewing household income in conjunction with race, a racial class divide emerges; growing white wealth occurs simultaneously with increasing Asian poverty.
Affordable Housing Crisis
These demographic shifts are exacerbated by Boston’s luxury housing boom which has fueled an affordable housing crisis. Figure 2 illustrates the ubiquity of luxury buildings in Boston’s Chinatown. These luxury apartment buildings, proposed hotel developments, and Airbnb rentals within or adjacent to Chinatown have the potential to gentrify and displace long-term Chinatown residents by encouraging higher rents and short-term leases. These changes can destabilize the local housing stock by shifting the traditionally long-term, affordable housing stock out of reach for low-income community members. Out of 2000 units built in the past two decades in Chinatown, 84% are luxury apartments, rented and sold at market rates. Based on a survey of the leasing websites of many luxury buildings located in or surrounding Chinatowns, rents at many of these studio apartments begin at $2500/ month. As of 2015, Chinatown also had the highest median rents in Boston, estimated to be $3381/month – beating out Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and other traditionally wealthy Boston neighborhoods. Furthermore, a recent report tracking property trends around Boston noted an average increase of $253,000 in Chinatown home prices between 2012 and 2015. The affordability of Boston’s housing and rental market has significant implications for the well-being of Chinatown residents. Due to high housing and rental costs, 26
Figure 3: Chinatown population changes from 2009 to 2016, by US Census tract. Illustration by the author..
residents are often forced into cramped and squalid housing conditions that threaten their health and security. The roots of the affordable housing crisis can be traced back to the mid-century highway projects that eradicated a third of the communities housing stock and been exacerbated by the current luxury housing boom and lax zoning laws. The City of Boston, in a bid to spur development, has granted residential and commercial developers tax breaks and zoning allowances, allowing for massive developments to be built within Chinatown. Outside of luxury housing development, short-term residences – whether as Airbnb rentals or hotel proposals – are likely to also negatively impact Chinatown’s affordable housing stock. While the City is in the process of cracking down on Airbnb rentals throughout the city, these rentals have already displaced Chinatown residents. Housing advocates fear the short-term rental system will displace residents by taking livable units off the market to serve lucrative short-term business gains for property owners. An article from Commonwealth Magazine published in January 2018 showcases the consequences of Airbnb in the neighborhood: The building at 106 Tyler Street was
once home to a dozen families, mostly immigrants with limited English skills… The tenants either moved out or were forced out over the last year… to make way for Airbnb renters. [Karen Chen, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association] ticked off six buildings in about a three-block radius around Tufts Medical Center and near the Theater District that she says her group has identified as fully converted to Airbnb listings. While the City of Boston will likely pass restrictions on Airbnb listings, it is clear that the short-term rental system has already affected Chinatown’s limited housing stock by displacing Chinatown families. Similarly, hotel proposals poised for development on Chinatown’s few available parcels of land threaten the livability of Chinatown, as land is the community’s scarcest resource. With three hotels proposals, currently being considered by the City and one in development, local activists fear that these hotels will only worsen the demand for long-term family residences by removing available land which could be used for affordable housing developments. Fears of gentrification and displacement within the community are compounded by
these economic developments.
Beyond the housing crisis, environmental and public health concerns, like noise pollution, air pollution, lack of pedestrian safety, and little open space are significant concerns in Chinatown. Again, these issues mainly result from three major highways which have transected the community. An environmental health study conducted Brugge et al. in the late 1990s showed that noise pollution, air pollution, pedestrian safety, and open space substantially affected residentsâ€™ quality of life. In this study from Brugge et al., it was found that 71.5% of residents found that noise from traffic frequently affected them while inside their home. Additionally, 61.9%, found outdoor air pollution (from nearby roadways and construction) to be problematic in the neighborhood. To further corroborate these findings, a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection report from 1987 indicated extreme levels of carbon monoxide in Chinatown which violated the National Ambient Air Quality standard. A more recent report from the Chinatown Master Plan 2010 noted that air pollution monitoring has shown particulate matter often exceeding national air pollution standards. On open space, 92.9% of respondents reported that there were not enough parks or playgrounds in the neighborhood. In context, this finding is extremely consequential as Chinatown is the most densely populated neighborhood in Boston (at 111 residents per acre) with the least amount of open space per resident. Even more troubling, open spaces that do exist are either inadequate, unsafe, of poor quality, exposed to air pollution, or highly congested. While there are technically twelve open spaces available within the neighborhood, many of these spaces are deemed inadequate or â€œforbiddenâ€? to Chinatown residents. Only Reggie Wong Park is large enough to provide any active
recreational amenities (0.5 acres of basketball courts); however, the park is located adjacent to the highways, exposing park users (mainly children and teenagers) to significant air pollution. Pedestrian safety was also found to be a crucial issue facing many residents, often with implications of direct bodily harm. Brugge et al. found that 54.8 % of respondents reported the inability to safely cross the street when they had right of way, 45.2% felt in danger of a motor vehicle accident, and 26.2% knew of another Chinatown resident involved in a motor vehicle/pedestrian accident. It is important to note that even the City of Boston has admitted that pedestrian safety and traffic congestion are significant problems in the neighborhood. Following a series of motor vehicle accidents in 20132016, Chinatown residents grew concerned about the number of deaths and injuries related to pedestrian safety. A pedestrian safety campaign was introduced by the Asian Community Development Corporation and other Chinatown advocacy groups in response to the growing concern. This initiative put pressure on the Boston Transportation Authority with began to install signs on highly trafficked roadways in the core of Chinatown to warn motorists of fines that could be incurred for speeding and not yielding to pedestrians. While some steps were taken, residents are still advocating for more streetscape improvements, like better night lighting, clearly demarcated crosswalks, and speed monitors.
2.4 PATTERNS OF POWER Using environmental justice and urban planning literature, patterns of power and oppression emerge from the story of Chinatown. In this chapter, we see how urban planning generates negative social and environmental impacts. Additionally, public opinion tends to have a negative view of 28
the community, validating the development choices proposed by the city government. By recognizing these patterns, solutions may be generated to improve the social and built environment for Chinatown residents. Governments have used urban planning as a policy and development tool which to exert power. john powell, writing in “Metropolitan Space” contends that the government has been the core perpetrator of environmental injustice since the founding of America. Powell compares early instances of settler colonialism and slavery to the land grabs which seize property from private owners through eminent domain today. Powell also argues that the government wielded substantial power over the landscape from the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (that provided mortgages to white, “stable” neighborhoods rather than black communities) and the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which precipitated white flight. As such, the government has used urban planning and zoning as a tool to protect often wealthy and white populations, to the detriment of lowincome and minority communities. Boston’s Chinatown - a historically low-income, immigrant community - is both. Chinatown’s development history can be directly compared to powell’s examples. Repeated instances of eminent domain takings are common in Chinatown history, whether for highway or hospital development. The ramifications of highway development still inform the landscape today, limiting available land for development and saddling the neighborhood with long-term exposure to environmental health hazards. Recent findings report that Downtown Boston (including Chinatown) has not only has one of the highest percentages of minority populations in Boston but also is the most environmentally burdened area in the state of Massachusetts. As noted before, the Chinatown community was the only 29
Boston neighborhood to be situated next to three major roadways. Compared to any other community in Downtown Boston, Chinatown has likely faced the some of the most substantial environmental hazards and disparities. Informed by Laura Pulido’s view on racial geography, the environmental health and urban planning struggles of the Boston Chinatown community can be understood as a function of historic racial violence by the state that has produced inequitable outcomes. In her article, “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity,” Pulido argues that the state is not incentivized to address environmental racism and environmental injustices because of its dependency on polluting and toxic for profit, private firms for capital. Paralleling Harvey’s discussion of neoliberalism, a trend of state protection of private interests emerges. For Boston’s Chinatown, these two trends are seen in implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 by the federal government and the political maneuvers of City of Boston when dealing with the Boston Chinatown neighborhood. In general, American Chinatowns can be considered a direct consequence of government-back racial violence which forced Chinese settlers into strictly confined territories. In the case of Boston Chinatown, the deliberate decisionmaking to raze sections of Chinatown under the policy of urban renewal and zoning of the Combat Zone, despite the community’s protest is another act of racial violence. This frame allows for a critical assessment of government power and culpability in the distribution and creation of environmental injustices. Without the combined effort of state, local, and federal authorities through a mix of policies implemented in the past, the current environmental hazards affecting Chinatown today would not exist. Through Pulido’s examination of state-sponsored racial violence, it becomes clear that the
government has displaced agency and power from the Chinatown residents. In this process, the community is stripped of both procedural and substantive justice as they have no say in decision-making and are saddled with environmental harms.
Public opinion: Chinatown has “little real value”
Outside of the ties between the historical events of Boston’s Chinatown and environmental justice literature, current day discussion by the public regarding development in Chinatown provides legitimacy to the decisions made by the city government, strengthening their power and capability to exert power in the above ways. On archBoston.org, a public online forum dedicated to Boston’s built environment provides insight into how some view development in Chinatown. I seek to include this discussion in this paper to bring in voices that counter Chinatown residents and activists, to better contextualize the systemic and racialized barriers that limit equitable development possibilities for Chinatown residents. By doing so, I hope to showcase some of the contemporary rhetoric surrounding Chinatown development. In a thread, titled “Chinatown – Progress or Gentrification?” forum users discuss the potential for development and redevelopment in the Chinatown area. From surveying this thread, most of the posts gravitate towards applauding redevelopment in this area for both economic and social purposes. In discussing the potential for three new hotel developments in the neighborhood, user SlothofDespond wrote about gentrification on February 9, 2017: Chinatown is gross. It’s dirty, the buildings are poorly maintained, and the area often smells terrible because trash is piled on the streets. It’s not Skid Row but
compared to the North End, Beacon Hill, Bay Village, Back Bay, the South End... it’s a mess. A West End style raze and rebuild would be a disaster, a disaster no one is asking for, but having some of the character taken out of the neighborhood by developers willing to throw money at it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Another archBoston.org user, Cortes, writes on February 11, 2017: I interact with [Chinatown residents] roughly twice a month handing out food and clothing on Saturday morning at Park St., where we feed the homeless, which they are not. They cut in line, take more than they are allowed, and pretend not to understand basic English even though they have lived here for god knows how long. I understand that this is a small slice of the overall population, but believe me, as someone who lives downtown, the “Chinatown” population has little to no interaction with the greater city. I would be happy to see wealthy Chinese people buy these buildings and fix them up, I don’t care. But this section of the city has little real value [emphasis mine] besides a couple of restaurants and an old folks home or 3. While it is important to recognize government power, it is necessary to understand the source of its power, the populace, to best understand how deeply rooted racialized views exist today. These answers provide a seemingly typically view of Chinatown, representing poverty, urban decay, moral delinquency, and the immigrant other. As such, these perceptions form a racialized and demonized image of 30
Boston’s Chinatown and its residents. The language of these users demonstrates the imaginary constructed around Chinatown by evoking stereotypical images of trash and poverty, that erase the salient cultural, social, and historical value of the community for its residents. This myth of Chinatown as a site of “little real value” is damaging to the community. By perpetuating this idea, neoliberal economic development by way of luxury housing and hotel developments is idealized as a normative solution to solve these “problems” which afflict Chinatown. Rather than focusing on the affordable housing crisis, public attention is shifted to the potential of for-profit development and the economic and social cleansing that will ideally accompany it. Echoes of this are seen in mainstream environmental justice literature, as economic development – through the development of polluting factories and the like – are justified as necessary to secure economic gains for low-income communities. In the same way, economic gains (identified through aesthetic upgrades) are used to justify and validate the displacement and gentrification passed onto Chinatown residents. While Chinatown residents may battle the state for their right to the city, they are also discouraged to seize this right by their fellow citizens.
