What's happening to Chinatown?

Comic strip: What's happening to Chinatown?

Image provided by Lillian Chan. See larger.

It's been nearly a month since Maxim's Coffee House served its last drop of hot coffee, its famous bun pastries flying off the shelves before the local bakery lost its lease and was forced to close its doors after 33 years in Chinatown. Yet artist Lillian Chan still finds sadness as she walks past the shuttered windows of the "iconic landmark" on the corner of Beach Street and Harrison Avenue. And neither she, nor the bakery, are alone.

As Chinatown's development spikes with high-rise luxury apartments and new commercial chains surrounding the ethnic neighborhood, many residents, visitors and small business owners are wondering one thing: what's happening to Chinatown?

"Just visually it's kind of jarring to see all of these high-rise building structures popping up around Chinatown," said Chan, a Boston resident who visits the neighborhood weekly. "It feels like it's just closing in on it."

Maxim's isn't the first of its kind — earlier this year another restaurant just down the street, Xinh Xinh, closed its doors for the last time, and prior to that Chinatown lost locally-owned grocery store Chung Wah Hong, along with many more local shops.

"The landscape definitely has changed," Chan said. "One of the bakeries that was on one of the corners was kind of a landmark in a way, and so it was kind of shocking when I found out [Maxim’s] had closed. It's just always been there and so you feel like it's always going to be there. And I can only imagine that more of that is happening as more construction is being done."

Craig Caplan, a small business owner who has worked within Downtown Crossing and Chinatown over the past 25 years, said small, locally owned businesses are threatened by luxury development. As expensive buildings go up, owners of other buildings in the neighborhood begin to believe that their spaces are more valuable and start to ask for higher rent.

"There's sort of this delusion of grandeur going on, where somebody who has been getting $20 a square foot for the last 15 to 20 years now thinks the property is worth $150 a square foot merely because they're a few blocks away from a beautiful high-rise," Caplan said. "So what you are seeing happening is people's leases are coming up for these commercial properties and they're used to paying $4,000 a month for their store, and suddenly they're finding that their landlords are starting to charge them $20,000 for the same exact space."

As locally owned shops struggle to afford higher rents, larger chains move in — most notably franchise coffee shops and pharmacies — which Caplan said is detrimental to any neighborhood, but especially one as culturally rich as Chinatown.

Without the unique local amenities such as authentic cuisine and cultural shops that serve and represent the community, Caplan fears Chinatown will lose some of the appeal — both to residents and visitors — that helps it stand out against Boston's other neighborhoods.

Chan agreed, saying many times she now finds herself traveling to what seems to be a relatively new Asian community in Quincy for Chinese cuisine, instead of heading into Chinatown.

"You can't have a homogenized mall suburban type area in the inner city," Caplan said. "People come to Chinatown for the culture, because of the neighborhood and the restaurants and the food and the people who are down there. If the whole area just turns into the same exact thing that people have out in the suburbs, then why come into into Boston?"

At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said many times efforts to combat rapid and unorganized gentrification are focused on the affordable housing crisis, when this development unleashes a crisis on small business as well. Focusing in on Chinatown, Pressley said the displacement of local business due to high rents in the neighborhood would end up hurting all of Boston.

"It's very sad because we have 22 very distinct neighborhoods in the city of Boston and what makes them distinct are the amenities that exist in each of them," she said. "If all of our neighborhoods begin to look the same with franchise and box stores, all of our neighborhoods suffer because they're not as culturally rich, they're not as vibrant and they won't see the same amount of foot traffic. It's important that there is a commitment to keeping Chinatown Chinatown and to preserving cultural traditions, celebrating that history and to retaining iconic neighborhood institutions, like the bakery that was just lost."

Pressley said building more commercial space along side streets in neighborhoods across Boston might be a valuable solution to consider - increasing the stock makes more space available and may be a key factor in helping to drive rents down. By focusing on side streets as well as the main streets of these areas, Pressley believes smaller districts more suitable for local business can develop and thrive.