SUMMARY From my analysis of historical development of Boston’s Chinatown, I have established patterns of state oppression which have negatively impacted the contemporary social and environmental landscape. These issues are compounded by concerns of gentrification and displacement spurred by luxury housing development. Understanding that Chinatown has been a historically marginalized community that continues to act as a home and safe haven for a diasporic community, it is crucial for Chinatown to remain a cultural hub due to the support that 31
both new and established Chinese-Americans can find there. Ideally, future development done by the state will support this by adhering to the needs of the Chinatown community, pointedly expressed in detail in the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan. In the subsequent chapters of this thesis, I will examine two participatory techniques used for the redevelopment of Phillips Square, a public area in Boston Chinatown. Using this site and these participatory processes as a case study, I will analyze the successfulness of the City in generating more equitable development.
PART THREE: A TALE OF TWO PHILLIPS SQUARES
INTRODUCTION In the last chapter, I showed how the City in Boston – in concert with larger trends of state power – created an inequitable landscape in Chinatown via zoning, urban renewal policy, highway development, and support for institutional development. As development will continue to occur in Chinatown, participatory planning has emerged as a popular solution to secure more fair development outcomes. Yet, how actually effective is participation in addressing community needs? Does it provide a foundation in which state perpetrated environmental and social injustice, illustrated in the last chapter, can be remediated? By examining the current redevelopment and participation process used in Chinatown for the ongoing Phillips Square project by the City of Boston, we can begin to answer the central research question of this thesis – how does participation advance equity in the built environment? To answer this question, I first provide a historical and contemporary review of Phillips Square in Boston’s Chinatown. Following this, I analyze the participatory processes the City of Boston for the redevelopment of Phillips Square, using documentation publicly available from the City of Boston website and from a personal email exchange with Raul Duverge, a project manager for the Phillips Square project at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). From analyzing these documents, I contend that the city government process and design proposals are limited, restricting the contributions of Chinatown members. Advancing this argument, I pursue an alternative pathway of participation, sited in the tradition of Participatory Action Research (PAR) with the Chinatown youth residents and report on my participatory scheme. Rather than arguing that my use of participatory action research is empirically better than the City of Boston’s participatory process, I use the results from the PAR process to examine 33
the City’s vision for Phillips Square. In cross comparing the City and the youth visions in conversation with the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, I highlight the severe limitations in the City of Boston’s development process and designs. These limitations are consequential, as they ignore widespread social issues, like affordable housing and socio-economic status, that are common considerations in the plans developed by the A-VOYCE youths. This rift provides compelling evidence to suggest that state-led participation processes provide the façade of empowerment, while still producing “business-as-usual” results that likely run counter to activist interests. From this analysis, I diagnosis the shortcomings in the City’s process and answer my central research question. By engaging in such an analysis, I reveal the explicit gaps ignored and unaddressed by the City, which is crucial to understand how the needs of residents are being met.
3.1 OVERVIEW OF PHILLIPS SQUARE Phillips Square sits at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street, at the boundary between Chinatown and Downtown. The study site extends along the length of Harrison Avenue, in between Essex Street and Beach Street. Historically, this area is of particular importance to Boston’s abolitionist movement, home to a number of local abolitionists in the mid-19th century. Until 1872, the home of famed anti-slavery activist Wendell Phillips was located at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street. In 1894, ten years after Phillips’ death, this area was memorialized with a plaque and the area became known as Phillips Square. In the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, Phillips Square is highlighted as an “anchor area,” a critical site to the survival of Chinatown’s footprint. As Chinatown faces development pressures within and around it, this site occupies
Figure 4: Map of Phillips Square.
a transitional space between Downtown and Chinatown which can be used to strengthen and define Chinatownâ€™s borders. Figure 4 provides both an aerial view Phillips Square, with the Cityâ€™s study site outlined in red. Additionally, photos accompany Figure 4, providing views of the streetscape. Today, a number of storefronts are arrayed along Harrison Avenue, featuring bubble tea shops, beauty stores, and Chinese-
style bakeries. On the east side of the street, halfway between Essex and Beach Streets, the sidewalk opens up into an alleyway, Oxford Place, which leads to residential units. At the north end of Phillips Square, near the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street, the area is bordered by the Verizon building, an Asian fusion restaurant, and a parking lot. In the middle of the street is a
concrete island with an electrical box. Since the release of the 2010 CMP, Phillips Square has undergone a transformation. Most notably, a new luxury building currently in construction, PBX Residences, will occupy the top three floors of the Verizon building, including 46 units in total (with only 7 built as affordable housing), a new lobby, surveillance cameras, new lighting along the building perimeter, and an updated outdoor streetscape in Phillips Square with a “commitment of up to $150,000 for the redesign and construction… to be made available to the BPDA within six months of building permit issuance.” Other shake ups include the displacement of residents from a structurally unsafe single room occupancy building that was quickly evacuated overnight in 2015. Since then, building has been sold for $3 million dollars and is slated for demolition and redevelopment in a hotel in late 2018. Additionally, a senior care facility, Hong Lok House, has been built. Phillips Square matters because of the history of development, use of government power, and current social vulnerability of the community, and contemporary development pressure which threatens Chinatown. With few opportunities for community-based development in Chinatown because of high property values and few available parcels, the opportunity to develop Phillips Square into inclusive and equitable public space should not be wasted. The Phillips Square site should be redeveloped to preserve Chinatown’s social, cultural and economic value to its residents without catalyzing displacement and gentrification.
3.2 BOSTON’S VISION OF PHILLIPS SQUARE The Boston Transportation Department, Stantec, and A Better City are currently 35
leading the planning redesign efforts for Phillips Square with $150,000 in funds made available by Cresset Development. From the Boston Planning and Development Agency website, they explain, Phillips Square is being re-imagined as a public space for the Chinatown community! Tell us your ideas and comment on the draft designs. We’re working to turn Harrison Avenue — between Beach Street and Essex Street — into a neighborhood-friendly space. Based on ideas developed at previous meetings, we will present draft designs to the community. The goal is to develop designs that we can install this year, as well as create a long-term plan. Four public community meetings have been held to gather feedback on the City’s redesign over throughout 2017. The first of these four meetings occurred on March 2017, with three additional meetings held in May, June and December 2017. All of these public meetings were held in the cafeteria of the Josiah Quincy Elementary School at night. The meeting in March met with an advisory panel. Subsequent meetings were open to the public, but I have no knowledge of rates of public attendance or demographics. As such, it is unclear who exactly provided feedback and contributions to the City’s process. The first meeting featured design precedents and a discussion with community members. In the next meeting in May 2017, an initial design was presented to the community. The third meeting in June 2017 further clarified this vision with more technical architectural documents, such as blueprints, 3D renderings, and a lighting plan. The fourth meeting in December 2017, revealed an updated interim design, revised from the previous short-term design presented in 2017. Based on public documents from the City of Boston and Boston Planning and Development Agency
Figure 5: Sample slides (arranged by presentation order) from the March 2017 presentation given to members of the Chinatown community by the Phillips Square project team (A Better City, Stantec, and the Boston Planning and Development Agency). From left to right: (1) diagram explaining placemaking goals (2) site analysis of Harrison Avenue and Phillips Square (3) design precedents for Phillips Square (note: Los Angeles, CA is misspelled) and (4) a “brainstorming slide” with discussion prompts. Source: Raul Duverge.
websites, it appears no meetings have been held since December 2017.
3.2.a. March 2017 meeting In reviewing notes provided to me by Raul Duverge, a senior project manager at the Boston Planning and Development Agency for the Phillips Square project, I have gained insight into a meeting held in early March between representatives from the City of Boston and an advisory panel of Chinatown community members “of the various Chinatown civic,
neighborhood, and advocacy groups.” The meeting included the following representatives from the City of Boston: the Mayor’s Office, Transportation, Boston Planning and Development Agency, Public Works, Parks, Landmarks, Arts, and the Disabilities Commissions. Additional support and funding was provided by Stantec, A Better City, and the Barr Foundation. No records of this meeting are publicly available on the City of Boston’s website for the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The purpose of this meeting (identified by presentation slides) was 36
Figure 6: Chinatown advisory group charrette designs. Source: Raul Duverge.
to develop a concept design for the site and identify shared goals for the site. It appears that the meeting was split into two parts; first, a presentation by the City followed by a visioning exercise with the Chinatown residents in attendance. The presentation – with text only in English – features a site analysis by the site, previous analyses conducted on Phillips Square, and streetscape design precedents. Figure 5 features slides taken from the presentation. These slides dictate an operational framework to understand the redevelopment process, a street orientation for Harrison Avenue, design precedents, and a discussion slide with questions. Additionally, I would like to draw attention to the poor quality of the presentation, reflected in the aesthetic qualities and spelling errors. The text and images are not aligned or center on the slides, suggesting a rushed quality. The font is difficult to read and only English used, depite the high rate of Chinese-speakers in this community. Lastly, typing errors are found throughout the presentation – Figure 5 specifically features a slide in which Los Angeles is misspelled as “Los Angles.” Additionally, typing errors include a misspelling on a map of Phillips Square, which mislabels a street as “Essext Street” in place of its correct name, Essex Street. It is important to note the length of the presentation 37
– a whopping 39 slides in total and featuring approximately 90 photos. In their site analysis of Phillips Square, the City identifies the area as a site with lots of pedestrian use, inactive building facades, loud traffic, commercial vehicles that compete for space, jaywalking, double parking, pedestrian activity outside of storefronts, an ambiguous amount of driving lanes, and lots of room for cars. Additionally, this presentation draws from past site analysis, like the Crossroads Initiative 2006-2011 and the Chinatown Landmark Study produced in 2011 by Behnisch Architekten to make these claims. The latter half of the presentation reviews precedents to inform the redesign of Phillips Square, showing photos of open streets, parklets, shared street projects, painted streets, interactive art, wayfinding, public arts, lighting, street furniture examples from the US and abroad. After this presentation, the meeting opened up into a “brainstorming session” which included discussion, placemaking, and visioning exercise. The discussion section prompted attendees to think about “issues… that were missing from [the City of Boston’s] analysis, other concerns about the site, and improvement opportunities that [attendees] would like to see happen [there].” For the placemaking section, the City sought to understand “Phillips Square’s
role in the social, cultural, and civic life and identity of the Chinatown community.â€? Lastly, the visioning exercise asked attendees to use post-it notes to write down notes, cut out images of what they wanted to see on the site and write directly on the map.
Figure 6 depicts the results of the visioning and charrette activities led by the Phillips Square project team. Notably, the images used in the visioning result in the left image are the same precedents used in the presentation, suggesting a vision limited to the designersâ€™ already approved ideas. The design produced by the March 16, 2017 meeting attendees integrates a variety of design features for the redevelopment of Phillips Square. This charrette and visioning exercise propose that at the intersection of Harrison Ave, Chauncy Street, and Essex Street, Chauncy Street has been closed off and filled with a plaza.
At the entrance to this plaza stands two Fu Fu dog statues which face the road. In this plaza space, chairs, tables, benches, a grove of trees, sidewalk art, and a bamboo canopy establish the plaza. Adjacent to this plaza space, a memorial to honor Chinese-American veterans with each individual name, is planned. Along the faĂ§ades of the current Verizon building, uplighting, treatment of archways, and establishment of storefronts are planned. For Oxford Place, an art piece has added to the alleyway as well plans for additional lighting and clean-up efforts. Outside of the alleyway, a curb extension and a sidewalk have been added. Near Beach Street, a parklet, trees, tables, chairs, an art piece, a kiosk, and a wayfinding sign have been added to the space. On the opposite side of the street, similarly, a parklet, a wayfinding sign, and trees have been also added. Across the surface of the blueprint, hand written notes are scrawled on sticky notes and directly on the drawings, posing questions on a potential hotel development and
Figure 7: May 2017 Design for Phillips Square.
its effect on local traffic, a Chinatown gateway that would emphasize contemporary Chinatown history, more technical notes on the sidewalk grade, the potential to use innovative technology, include public Wi-Fi access, a kiosk that which would be tied to a community-focused app, and an additional note which said “emphasize Chinatown, not just China.”
3.2.b. May 2017 meeting The meeting held in May 2017 presented the first design for the Phillips Square redevelopment via aesthetic upgrades which provide space for public art and socialization to the public. This design proposed a temporary installation of a Chinatown gateway, tables, outdoor seating, a painted plaza space, signage, public art, planters, a parklet, dining space, and a historic walk. While in the visioning exercise from the March 2017 meeting, the idea of a war memorial, a focus on contemporary Chinatown history, and the innovative use of technology, and an information kiosk which were all suggested by the advisory panel, but were not included in this design. Rather, many of the precedents presented in the March 2017 meeting appeared in this design, specifically seen in the streetscape orientation, painted plaza space, parklet, and outdoor seating design.
3.2.c. June 2017 meeting In June 2017, the City of Boston held another community meeting in the cafeteria of Josiah Quincy School at night. In this meeting, they presented two plans, a short-term and longterm vision for Phillips Square. These designs have clarified the exact intentions for the Oxford Place alleyway, adding bike lanes, revisioning the plaza space, as well as the ground articulation. Yet, these subsequent designs still do not include specific interventions suggested by the community at the March 2017 meeting. Only one idea – the kiosk – is integrated into either vision presented in June 2017. The 39
interim design presented at the June 6th meeting incorporates a protected bike lane, increased pedestrian safety interventions (such as traffic lane markers and the addition of a crosswalk in front of Oxford Place), various spaces for public art (interactive installations, performance spaces, and a painted sidewalk), more explicit public spaces (a parklet and “gateway grove” at the intersection of Essex Street and Harrison Avenue), and gateways at each end of the block. At the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street, this gateway into Chinatown is marked with two Fu Fu dog statues as an entrance into the plaza space. At the other end of the block, at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Beach Street, a temporary welcome plaza is proposed. Along Hudson Avenue, seating has been diversified to include movable tables and chairs. Shade and greenery are incorporated more thoroughly in this design as trees are spread out throughout the site and shade umbrellas accompany seating. Like the previous design, this plan incorporates ideas from the March 2017 precedents, such as painted sidewalks, kiosks, parklets, interactive art spaces, and outdoor furniture. The long-term vision carries components from the interim design. For example, the gateway plaza at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street incorporates an ornate and sculptural entryway to invite visitors to Phillips Square, rather than the two Fu Fu dog statues. At the opposite end of the block, a permanent welcome plaza with a kiosk is proposed. Regarding streetscape design, these attributes have been formalized with curb extensions, a protected bike lane, more seating options have been added, and trees are more densely lined along both sides of Harrison Avenue. Lastly, a renovation of the Oxford Place alleyway proposes new cobble work, cleaner pavement, newly installed lighting, and surveillance cameras. Similar to the short-term design, this long-term design incorporates many similar aspects found in the precedent imagery, like the wayfinding kiosk, parklet, and outdoor
Figure 8: June 2017 Design for Phillips Square.
Figure 9: December 2017 Design for Phillips Square.
3.2.d. December 2017 meeting The December 2017 community meeting took place again at the Josiah Quincy School cafeteria, led by representatives from the Boston Transportation Department, Boston Planning and Development Agency, and A Better City. At this meeting, an interim design was presented to the public. Notably, these plans and documentation were the first to include text translated into Chinese. None of the previous designs or documents had included any other language other than English. In this design, the ground articulation was updated with a red and yellow spotted pattern and is specifically noted in the plan that the “temporarily painted dragon scale patterns [will be] finalized with community members.” This is the first time in the city’s plans that the Chinatown community is explicitly mentioned. Despite the seeming wellintention, this dragon scale pattern must be considered in the context of ethnic theming and exotification. While the community may be involved in the process to determine this pattern, a more questionable intention underlies the choice for red and yellow “dragon scales” rendered in the design. Is this ground articulation truly meant to help create a sense of place for the Chinatown community or rather, visitors to this space? Outside of this dubious design feature, additional revisions include adjustments to the placement of the crosswalk in front of Oxford Place, increased disability access (via American Disabilities Act compliant sidewalk ramps), and installation of a shading structure. Regarding the crosswalk, it has been shifted over a few feet closer to Essex Street, in order to accommodate vehicle access into Oxford Place. It seems that with vehicle access into Oxford Place, some of the 41
changes identified in the last plan (such as surveillance, lighting, and new cobblestones) may not be implemented.
3.2.e. Problems with the City’s Participatory Process Ultimately, these designs suggest a problematic use of participation by the City of Boston. Through an analysis of the presentations and designs developed by the City of Boston and their project partners throughout 2017, I am skeptical of the real level of influence Chinatown members had on the Phillips Square redesign process. While the designs were presented to the Chinatown community and feedback was given, the designs do not indicate substantive changes in each Phillips Square plan, which would reflect and include community input if actually considered. I will show how the City of Boston and its partners do not substantively engage the community or significantly alter the design plan from the precedents proposed in the March 2017 meeting and mainly pursue aesthetic changes through 2017. While recent writing by the Mayor’s Office, specifically articulated in the city’s latest master plan, Imagine Boston 2030, has indicated a desire for more equitable development, the Phillips Square does not align with such a vision. Firstly, the participation methodology used in the March 2017 meeting reinforces idealized precedents offered by the designers, rather than allowing participants to offer substantive recommendations that deviate from these predetermined ideals. As such, while the analysis section and visioning exercise masquerade as tools of community engagement, these exercises actually inhibit the opportunity for community members to offer spontaneous and creative solutions, as the audience has been fed and shown the City’s ideal proposal already in the presentation. Additionally, the use of a long presentation preceding these sections not only
may have limited the scope of the discussion to merely a streetscape upgrade but also likely made the audience weary from the length and overwhelming amount of information. Only after being inundated with information from “experts” (the city officials, architects, and designers) present at the meeting were the meeting attendees asked to provide feedback. Yet the questions posed to attendees did not seek to gain substantive resident input, as the presentation itself seemed to provide answers already to these questions. As seen in Figure 3, the questions posed were: (1) what issues were missing from our analysis? (2) are there improvement opportunities you would like to see happen here? and (3) what is the social, cultural, and civic identity of Phillips Square? The first question positions the city as the expert and their site analysis as the primary source to understand Phillips Square. The second question is fulfilled by the precedent research. As the presentation has already identified feasible and ideal improvement opportunities, this question is already answered by themselves. Lastly, the third question regarding identity is problematic for a few reasons – it is vague and assuming, presuming that Phillips Square necessarily does have a role in the Chinatown community. Yet, this question is also seemingly answered by the presentation itself, which analyses the physical and social attributes of the site. As such, the audience opinions are seemingly supplemental to the official city analysis and plan. This pattern of suppression is mirrored in subsequent parts of the workshop. The visioning exercise, depicted in the Figure 5, shows the same photos used in the presentation to the advisory panel. By providing the audience with images already determined to be design precedents for the Phillips Square project, this imposes serious visual and physical limitations on the visioning exercise, reducing the design precedents already selected by the designers, planners, and architects for Phillips Square. This façade of engagement is repeated again in
the charrette exercise, which likely also biased the attendees to designs already identified by the city officials and designers as favorable. The attendees were given pre-cut templates and figurines to use for charrette exercise, seen in Figure 6, which limited their design possibilities within a framework crafted by the workshop facilitators. Even more so, when “unscripted” ideas – including a war memorial, innovative use of technology, and contemporary Chinatown history were raised by the community, these attributes have not been comprehensively addressed at all in the designs produced throughout 2017. Later iterations of the designs call back to the original precedent presentation designed by the project team. In Figure 10, I compare the design trends found in the two of the most developed designs presented to the Chinatown community to the design precedents included in the March 2017 presentation. As both of designs draw inspiration from the precedent imagery, this suggests that the project and design team have not strayed far from their original designs and concept for Phillips Square. Both the June and December designs include aspects related to street furniture, interactive art and performance spaces, a parklet, and wayfinding. For the December 2017 design, the ground articulation directly echoes the painted streets slide, even using similar graphic treatment in the precedent imagery. These overlaps are not coincidental, but instead speak to the limited impact Chinatown residents likely had on the programming and design for Phillips Square. From an analysis of the March 2017 participation process and the designs produced by the City throughout 2017, it is apparent that Chinatown residents are used as a cursory addition to the design process, rather than co-developers that are taken seriously by the City. Residents and community members are seemingly only allowed the opportunity to place figurines and photos on pages, rather than actually exercising their right to the city, 42
Figure 10: Graphic depicting the use of the March 2017 design precedents in subsequent plans and designs for Phillips Square. From top to bottom: (1) plan presented to the community in June 2017 (2) presentation slides presented in March 2017 and (3) plan presented to the community in December 2017. Despite â€œcommunity participationâ€? in the design process, the program and design interventions draw directly from the initial design interventions selected by the project team. Illustration by the author.