But the city's Department of Neighborhood Development said that the statistics show that Chinatown is thriving. With a 90-percent average occupancy rate throughout the roughly 300 street-level businesses in the neighborhood, Chinatown has one of the healthier commercial districts in Boston, according to Rafael Carbonell, deputy director of the DND's Office of Business Development. The vast majority of those businesses are local or independently-owned, Carbonell said.

"We know over the last year that seven new businesses opened and they created just over 70 jobs," he said. "So I think what we have is some natural turn in commercial districts, but sustaining that 90 percent occupancy rate on the ground level - that's really strong. There's a very strong network of business owners in Chinatown and that continues to be the case."

Carbonell said that under Mayor Walsh's direction, the city has been trying to increase assistance to small businesses while also encouraging residents to shop locally through several social-media campaigns throughout the year. The city has partnered with Chinatown Main Streets, a non-profit that promotes business development in Chinatown, to get a better understanding of how the city can help local businesses.

Last year, Mayor Walsh more than doubled funding for on-site business technical assistance, allowing for increased face-to-face contact with small business owners to discuss strategies for everything from marketing, store productivity and organization to hiring and staff retention, Carbonell said.

"Each business is very unique, and so really understanding the needs of that business given the situation its in, given the ownership, given its current conditions - that's really important to help them address those needs in a really personalized way and that's really been a big part of our business assistance," he said.

However, Caplan said he is skeptical of the government's true intentions based on what he has seen after 25 years in business. Instead of just talk, Caplan wants to see more effort into protections for local shops against property owners and high-priced commercial chains as gentrification moves in.

"You have to go by what it is you actually see happening," Caplan said. "They say that they're interested in making these changes, but I haven't really seen much - I've seen a lot of talk but not a lot of action. It will be a shame for Boston when there's not really a Chinatown anymore. It would be a shame if they can't update it and preserve it at the same time."

Chan said updating the neighborhood is necessary, but she wished the development in Chinatown was focused on more community-based buildings such as affordable housing units or a public library for the area. Chinatown is one of the few neighborhoods without its own BPL branch. Currently affordable housing makes up 36 percent of all units in Chinatown, but the DND said that number should rise to 40 percent once forthcoming development is complete.

But with pharmacies, franchise coffee shops and luxury condos moving in, Chan said it feels like Chinatown is "being swallowed up by all of the development versus what I see happening elsewhere."

"Or maybe it's more apparent because it's just such an ethnic community and to see it so drastically changing is just alarming and jarring," she added. "I don't mind the city changing - it needs to. It needs to grow. But I think that there are other ways in getting that to happen.”

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Comments

Maybe Chinatown needs to move

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Maybe Chinatown needs to move to a different part of the city. Demanding the city enact segregation laws to keep one ethnic community protected from the real estate market is opening Pandora's box.

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And where would you move it?

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Please point out the space that's empty and ready to be developed as New Chinatown.

And describe how the concerns of residents of Chinatown are different from those of, say, South Boston or the North End, or going back further, the West End or Syriatown.

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Syriatown

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I had to google that one, and doing so brings up info that lends weight to the argument that neighborhood ethnic identities will always change with the influx of new immigrants - the North End being the most obvious example. But the OP does make a compelling illustration of the more insidious threat of "Manhattanization" in forever and perhaps permanently altering the character of the city.

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Manhattanization

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That's a key diffence between the North End and Chinatown. While there's certainly been new construction in the North End, for the most part, away from the docks, it's more "infill" - even the tallest of the new buildings aren't really that much taller than the buildings around them. In contrast, Chinatown has gotten some really tall buildings that are turning an area of mostly low buildings into a canyonized extension of downtown - and really beginning to change the basic character of the neighborhood.

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Chinatown has had one tall

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Chinatown has had one tall building built, maybe two if you count the new one on Kneeland/93 as 'tall' (one of the architect on it is actually very involved in the Chinatown Community and has been for decades) - cause its as tall as what, Tai Tung ? If you ask me, the character of the neighborhood was killed much, much more by the Tufts expansions. Also, cleaning up all the prostitutes/combat zone remnants using the DNC cameras for the Ritz really changed the character of the neighborhood, too. Or are we all just looking through rose colored glasses ?