free from the control of the Phillips Square city-led project team and designers. This selfaffirming participation method of the City relegates participants to puppets and limits their agency to choose outcomes outside what the project team has already selected. In this way, 43
rather than truly engaging citizens, the City only merely seeks their approval building their desired vision of Phillips Square. While this is better than past urban planning processes (which did not include community input), it is only marginally so. In this practice, the City can
evade criticism by pointing to its community engagement efforts as substantive forms of citizen empowerment. By pursuing this kind of participatory engagement, the City is able to appease the Chinatown community by offering a seat at the table – albeit, a limited one – while implementing their larger aesthetic and economic goals. On the website for A Better City, one of the development and managing partners for the redevelopment of Phillips Square, they write that the conceptualizations developed, based on community suggestions, will lay the “foundation for the transformation of Phillip Square into a vibrant public space in the heart of Chinatown… this location will be improved so it can support better local social and economic activities. Yet, it is necessary to ask - who will this location be improved for? While referencing the local the social and economic landscape, the target audience of this improvement is ambiguous – do they mean the low-income, largely immigrant population? The growing upper-middle white class in the community? Or both? Even more pressing – is it possible that both of these groups can be supported at once, given the widely different socio-economic circumstances, immigration status, and language capabilities of these groups? The ambiguous audience muddles the capability of the City of Boston and its partners to address social issues like affordable housing, displacement, and gentrification if they cannot and do not recognize it. Questions must be raised, considering the underlying financial dynamics of this project. Other critical stakeholders which are veiled in this conversation. Cresset Development LLC, the development company leading the redevelopment of the Verizon building into residential studio apartments (whose clientele are likely upper-middle class Bostonians who can afford Downtown Boston luxury apartments) has promised $150,000 to the renovation of Harrison Avenue. As such, the programming for the site is inherently meant to serve not just the
Chinatown community, but new wealthy elites and tourists. Stark financial and social disparities divide these groups – likely rendering their needs incongruent. Such a program scheme may serve to “culturally gentrify” the space by building for a non-Chinatown population that is more socially and financially privileged. In this participation process, trends which mimic criticism of participatory planning occur. Problematizing participation, Andrea Cornwall’s highlights in her essay, “Spaces for transformation? Reflections on issues of power and difference in participation” patterns of “pseudo-democracy.” This same trend of “pseudo-democracy” is troublingly present in the participation patterns of the City in the techniques used in their presentations, visioning and charrette exercises, and designs. This is a problematic, given the historical role of the City in facilitating disastrous urban renewal plans and its recent statements on equity in Imagine Boston 2030. Cornwall’s writing links the participatory scheme used by the City, exposing the shallowness of its ideation of equity and empowerment. Specifically, Cornwall problematizes participation as whole, writing: the primary emphasis of institutions… seems to be on relocating the poor within the prevailing order: bringing them in, finding them a place, lending them opportunities, inviting them to participate. What remains salient from work on deliberative democracy is the extent to which official spaces, that bring together civil society representatives with the state and other non-state stakeholders (such as the private sector), can potentially help citizens to engage meaningfully in shaping public policy, or whether the forms of exclusion that operate within and around them are so potent that they are simply pseudo-democratic instruments through which authorities legitimize already taken policy decisions.
Cornwall’s work emphasizes the lack of real substantive change in power used by institutions under the guise of participation. In the case of the City of Boston, the City has “relocated” Chinatown citizens within an invitation of participation but has not provided actual opportunities for meaningful engagement. Instead, the City’s process is self-affirming, feeding the community their ideal design interventions in the March 2017 presentations which are then undergo only minor modifications in subsequent designs. In essence, the City feed the attendees their expectations via precedent imagery and in turn, are rewarded when the attendees responded these same ideas. This suppression of substantive participation is evidenced in the lack of responsiveness to community suggestions posed in the March 2017 meeting. Beyond the pseudo-democratic elements of the City’s process, these patterns fit into established trends of insincere participation. Gabriel Arboleda pushes an even stronger critique of participation, in which he describes it as a deceptive form of dominance, in which global governmentality institutions make people believe that they are the ones making the decisions, when in reality they are being tele-guided or simply manipulated through participation schemes that ensure the dominance of international financial institutions of that benefit the interests of private investors. Combined with Cornwall, these schools of thought illustrate the major inefficacies, contradictions, and limitations of participatory planning when used by the state to promote equity and justice. In this view, the City of Boston is not just limited to promote justice through participation, but actively exacerbating the social issues in the community that is meant to alleviate. For the City, future participatory planning schemes – while likely assumed to be a pathway towards equality by city officials, 45
are exclusive and counterproductive to developing just cities. In this case, Chinatown residents are, ironically, helping to sign off on aesthetic upgrades and beautification efforts which can facilitate community displacement and cultural erasure. However, alternative participatory schemes like participatory action research (PAR) – done outside of the context of governmentality – can more effectively empower the Chinatown community by providing a framework of practicable justice - wielded by the community, for the community. In my use of PAR in the subsequent section, I engage with high school youths in an educational context to encourage community advocacy and selfdetermination, outside the frame of government power. Ultimately, by identifying trends between the community meetings and City designs, I have shown how the City and its partners have cultivated a limited approach of participatory planning in the Phillips Square redevelopment process. As Andrea Cornwall and Gabriel Arboleda show, this approach is typical of the field. With decisions on programming, ordering, design tactics, and strategies already decided for the community, instead of with the community, this ultimately suppresses dialogue and critique by offering a seemingly finished vision of the program that needs only residential approval to move forward. In short, the City’s use of participation reveals no real redistribution of power – just the illusion of it. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, the outcome has significant ramifications for the City and Chinatown residents by developing an echochamber environment that will produce limited designs and results.
3.3. YOUTH VISIONS OF PHILLIPS SQUARE Participatory action research, in contrast to traditional participatory practices that Cornwall describes PAR in contrast to typical participatory planning, highlight the focus on
community knowledge and power, as she writes, [PAR] enables the construction of alternative versions of the world to fashion networks of solidarity and build people’s confidence in their own knowledge and capabilities and with it a sense of entitlement. As such, participatory action research prioritizes the lived experiences of the target beneficiaries as experts. This framework elevates the voices such beneficiaries alongside the voices of “traditional” experts like architects, policymakers, and urban planners. This practice subverts traditional participation, which, act only to “invite” beneficiaries to participate. In the PAR framework, beneficiaries are enabled to dictate the discussion, rather than just contribute to it. I sought to use PAR to meaningfully engage with youth residents of Boston’s Chinatown to gain insight into their needs, ideals, and perspective of public space in Chinatown in direct response to the City’s process. As seen in the participatory planning process implemented by the City, participants were not empowered in the process but were guided through highly constrained discussions that produced myopic results. Rather than restraining the discussion to streetscape upgrades, I sought to frame the discussion around community wants and needs. Pushing against the limitations of the state, I hoped to help the community think creatively about space and what they could do with it. I actively sought to defy the bounds typically imposed by traditional participatory practice through my PAR research with high school youth, by facilitating a process in which youth can better understand how to actualize their ideas. I was motivated to work with high-school aged Chinatown youths for two reasons. The first, I had access to a youth population from my previous work with the Asian Community Development Corporation’s youth program (A-VOYCE) would not have to struggle to find
willing participants under a tight deadline. Additionally, I sought to work with youths for their “twice-marginalized” status. More specifically, as Chinatown residents, they are marginalized as community members of a neighborhood regarded as low-income and with “little no real value.” Secondly, as youths, they not only excluded from public spaces but from serious discussion on planning and design of the cityscape. Youths are specifically designed out of public spaces with anti-loitering signs, despite these spaces offering one of the few opportunities for socialization for low-income youths who traditionally to do not have access to leisure spaces in their homes. Ultimately, my goal with my PAR research was to help youth in Chinatown envision their ideal public space in Phillips Square. By analyzing these results, the youth results elucidate the limitations of the City’s process, revealing the need for multifaceted interventions which go beyond pure aesthetic considerations, but integrate access to social services to improve quality of life and environmental health. More than that, however, the youth results validate that youth and the community at large, if given the opportunity to design and plan their community can and would do so. In watching the youth in these workshop, they brimmed with ideas. The remainder of this chapter will explore this process wand what can be learned from youth visions.