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Manhattanization

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I don't understand why Manhattanization of a city is necessarily a bad thing. Taller buildings provide more housing, shops/restaurants, and businesses, for a maximum number of people, in an efficient amount of space, without requiring long commutes or cars. Economies of scale and all that.

I get that some people don't find living in that kind of neighborhood appealing, but there's plenty of lower-rise neighborhoods a short T ride away from downtown Boston to suit people who want a little more space. Meanwhile, adding more housing to meet demand helps take some of the pressure off the housing market, so more people have more choices about the type of housing they want.

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Not only about height

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For me, Manhattanization refers to the heavy concentration of luxury housing that all of these taller buildings provide, to the detriment of neighborhood economic diversity. The rate at which neighborhoods like Chinatown and downtown are being overtaken gives rise to fears that this will spread throughout the city. Adding luxury housing can drive up all housing costs, so that only the wealthy can choose which type of city housing they want.

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"The way to kill a city..."

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This might help explain, from today's Guardian:

"[T]he way to kill a city as thrilling, complex and alive as the New York of Warhol and Basquiat, of Duke Ellington and the Ramones, of James Baldwin and Susan Sontag, is to unleash the hounds of unchecked greed and chase out all the poor folks. And when they leave, the city loses its savor: it loses its intoxicating smells, its unique flavors, its ability to interrupt your long night of the soul with life-affirming, belly-filling, joy."

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Yeah, right.

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Puh-lease. You really want entire neighborhoods of high-rises? Feel free to leave Boston at any time.

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The thing that kills me about

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The thing that kills me about the idea of "Manhattan-ization" is how nonsensical it is. Manahattan is roughly the size of everything within 128. If we built 20 new sky scrappers a year (more than twice the rate we're building at now), it would take DECADES to fill up everything within 128. It's just not an even remote possibility, and yet every time a new development gets proposed in Boston, we get these non-sensical screams about Manhattan-ization. Boston needs to have a serious discussion about development, we need to have a serious discussion about displacement, we need to have a serious discussion about the cost of living and housing scarcity, and we need to have a serious conversation about preserving strong and functional neighborhoods, but can we please have it based in reality? There is ZERO chance Boston will turn into Manhattan, even in the long term. It's a distraction from the real issues.

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factually challenged

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Please don't let it kill you because it's totally nor true. The area of Boston alone is about 90 sqmi. The island of Manhattan is about 34 sqmi. If we bring in all the land within 128 you're better than twice the area of Boston, so Manhattan is actually much smaller. Manhattan density throughout 128 would make us look like Mexico City or Hong Kong or something.

I think the Manhattanization thing has as much to do with income inequality and the changing of demographics to be super-rich next to super-poor with working class having to truck in from the burbs to work. With the key missing ingredient being that our transit system is no where near the capacity of NYC's, so it will be a helluva lot more difficult.

I would say Boston's gentrification situation more resembles San Francisco's than Manhattan - in terms of densities and building types.

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factually challenged

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Please don't let it kill you because it's totally not true. The area of Boston alone is about 90 sqmi. The island of Manhattan is about 34 sqmi. If we bring in all the land within 128 you're better than twice the area of Boston, so Manhattan is actually much smaller. Manhattan density throughout 128 would make us look like Mexico City or Hong Kong or something.

I think the Manhattanization thing has as much to do with income inequality and the changing of demographics to be super-rich next to super-poor with working class having to truck in from the burbs to work. With the key missing ingredient being that our transit system is no where near the capacity of NYC's, so it will be a helluva lot more difficult.

I would say Boston's gentrification situation more resembles San Francisco's than Manhattan - in terms of densities and building types.

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area of Boston

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WARNING: 90 Sq. Mi. Boston includes a lot of ocean, a two mile wide corridor extends ten miles out to the edge of territorial waters.

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48 square miles of land

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And it's sad that I know that off the top of my head.

On the other hand, Boston makes up a much smaller portion of the land inside of 128. For starters, most of that area north of the Pike is not Boston, and I'd wager a bit more than half the area south of the Pike is suburbs. In any event, it is 32 square miles versus between 48 and say 200 square miles.

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I have literally never heard this term

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Was it really used? I think of Syrians as a smaller group and more intermingled neighborhood-wise with other middle easterners--Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, Jews from all over, etc.

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Tawa Brothers Sugar Cone, Inc

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You want Syriatown, here's a blast from the past!

'' The son of Syrian-Lebanese immigrants Edward Tawa and Mary Ahto, he was born in Boston in 1923 and was the oldest of 8 children. He was raised in the South End and West Roxbury and graduated from Roslindale High School. His uncles and father had created the first ice cream cone in 1906 and formed Tawa Brothers Sugar Cone, Inc. ''
http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?pid=153981593

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Quincy? KTown in Allston?

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Quincy? KTown in Allston? VietTown in Fields Corner? You know don't just take a plot of land and build this up like Legacy Place or Assembly Row, right? These things take time and are organic. The concerns are the exact same. And the previous residents who were forced out of Chinatown had the same concern. Its the ebb and flow of the city, but, unfortunately, instead of a wave of new immigrants, its an influx of Yuppies, suburban boomer retirees, and the wealthy moving in, along with a ton of vacant foreign investors parking their money (who, coincidentally generally Chinese [Mandarin]).

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Demanding who the what now?

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Strawman-lovin' anon says:

Demanding the city enact segregation laws...

I see only one reference in that article that even vaugely hints at that - "Instead of just talk, [small business owner Craig] Caplan wants to see more effort into protections for local shops against property owners and high-priced commercial chains as gentrification moves in."

Hardly a call for urban apartheid.

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No one's demanding or even

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No one's demanding or even suggesting segregation laws except you.

The comic artist asked for more affordable housing development in Chinatown. She pointed out there is only one new mid-rise project that is fully designated as affordable housing, among the number of high rise luxury complexes recently built or that are being built in Chinatown.

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Like "Little Italy" in NYC

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It will be like Little Italy in NY pretty soon ... tourist shops and a few restaurants.

At least there's Quincy. It's like Queens.

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Chinatown is currently 70%

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Chinatown is currently 70% Asian/Asian American. The North End is about 1/3 Italian/Italian American, not even a majority. I would also wager not too many off the boat Italian Immigrants are settling there now a days, either. With an average income of over 100k, the North End is pretty Yuppified.

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But Commercial retail

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in the North End has stayed pretty varied. The cobblestone streets are still there. The many restaurants haven't become chains, There's still diversity, cultural footprints and very few large chain stores if any. It is still Uniquely the North End.

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chains != yuppified

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Actually your high end yuppies are not interested in chains so much -- certainly not when it comes to restaurants. How many high rollers are hitting Applebees or Cheesecake Factory? puhleese dahling. Restaurant-wise it's not national chains per se but "restaurant groups" that are one of the indicators. The South End is totally gentrified and there are many independent businesses - just not so many of your mom and pop variety.

As far as the North End goes it's uniquely North End in that it's a gentrified, former-immigrant neighborhood in a major US city. I think we're confusing a few different things here - which isn't surprising because it's all pretty complex. Worrying about chain stores in Downtown Crossing, worrying about immigrants and low income folks being pushed out of n'hoods, worrying about middle income folks being pushed out of the city altogether -- lots of worrying. Change is worrisome but inevitable and frequently a good thing. A growing class divide and corporate commercialization is the shitty part (provided you aren't rich or don't own an interest in one of the corporations). The Holy Grail of becoming a "WORLD CLASS CITY" comes with the trade-off of becoming a bland, cookie-cutter city. We're far from that still, but there are worrisome signs. The national fetishization of the "fahckin' baby wheel"-guy from Malden seems to be a symptom of this. "Trap him in amber before they're gone!!"