3.3.a. Problems with the City’s Participatory Process In the preliminary stages of preparation for my thesis, I have worked to build relationships in the Boston Chinatown community through internships at the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) for two summers. This past summer, I interned with ACDC to assist with curriculum building for their youth program, Asian Voices of Youth for Community Engagement (A-VOYCE). 46
A-VOYCE is a youth program focused on community engagement through an urban planning lens. During this time, I expressed to Jeena Hah, the Youth Programs Manager at ACDC, my desire to work with youth for my Architectural Studies thesis. Hah expressed support for the potential project. Beyond this initial inquiry, I worked to deepen my relationships with the organization’s leaders and youth program participants. I occasionally assisting with A-VOYCE workshop facilitation and a youth-led placemaking project in Phillips Square. From this experience, I was able to build rapport with the organization’s members, youth program participants, and learn more about challenges to urban planning in Chinatown. Pertinent to my thesis, this involvement allowed me to preview youth intentions to transform Phillips Square into a robust and accessible Chinatown community hub. After my internship ended, I followed up with Hah at the end of October 2017 to inquire about working with A-VOYCE youth for my thesis research. In my first workshop plan, I planned to collect data from 10-20 high school aged youth through mapping exercises. Using this data, I originally sought to design a park space responsive to these youth needs. In my original timeline for this workshop, I had planned for data collection to occur in late November. After facing some implementation roadblocks, this timeline was redeveloped to better conform to the existing social, political, and institutional frameworks which I was entering into for this project. In my correspondence with Hah from late October to mid-November, I exchanged a series of emails which seemed to indicate hesitation from ACDC to assist with this project. In early emails, I was asked to consider the accessibility of such a workshop to students outside of the A-VOYCE youth program, the ease of data collection, and whether physical space and time for these workshops. After bringing these questions to Professor Arboleda, we discussed the merits and complications of each of these 47
proposals. From there, I developed my first draft of the workshop plan. This plan proposed that data would be collected through two mapping exercises during a single 90-minute workshop session. Firstly, youths would map the current conditions found in Phillips Square through annotations, drawings, and a map key. After completing this exercise, the youth would present their completed maps. In the second mapping exercise, youth would be asked to map the Phillips Square area as an idealized park space, using annotations, drawings, and a map key. Following this, they would explain their design and rationale. Lastly, the workshop would close with a feedback session on the Boston Transportation Department’s (BTD) design proposals for Phillips Square. In this section, youth would be given copies of the BTD proposal and asked to annotate the blueprints to identify successful or unsuccessful features of the design. After, they would again present their ideas back to the larger group and explain their reasoning. I sent my first draft of the workshop proposal to ACDC on early November 2017. In this email, I offered resources I could tap into, like thesis funding to cover costs of the workshop and flexibility in scheduling the workshops in December or January. A week later, I received a reply from Hah, offering feedback and more information on potential dates for scheduling. Based on Hah’s recommendation, the most sensible time to integrate my data collection to the A-VOYCE youth curriculum would be midMarch. Additionally, as a result of an intense workload the organization was dealing with, I was asked to follow up in a few weeks. Anxious about the apparent trepidation from the organization, I replied back a few days later to assuage worries about the feasibility and manageability of the workshop. In this email, I explicitly addressed the feedback provided by Hah and offered to travel to Boston, MA to discuss with her, in person. The next day, I received a reply from Hah and scheduled
a meeting for mid-November 2017. In this meeting, we were able to clarify details of the workshop proposal and negotiate a favorable outcome for each of our needs. We discussed how to use this workshop in the most useful way for each our individual goals. Together, we were able to find space to package my workshop within the greater A-VOYCE curriculum, revising the theme of my workshop to better align with the youth curriculum goals. My workshop was paired with two workshops, titled, “We’ve Got a Plan, Part 1” and “We’ve Got a Plan, Part 2,” scheduled for December 28 and January 4. We agreed that by splitting my workshop into two different sections this would be more effective, especially considering the existing curriculum and packed scheduling. This new plan split the youth visioning process into two parts, the first workshop focused on redesigning the solace in line with recommendations from the 2010 CMP. The second workshop built off this knowledge and pushed the youth to scale down their designs into more feasible, low-cost installations that they could implement and install themselves. Hah hoped that these workshops would leave no disconnect between grandiose, but unfilled architectural renderings shown to typically communities by designers, but instead, showcase realistic solutions by the youths’ own hands. This reframing sought to validate the ideas of the youth. Notably, in this discussion, Hah described “red flags” when she had read my initial workshop draft and was wary of moving forward in worry of stepping on the toes of the Boston Transportation Department in the design process. However, by shifting the frame to formalizing youth visions of Phillips Square, rather than a conceptual redesign based on youth needs, this seemed to relieve broader political tensions. In reframing the workshop to a visioning exercise, the organization and I were able to engage in a non-threatening analysis of Phillips Square and the city’s upcoming redevelopment plan. The final draft of the
workshop plan reflected this in-person discussion and the actual needs of the A-VOYCE youth program, in comparison to the needs which I had assumed and projected on to them. Reflecting on this preparation process, I realized that I entered the discussion process with ACDC already assured of my ability assist the organization and the youth. In my initial drafts of the workshop, I realized I had prioritized my own desires - extracting data from youth students for my thesis - and interpreting their needs through my own positionality to produce an unnecessary architectural plan and design. However, by shifting the focus to formalizing youth visions of Phillips Square, this prioritizes the youth as active participants in the creation and transformation of the Phillips Square site, rather than as passive participants subject to the will of others. In the days leading up to the first workshop on December 28, 2017, I studied the 2010 CMP to learn the nuances and understand the context of development in Boston’s Chinatown. While some changes to the physical landscape have occurred since 2010, many of the same needs identified in the master plan have still not been addressed, making the document still a salient representation needs for the Chinatown community today. On a logistical level, I also shopped for workshop supplies, picked up snacks, bought crafting materials, and designed simple, large format plans for the youth to draw and build on in the visioning process.
3.3.a. The Visioning Process: PAR in Practice Workshop 1 – December 28, 2017 The goal of my first workshop was to introduce the youth to the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, offering them a context to understand the current state of the Chinatown’s built environment and to assist youth to re-envision the Phillips Square area as a desirable public 48
space. However, the efficacy of the workshop was stymied by a few roadblocks that occurred, such as low attendance, too much information to be taught, and not enough time. While Hah and I were supposed to complete the first visioning exercise in this workshop time, we were unable to because of low attendance and lack of time. In the middle of the workshop, realizing these limitations, we pivoted to a more in-depth discussion of the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan and ended the workshop 30 minutes early as a result of these issues. The expected attendance was 22 youths, however, only 6 were present at 4:00 pm. By 4:30 pm, two more youths had joined the group, but attendance was still lower than expected. Hah and I began the workshop with the youths with introductions and an overview of the agenda for the day. Following this, we initiated an icebreaker game. From there, we transitioned into a lecture focused on the specifics of the 2010 CMP. Hah began explaining the master plan, linking it to the previous curriculum the youth had previously been exposed to develop a theme of community advocacy and self-determination in the built environment. Moving forward, we shifted into a broad overview of the master plan’s specifics, highlighting the goals, current conditions, opportunities, and challenges relating to the neighborhood’s economy, housing, social services, and environmental health. We introduced the notion of community “anchor areas’ specifically focusing on Phillips Square in this discussion. The youth were tasked with breaking up into four groups, with two students per group, to analyze the current conditions of these community spaces. After fifteen minutes, groups were asked to come back together to teach back their findings to the rest of the youth during the next A-VOYCE workshop. At the end of the teach-back session, there were still forty minutes left remaining of the scheduled workshop period, so students were allowed to leave approximately thirty minutes earlier than usual after a round of announcements. 49
Workshop 2 – Januar y 11, 2018 The second workshop was scheduled to take place on January 4th, 2018, but was postponed due to a major snowstorm which made landfall on that day. As a result, the ACDC office was closed and the workshop was postponed to the following Thursday, January 11. I received an email from Hah on January 2, 2018, which alerted me to the changes and reiterated commitment to support the workshop. On January 11, the second part of the “We’ve Got a Plan” workshop took place from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. The original workshop was meant to have the youth rethink their 3D models from the previous workshop, scaling it down to a more realistic, low-cost version which they could deploy themselves. Youth were to have 50 minutes to redevelop the site, present their new ideas, and discuss the Boston Transportation Department’s design. In this discussion section, youth were meant to analyze their own designs against the City’s plan. This conversation was meant to serve as a starting point for future youth advocacy, providing a framework for the youth to develop “push points” to inform their future advocacy work in the Phillips Square redesign. However, as a result complications from the last workshop, this prompted changes in the agenda for the second workshop. Instead, the visioning and design component meant to occur in the first workshop was added and a discussion of the BTD design was cut from the day’s schedule. As a result, this second workshop was tight on time, with a number of key items to cover. For this workshop, I co-facilitated with Hah and the Youth Programs Associate, Suzie Kim. That day, 16 youths were able to attend the entire session. We began the session again with introductions, as a majority of youths who were present for this workshop had not attended the previous workshop and had not yet met me. After introductions, we proceeded with an icebreaker game, “Captain Says” which I
played with the youth for ten minutes. Following this, I quickly recapped the key points of the 2010 CMP for the group, specifically discussing affordable housing, sustainability, environmental health, quality of life, lack of park spaces, and strengthening Chinatown. From there, Hah took over, prompting the youth with questions to deepen their understanding of the importance of the master plan. After a quick discussion, Hah tied these answers back to the creation of a community identity, facilitated through the establishment of Chinatown anchor areas by providing stability for in the built environment for businesses and residents alike. Expanding on anchor areas, Hah explained that to the youth that they “do not feel like anchors” and have not fulfilled the hopes of the 2010 CMP. This point set up for the upcoming visioning exercise, as we prompted the youth to “think like a community planner” by reintroducing both a community and youth voice into the redesign process of Phillips Square. At this point, I returned to the 2010 CMP by explaining specific design features highly desired by the Chinatown community, like community identity, pedestrian friendliness, aesthetics, and safety. We additionally distributed an excerpt from the 2010 CMP for reference. Following this, I presented data, collected by the A-VOYCE youth group for summer 2017, that gathered information on youth ideals for Phillips Square from other Chinatown youth programs. From there, I introduced the exercise prompt, describing this as an opportunity to rethink how Phillips Square could serve both community and youth needs. In this prompt, Hah and I emphasized that their redesigns were not to be restrained by budget, government authority, or any other roadblocks. Ultimately, the visioning exercise was framed by two questions which we explicitly asked: (1) as a youth: what did they specifically want? and (2) as a community advocate: how could they honor residents’ vision? Using materials I provided to them - PlayDoh modeling clay, markers, blank 2’ x 3’ maps of Phillips Square, thick colored cardstock,
sheets of foam core, fake moss, scissors, X-Acto knives, pipe cleaners, tape, and wooden sticks - the youth designed for 50 minutes, in groups of four. During the design exercise, Hah, Kim and I walked around to each group and assisted by answering their questions and providing feedback. After finishing their designs, each group presented their designs, explaining their rationale, and fielded questions from the group. Following this portion of the workshop, Hah began the second half of the workshop that focused on short-term placemaking and placekeeping. In this conceptual introduction, Hah described placekeeping/placemaking as an effective tactic to create low-budget change to in response to community needs. Following this brief lecture, we tasked the youth to scale down their redesigns of Phillips Square, in response to placemaking/placekeeping. They reconvened in their original groups and discussed potential intervention strategies for ten minutes, recording their ideas on poster paper. Afterward, we ended the workshop with a sharing period where each group summarized their discussion.
3.3.b. Group 1 Group 1 - consisting of three female high school aged and one female collegeaged youths - redesigned Phillips Square to incorporate public art, plants, trash cans, recycling bins, affordable housing, a community center, street lighting, and solar panels. While this group decided to retain Harrison Avenue as a road accessible to motor vehicles, they opted to paint the street white. For this modification, a youth explained their rationale to the larger group, saying, And then something I saw online, some cities are actually painting their streets white instead of black for climate change, and by making their streets white, it actually reflects the light off, to keep things cooler rather than warm. 50
Figure 11: Group 1 vision for Phillips Square.
Additional aesthetic changes to Harrison Avenue include the integration of public art by placing seasonal, rotating displays that featured the work of community artists and rain-activated sidewalk art. Beyond Harrison Avenue, this group also choose to redesign Oxford Place, placing an array of arches through the alleyway, which would serve as a trellis for vines. Beyond these changes, the youth expressed wanting to create a second â€œgateâ€? in the Phillips Square area and demolishing the building owned by Verizon and replacing it with a multi-story building that would have a community center on the first floor and affordable housing units above. Additionally, they proposed renovating an abandoned building on Harrison Avenue, converting it to residential housing that would 51
include both market rate and affordable housing. The youth took advantage of the rooftops on both housing developments, using one building to host solar panels while the other was converted to a community rooftop garden.
3.3.c. Group 2 Group 2, comprised of two female highschool aged youth and two male high-school youths, pursued a major re-visioning of the Phillips Square by replacing a section of Harrison Avenue with an open park space and a new affordable housing development. The park space would include grass spread out from end to end of the block, arch structures from which swing-sets would descend from,
Figure 12: Group 2 vision for Phillips Square
recycling bins, trash cans, benches, a garden, a fountain, and monument. For the fountain specifically, the youth described wanting to create a water area for the public to enjoy, which would be illuminated with different colors at night. Adjacent to park, the group opted to retain the commercial spaces and parking lot that line Harrison Avenue. For the new development replacing the Verizon building, this multi-story, high-rise building would include retail spaces and a public library on lower floors, with affordable housing above. Additionally, the youth opted to expand a section of residential housing in the Oxford Place alleyway, by redeveloping it into a multistory high-rise. On the building façade facing Harrison Avenue, they planned for an “art wall” that could potentially feature artists, such
as Wen-Ti Tsen. When asked more specifically about this art wall and the type of art they would like to feature, the group responded that the art and artist would not necessarily be Chinatown-related, as they believed it should cater to everyone, including tourists. One youth responded, We would want to hear [the artists’] ideas, and figure, if anything, like, we would really… like, maybe one ear, we can focus on one theme, and if one artist has a really good idea, we can implement it the next year. An additional feature of these new developments would be the inclusion of solar panels and roof gardens on both rooftops. 52
Figure 13: Group 3 vision for Phillips Square.
3.3.d. Group 3 Group 3 included two female aged high-school youth and two male high school aged youth. For their redesign of Phillips Square, this group decided to reframe Phillips Square as a secondary gateway into Chinatown. To do this, the group designed an arch structure at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street. In addition to this reframing of space, this group pursued the development of more outdoor recreational spaces, increased measures for pedestrian safety (crosswalk, signage, traffic light), new developments for affordable housing, a public library, a Chinatown museum, and information center for tourists. This group decided to demolish the Verizon building and build an open park space which would be linked by a pathway to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. 53
On the opposite side of the street, the youth decided to retain parking for the new affordable housing development. In that parking lot space, the youth also decided to place a “blackboard.” One youth took to describing it in detail, explaining to the rest of the A-VOYCE group, … If you’ve ever been to Seaport or someplace in that area, there’s like a blackboard next to a basketball court, there’s usually like a survey question and strangers can like, write their answers on it with chalk, and I thought that would be a good incentive to explore that part of the area, other than the [ThinkChinatown] mural, because there isn’t much there. Or put it next to the [ThinkChinatown] mural. While the group had conceptualized the area
Figure 14: Group 4 vision for Phillips Square
as road open to motor vehicle traffic in their design, they also did provide some design interventions to transition the area to pedestrianonly. In this design concept, bricks would replace the cement road and a monument/statue would be erected in the middle of the street to honor the traditional Chinese zodiac.
3.3.e. Group 4 Group 4 – consisted of two female high school aged youth and two male high school aged youth. In their redesign of Phillips Square, they added park spaces, a library, public art installations, a playground, benches, outdoor seating areas, rain-activated sidewalk art, crosswalk lights, outdoor gym equipment, street lighting, affordable housing, and community center. This group retained the main street –
Harrison Avenue – as a roadway open to motor vehicle, but placed a series of crosswalk lights to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Beach Street and Harrison Avenue. On the sidewalks running along Harrison Avenue, these areas would integrate rain-activated sidewalk art, similar to Group 2. To create more community-oriented spaces, the youth opted to demolish the Verizon building. In replacing that space, the youth decided to erect a high-rise building that could supply affordable housing, a public library space, a community space, and a rooftop garden. This development is surrounded by a public park space that would include outdoor gym equipment, benches, an electrical charging station, and a water fountain. On the opposite side of the street, they replaced the parking lot space with another park space which includes a playground for children, 54
Figure 15: A youth group presentation during Workshop 2.
benches and tables with chess boards, and water fountains. Adjacent to this park space, the youth redeveloped the vacant building into additional affordable housing units and more community spaces. Beyond the main Harrison Avenue streetscape, Group 4 decided to rethink the smaller alleyways that branch off of Oxford Place by adding a mural, street lights, and trash cans along the path.
3.3.f. Youth as community advocates As a collective, the youth designs reflect a sincere consciousness among A-VOYCE youth on addressing multiple Chinatown issues â€“ such as environmental health, affordable housing, and 55
social services through the built environment, rather than designing a site for tourists or visitors. These designs demonstrate how the youth seek to actualize justice in responsive to the limitations and pervasive insufficiencies in the Chinatown built environment. As such, their designs elucidate patterns of social inequity in the Chinatown landscape which are apparently understood by the youth (evidenced by their design interventions) and either ignored or seemingly unknown to City planners and designers. The similarities across these designs demonstrate a collective consciousness and dedication to improving the community via not just aesthetic improvements, but by building more affordable housing and developing more
community spaces. However, it is also important to note the limitations and confounding factors of this PAR exercise that may have contributed to similarities in the youth designs. As the youth are all participants of A-VOYCE, they all receive education on affordable housing, redlining, gentrification, and community displacement. Since the thesis workshops were built into the existing A-VOYCE curriculum, many of the youth likely directly responded to the prompts and questions with answers learned from the curriculum. Since the youth were all taught the same material before beginning the exercise, they were all primed with specific examples of how to actualize their wants and needs for the public. Regarding building materials for the designs, these materials may have imposed limitations of what the youth could successfully build or show in their 3D depictions of the site. Beyond the same materials, curriculum, and general exposure to the topic, other factors, like socialization may have played a role in spreading ideas to other groups. Since the youths produced these designs at the same time, all in the same room, they were able to see, overhear, and actively socialize with members from other groups. Recognizing these limitations and confounding factors, I analyze the designs of the youth with these considerations in mind. Even with these factors, the youth visions provide a comparative foundation in which to understand physical and nonphysical needs in the Chinatown landscape. All the groups integrated similar design features in their proposals, such as green spaces, affordable housing, streetscape aesthetic upgrades, and the demolition of the Verizon building. Particularly, the theme of community and public space were a common trend among the designs. While the groups were not explicitly told to design a public park/green space, all the groups opted to include green spaces whether on a streetscape level or through the creation of publicly accessible rooftop gardens. In three out four cases, the designs all included
a combination of the following: a community and/or cultural hub, a public library, public art, development of more green space, and adjustments to pedestrian safety. In two out of four groups, the designs also decided to incorporate park space specifically for children. Looking more closely as the public space designs by group indicate slight nuances regarding idealization of public and community spaces. Public space for Group 1 meant diverse options, including rooftop gardens, a pedestrian plaza, and a community center. The design choices of Group 2 how a prioritization on creating spaces for leisure and recreation by developing a large, green park space that includes a monument, fountain, and recreational equipment (like swings). Group 3’s design emphasizes the creation of both indoor and outdoor public spaces; particularly, their design links outdoor public spaces – like a children’s park - with a wide array of public accessible indoor spaces like an information center, public library, and museum on Chinatown. Additionally, in crafting their outdoor spaces, Group 3 paid considerable attention to pedestrian safety, as they were the only group to include a stop sign and stop light at intersections. Group 4 built four public spaces, two as ground-level parks, one as a rooftop garden, and a public library. Each of the ground level parks was programmed with specific intentions, by providing specific design and streetscape interventions for each of the spaces. Most importantly, however, the design interventions for these spaces focused on enhancing and providing important resources to the community, such as water, electricity, exercising equipment, recreational space, or books. The particular care shown in all the groups’ development of public and community spaces in their designs is critical to understanding the underlying ethic that inform their designs. As a collective, these designs illustrate the intensive need to remediate the severe lack of recreational park spaces and community spaces in Chinatown. Particularly of note is the desire to create 56
free public spaces that are accessible to residents – specifically, youth – without feeling the need to pay for a good or service. This theme was explicitly verbalized by different youth members when they gave explanations of their redesigns. When discussing the community center featured in Group 1’s design, a youth explained, … we will take over [the Verizon building], make a bottom floor actually a community center that is seven days a week… Something that I’ve noticed is that when I come into Chinatown and I need a place to stay, but I don’t want to buy anything, so, on the weekends, I can go there. Later in the discussion, another youth from Group 4 referenced this point when explaining the need for more community spaces. Likewise, this group also decided to demolish the Verizon building and instead, develop a library in its place. This youth told his peers, And then, we also decide to demolish the Verizon building, and like, this part here, the library, and in front of it is green space... On the first floor, it’s a community space, or like, what another group said, there’s no place for you to go if you don’t want to buy anything, so you can just go in there and people can chill in there. This point is especially significant in understanding the desires behind the creation of public spaces. The youth are responding to a significant problem that directly affects their access to spaces in Chinatown, demonstrating a trend of inclusion by payment, or inversely – exclusion if you are without money or means of payment. In understanding the landscape of Chinatown currently, these opinions expressed by the youth reveal the not only the need for public spaces – but truly inclusive public spaces in which access and belonging is not predicated 57
3.4. FACING OFF: THE YOUTH, THE CITY, AND THE 2010 CHINATOWN MASTER PLAN In this section, I analyze the results from two participatory process – one, by the City of Boston and the other, my own participatory action research (PAR) with Chinatown youth from the A-VOYCE program. These designs are analyzed for their responsiveness to the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, a community produced document that outlines goals and visions for Chinatown’s development. Using the stated goals from the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan as guidelines for development in Chinatown, I have organized the design attributes from all the City and youth visions of Phillips Square, so they may be cross compared. As the 2010 Chinatown Master document is the most recent official document from the community on planning and development, it can serve as an idealized version of what Chinatown should be, based on what residents have expressed. Through this analysis, I demonstrate the ideological rifts between the City and the youth, which parallels the ideologies explored in Harvey’s essay on right to the city (i.e. the production of “gated communities” in urban space versus democratically produced spaces). In this way, I will show how the City of Boston’s development epitomizes an ethic of gentrification by targeting economic opportunity and housing. Following this, I consider the consequences of City’s development pathway and final designs for Phillips Square and how these may jeopardize viability of Boston’s Chinatown as a livable and affordable enclave for Asians and Asian Americans. Table 1 shows how the youth and City visions compare along the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan goals. Seen in this table, three major trends are established in this analysis. The first reveals a widespread trend affecting designs of both groups of stakeholders. There
are specific design interventions across a majority of the designs that specifically do not address improvement of quality of life, increasing community civic participation, and affirmation of connections to Chinatown’s surrounding neighborhoods. The second and third trends that appear reveal a disconnect in the ideologies between the youth and the City as stakeholders. The second trend, seen among the City designs, is the lack of consideration towards more affordable housing options to support low and middle-income families and similarly, support for the neighborhood to be anchored by immigrant and working-class residents. This is evidenced in the lack of inclusion of affordable housing in the Phillips Square. While understanding there are limitations of a redesign of a public space to include the provision of affordable housing, other aspects of the design – particular the dragon scale ground articulation found in the December 2017 – point to a desire to design the area to attract tourists, rather than the local community. The third trend, found among the youth designs, shows that they did not strongly consider economic development. In comparison, the City integrated aspects to support economic development for Chinatown business by integrating outdoor dining spaces and the creation of a visitor-friendly plaza space (that included a sculptural gateway and information center/kiosk). While the youth visions are community-centric and inwardly focused on the needs of current residents, the City’s designs are outwardly focused. This is shown in their prioritization of economic and aesthetic considerations over social aims. Ultimately, by analyzing these designs against the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan – the discrepancies that arise from what is and isn’t addressed speaks volumes about the underlying ideological frameworks of each of these stakeholders. Specifically, in analyzing these patterns designs and ideology, a more nuanced verdict on the production of justice in Boston Chinatown by development can be understood. Based on these broad categorizations 59
informed on the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, the youth designs are slightly more responsive to community needs than the city’s designs are. Overall, the youth, on average, had fewer goals that were not addressed. Three out of the four groups had 11 out of 15 of the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan goals explicitly addressed. On average, the City designs addressed only 9 out of 15 goals. While quantitatively these statistics are not significant, only indicating a minor discrepancy in quantity, where these stakeholders diverged offers better insight into their ideologies for Chinatown public space. The patterns identified based by the broad goals of the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan reaffirm the crucial differences that underlie the designs of the city and the youth. Within the youth designs, one goal was consistently unfulfilled - namely, the creation of economic development opportunities for the neighborhood and surrounding communities. Alternatively, however, the youth demonstrated a commitment to affordable housing and providing community spaces – like libraries and community centers – to serve the neighborhood. The youths’ ideal conception of an “ideal” Phillips Square is situated in providing public utilities oriented mainly towards community needs. Specifically, many of the designs have incorporated affordable housing, community spaces, and public libraries. The designs all center on current Chinatown residents immediate social, environmental, cultural needs. The identity of Phillips Square is imbued through these community centers, grounding the space in services for the community. In this way, their redesigns offer spaces where a community can both build and grow. However, this commitment was not true for all design interventions featured in the designs. When Group 2 was asked to explain their ideal audience for their public art installations, they described that they wanted the art to attract tourists. This recognition of two different audiences – the internal Chinatown community and tourists - raises tensions in how to program and design the space, as the
needs of tourists and Chinatown residents will be different and may contradict each other. Yet, for the most part, the youth designs were able to respond comprehensively to social needs identified in the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan, seen in the desire for affordable housing and retaining a base of working class residents. For the city’s designs, a number of goals revolving around housing and equity were ignored – specifically focused on the provision of affordable housing and a commitment to low-income and middle-class families. Rather, the City’s designs emphasize a tendency towards economic development and aesthetic streetscape upgrades. In viewing the City’s designs over the course of 2017, the designs for Phillips Square become less invested in emphasizing the cultural, historical, and social identity of Chinatown. While the initial design proposals seemed to reinforce the site as a part of Chinatown, that goal is diminished in the June 6th proposal, exemplified in the replacement of a memorial wall to honor Chinese-American veterans with performance and public art spaces. While these programs offer their own strengths to the site, they do not substantially further the identity of Phillips Square as a part of Boston’s Chinatown but renders it as placeless space that is unresponsive to the neighborhood’s historical or cultural identity. It is important to the note significance of this area as a site which borders Downtown Crossing; as such, development pressures are high as land in Boston’s Downtown is increasingly scarce and highly valued. As such, the borders of Chinatown are exceptionally susceptible to erosion, a pattern that is already shrinking the land area all major east coast American Chinatowns (including Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Boston). Particularly, unique attributes of the city’s design are the inclusion of casual dining space on the street, emphasis on Phillips Square as a second gate, and a seasonal parklet, raise concerns about the audience and ideal visitor in this space. While these streetscape design interventions may have been useful in other
contexts, it is worth asking whether these interventions are truly suited for the site and the low-income community at large. In direct comparison to the themes that have arisen from an analysis of the youth designs and discussion, the city’s designs are aberrant from the youth designs regarding the ideal audience and goals of the Phillips Square site. The youth in the A-VOYCE program are responding to broader social issues that exist outside of the bounds of just aesthetic upgrades to Phillips Square. As the youth participate in a community advocacy program focused on gentrification and displacement run by an affordable housing non-profit, there are informed on critical community issues. In comparison, the long-term designs from the City of Boston are responding to a different set of concerns and the stakeholders. Once again, it’s critical to note that partial funding for Phillips Square - about $150,000 - has been provided by Cresset Development LLC, a private luxury housing developer leading the PBX Residence project. As such, the City is also designing for needs of Cresset Development and the future tenants of PBX Residences. In this way, the city’s designs respond to the needs of a more privileged set of people who are available to afford market-rate condos and studios in Downtown Boston. It is important to note that the rents of such a studio, based on quotes collected from leasing websites of luxury developments in Chinatown, indicate a base rental rate of approximately $2500 per month. In a year, this equates to roughly $30,000 – dwarfing the average median household income of Chinatown residents – who earn only $13,000 a year. The major differences that identified here reveal two distinct versions of an ideal Chinatown in Boston. For the A-VOYCE youth, their vision of Phillips Square is centered around increased civic life, more social services, and increased affordable housing options. For the City’s design team, Chinatown is idealized through an aesthetic transformation and 60
infrastructure upgrades (via bike lanes and increased pedestrian safety) to promote more successful economic and tourist environment. While these improvements are useful to the Chinatown community, I wonder if these things would have been addressed for the community, if not for the incoming luxury development in Phillips Square. Additionally, these changes to Chinatown’s physical environment serve to emphasize Chinatown as an exotic cultural space. This touristification of Chinatown – seen in the parklet, kiosk, and gateway structure – reframe Chinatown as a tourist spot rather than a residential community. Ultimately, these divergent visions harken back to the problem of urban development today, identified in David Harvey’s writing on right to the city. The youth visions of Chinatown embody an ethic of community empowerment in their provision of public spaces, libraries, and affordable housing – a tangible expression of justice. These spaces not only signify, but make legible, the claims that residents have on these space in Chinatown, their right to the city. Similarly, the ethic of the City as found in their designs aligns with Harvey’s critique of private development, which transforms spaces to serve the rich. The same phenomenon, this neoliberal alchemy of space (aka gentrification), is imbued in Harvey’s imagery of gated communities, high value businesses, and tourism, undergirds the design ideology for Phillips Square. In the City’s participation process, right to the city is displaced from residents by way of the City’s self-affirming participation methods. As such, the absence of right to the city is physically manifested in their Phillips Square designs.
3.5. CATALYZING DISPLACEMENT AND GENTRIFICATION These differences identified through a comparative analysis of the youth and city design’s and 2010 Chinatown Master Plan point
to unfulfilled and unrecognized community goals. While there are ideological limitations which are inherent in the City’s process as an actor aligned with neoliberal economic growth that limits the procedures, these factors also impact the designs. As the City works to serve multiple, contradictory populations – the low-income, socially vulnerable Chinatown community and the wealthy residents of luxury developments – it is practically constrained. While the city’s redevelopment process has sought to seemingly satisfy both parties, the Chinatown population has much more to lose and will lose if the development trajectory continues as it has. As the city continues to employ a framework of pseudo-democracy for this site’s redevelopment process, it operates in the guise of producing more equitable outcomes. Yet, this process and its resulting designs may do exactly the opposite, by validating a vision for Phillips Square which is unjust in its development and deployment by using Chinatown residents, while ultimately ignoring the needs of the community identified in the 2010 CMP. While perhaps a cynical take, this suggests the use of Chinatown residents as mere puppets to serve and legitimize the city’s designs for Phillips Square. A number of factors, like the redevelopment process, the trajectory of the design iterations, and specific design interventions suggest a desire to make Chinatown more palatable to tourists. As such, this aesthetic cleansing may facilitate gentrification, as seen in the case of New York City’s High Line, an urban public park development that spurred a massive uptick in property values surrounding the site seen in a “103% increase [in Chelsea’s property values between 2003 to 2011] despite the deep recession, and $2 billion… invested in related property development.” As gentrification and displacement are already worrisome threats for the community, this outcome would be dire for the socially vulnerable and low-income population which not only rely on Chinatown for affordable housing, but also social services 61
and economic opportunities.
SUMMARY In part three, I examined two cases of participation: (1) a redesign process for Phillips Square involving the City of Boston and the Boston Chinatown community and (2) my own participatory action research working with Chinatown youth from the Asian Community Development Center’s A-VOYCE youth program. In the first half of this chapter, I described the two processes and the implications of each method of participation. In assessing the City of Boston’s participatory technique, I contended that the City’s process is a limited, selfreinforcing project. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, City officials have designed a process in which the information they provide to participants – mainly precedent imagery – is recycled back to them in the charrette and visioning process. As such, the subsequent designs which are based off this resident feedback are remarkably similar to initial ideas presented by City officials in the beginning. To show these patterns of limited participation, I analyzed publicly accessible documents from the City of Boston and presentations and notes privately provided to me via email by Raul Duverge, a project manager for the Phillips Square redesign. My methodology for this analysis involved interpreting these documents and tracking the development of designs from start to finish. Moving on, I reviewed my own participation process, a participatory action research (PAR) exercise done with youth from the A-VOYCE youth program on their visions for Phillips Square, providing a detailed overview of the participatory process of the workshops held with the youth. Following this, I analyze the youth visions to find that as a collective, these youth visions advocate for accessible public spaces for community development and socialization, such as a community centers and/or library. As such, I
argued that this process is radically different from the City’s by centering community needs. The second half of this chapter deepens this analysis, bringing the results of each process in conversation with the goals of the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan. By pursuing this analysis, I have shown how each of the designs interact with the stated goals of the community. From this analysis, major trends appear which reveal ideological rifts in these stakeholders understanding of Chinatown space. Particularly, the City designs focus on an alignment towards economic development and the outsider, whereas the youth designs are more inwardly focused on the needs of the community and do not consider economic development. Concluding this section, I note the parallels in these ideological distinctions to the writing of David Harvey and the disastrous implications of the City’s model of community engagement and participatory planning that point to potential gentrification and displacement. Ultimately, I contend that the City’s methodology cannot advance equity in Boston’s Chinatown.
PART FOUR: CHINATOWN THREATENED
In my thesis, I have sought to answer the following question: how does participatory planning advance the development of equity within Boston’s Chinatown? To understand the value of my research question, this necessitates a look into the history Boston’s Chinatown. Generally, Chinatowns were born from a legacy of discrimination and exclusion as a result of anti-Chinese sentiment. Boston’s Chinatown is no different. Chinatown has endured it all at the hands of the state and private interests, particularly evidenced in the development of three highways, eminent domain land grabs, and the zoning of a red-light district adjacent to the neighborhood. From these policies, Chinatown lost a third of its land, half of its housing stock, and grapples with serious social and environmental dilemmas. The environmental justice framework illuminates the reach of state power, seen top-down planning from the state which has caused an affordable housing crisis and poor environmental health (specifically, harmful levels of air pollution – making Downtown Boston the most environmentally burden community in Massachusetts) today. Yet, the redevelopment of Phillips Square offered a crucial opportunity for the Chinatown community to reform the built environment, remedy historical wrongs, and advocate for a just and equitable future for the community. As development opportunities in Boston’s Chinatown are rare, the current decisions being made about Phillips Square will substantially shift the Chinatown landscape and deeply influence the neighborhood’s character. To answer my research question, I have comparatively analyzed the City of Boston redevelopment process against my own participatory action research and the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan. The methods and results from the City of Boston suggested that the participatory process was more consultative than empowering. The designs pursue a limited redesign of the streetscape, focusing on aesthetic upgrades rather than the explicitly stated goals and visions found in the 2010 Chinatown Master Plan. The city’s designs do not fully address the 2010 CMP
concerns, despite working with community members. I contend that the City of Boston is at risk of turning Boston’s Chinatown in a “Disneyfied” space. This “Disneyfication” is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it further exotifies Chinatown into a tourist space, facilitating an Orientalist view. Conceptually, by creating a tourist space out of the home a marginalized, low-income community of color, this commodifies the space and transforms it into sanitized site where tangible and intangible “Chinatown-ness” can be extracted by tourists and visitors for their entertainment and enjoyment. More relevant to this work, however, a Disneyfication of the space ignores dire needs of the Chinatown community and likely will only directly exacerbate the difficult social and environmental conditions currently present. The aesthetic upgrades in the design of Phillips Square, while likely a welcomed development by the Chinatown community, may have the unattended effect of gentrification, causing property values to increase around Phillips Square and the surrounding Chinatown area. Typically, gentrification is a subtle and sneaky phenomenon, rendered legible in the landscape when it is likely to late to do anything about it. Without vigilance, displacement and gentrification may quickly take root in the Boston’s Chinatown, turning residents’ fears into reality. In this case, the participatory planning which includes Chinatown residents under a precedent of empowerment and community may lead to the disempowerment and displacement of the community itself by promoting a neoliberal version of Chinatown for visitors, rather than actually improving social conditions for the current residents. The aesthetic upgrades are deserved improvements for the Chinatown community, but they should not come as the cost of displacement of long-term residents. Mark Liu, a Boston Chinatown activist and Operations and Development Director at the Chinese Progressive Association, renders this phenomenon simple, when he says: Our residents deserve to live here, and many 65
of them need to live here… but more and more are being displaced. Chinatown should not be for sale. We’ve made [Chinatown] home, we’ve made it a good neighborhood with [English as a second language] classes, workforce development, youth programs, community centers. We don’t want to build up our whole community, make it look nice, and then be forced not to live here anymore. In plain language, Liu describes the potential displacement and gentrification that could occur from Chinatown becoming too nice and too attractive as private firms will seek to buy Chinatown land for lucrative development opportunities. As Chinatown is an important social, cultural, and economic center for New England’s pan-Asian population today, the consequences of such a scenario would jeopardize the livelihoods of the thousands of people who depend on the safety, security, and viability of this neighborhood. American Chinatowns both in the past and present have tangibly provided protection and economic support to the socially vulnerable and new immigrants through social service programs, family associations, and informal job networks. However, through this research, this analysis on the insufficient and problematic participatory practices of the City of Boston can be used by the Chinatown community in future participatory schemes to combat power imbalances before it is too late. By clarifying the tools used by the City of Boston in their participatory schemes to minimize community input, this knowledge can serve residents by equipping them to endure and combat these tactics to be more successful in future advocacy and community development projects. In analyzing the development dynamics of the redesign for Phillips Square in particular, I hope to highlight the comprehensive and shrewd vision that the A-VOYCE youth have in comparison to the more trivial upgrades suggest by the state. By elucidating the willful blindness and/
or ineptitude by the City of Boston alongside the adroit contributions of the Chinatown community, I assert Chinatown will only achieve land justice through a redirection of power from the state to the community. By directly placing power in the hands of the Chinatown community, this can provide intangible benefits to the community by helping to build a more resilient and resourceful neighborhood. Such advocacy builds a foundation for a truly better future and makes self-determination a real, rather than imagined, possibility. For Boston’s Chinatown community, they have long been excluded and ignored in conversations with the state. Rather than using limited pathways provided by the City of Boston that do not sincerely respond to the community’s needs, increased community organizing is needed to ensure the community’s long-term survival against threats of displacement and gentrification. Community organizing can be an effective tool for the community to wield their power – their right to the city – to support services and spaces they need. For generations, the Boston’s Chinatown community has fought for their voices to be heard. It is long past time that they are actually listened to.
First and foremost, I want to the thank the A-VOYCE youth and the staff at the Asian Community Development Corporation, particularly, Jeena Hah, for their help with research. Not only I have learned so much from both the staff and the youth, but have received endless support these past few years. Without them, this work would not have been possible. I am grateful to my professors who have guided me along the way in this academic journey. To Gabriel Arboleda, my main thesis advisor, who sat through many confusing meetings, listened to my rambling, and somehow, still believed in me. To Jessica Hejny, who allowed me to monopolize her office hours throughout fall semester to begin to make sense of this project. To Naomi Darling, who guided me through senior spring and help me stay committed to this work. To Ronald Rosbottom and Nicola Courtright, my academic advisors
in Architectural Studies, who have helped to indelibly shape my time at the College for the better. To Franklin Odo, who first taught me that Asian-American histories are worth studying. I also must thank the friends who have been by my side in this process. To Reed Patterson, for providing endless love and kindness, even when I was incredibly annoying and on edge. To Tim Lee and Nathanael Lane for their company and support throughout this past year. And to everyone else in Front Room Val who has heard me ramble incoherently about my thesis and still decided to listen. Lastly, I am grateful to my parents, and my sister, Elizabeth. Without them, my Amherst education, my interest in diasporic Chinese communities, and commitment to social justice would be non-existent. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Undergraduate honors thesis submitted to the Department of Architectural Studies at Amherst College
Published on May 9, 2018
Undergraduate honors thesis submitted to the Department of Architectural Studies at Amherst College