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Whatever

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You have missed the point entirely and I have no idea what Yuppies, a term no one uses any more, has to do with anything.

The North End isn't gentrified. There can be change which doesn't make something into a homogenized boring version of its former self. A place where people have no desire to go.

A place where people no longer come to spend their money.

People. Not "Yuppies"

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maybe so

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If it seems I'm missing the point, then I think we've got a terminology problem. If "gentrification" to you means "chain stores" or "boring place" (according to your criteria), then indeed we are having two different conversations. If you think that the North End has not gentrified, then you really shouldn't be using the term "gentrification."

No one uses the term "Yuppies" any more? "Young Urban Professionals" may have been swapped out for "creative class" or I don't know, Millenials or "Not Old People who don't live in the suburbs or rural areas, have college degrees and work in (or aspire to work in) non-blue collar jobs." It seems you're taking class -- meaning social status achieved by money -- out of the equation and limiting gentrification to a description of your consumer purchase options. It is people, yes. But if you're not talking about which people, you're not talking about gentrification.

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Very interesting and well

Very interesting and well written piece, Kayla! I've been working in Chinatown for 5 years now and the changes in that time have been drastic. I certainly have a love hate relationship with some aspects of chinatown but it's continued dilution will be a huge loss for the city of Boston.

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Supply and demand.

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As locally owned shops struggle to afford higher rents, larger chains move in — most notably franchise coffee shops and pharmacies — which Caplan said is detrimental to any neighborhood, but especially one as culturally rich as Chinatown.

As culturally rich as blah blah. Same thing with Harvard Sq, Davis Sq, SoBo, and a dozen other places. Your locally owned coffee shop was never very necessary.

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Classic Yupee response

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...you know how I know you're not actually from here, just some transplant who maybe shouldn't of stuck around after college........No one calls it SoBo, that's some bougie NYC bullshit that is trying to be enforced in the city by developers and yupees. It's Southie, South Boston if you must.
You can have your SoWa, leave the rest of the city be

Also don't hide behind an Anon tag if you're going to talk smack

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So, you'd be fine with everything becoming an outlet of a

national chain? You'd have no problem with every neighborhood collection of shops and restaurants in Boston becoming indistinguishable from a mall in Dubuque or Pahokey? Let me guess: whenever you come to Boston, you hang out at Quincy Market or the Seaport, then drive straight home. Your idea of good Chinese is Panda Express and P.F. Chang's. You've tried Thai food, but it's too spicy for you.

Stick to the suburbs, philistine.

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I hear you and yet...

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You think you could buy fermented black bean paste in Quincy twenty years ago? Get a good Indian meal in Maynard? The Starbucks-ification of everything isn't the only issue here--the good news is that ethnic food and culture that was once the provenance of cities is moving to the burbs. Which again, makes me sad as a city-dweller who prefers to walk to dinner, but it's not like these places are all going under--they're just popping up in different spots.

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Um..

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Harvard Square is boring now, and 20 years ago, it wasn't, because it still had a lot of interesting small businesses. And no self respecting Bostonian would refer to South Boston as "SoBo".

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I used to spend money in Harvard Square

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But now as Harvard Square become mostly chains there is no reason to shop there instead of elsewhere and its identity is becoming I distinct.

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Hmmm

"Boston: Only a bozo says SoBo".

If you want this printed on T-shirt, please thumbs up me. If it reaches 1e6 (that's 1,000,000 in normal numbers) I'll print out that many T-shirts and distribute them in Dewey Square.

*each T-shirt will be $8.99 in Martian coins.

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So...

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Aren't ethnic enclaves, by their very definition, not very diverse?

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Not necessarily

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Unless, in this case, you lump all East Asians together. And then you'd be wrong, because the Vietnamese in Chinatown are not Chinese.

In any case, we're talking, what, five or six square blocks? Hardly a threat to the diversity of the city around it, but something that, once it's gone, will make the city around it poorer for its absence.

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it may no longer be true

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but a generation ago many of the Vietnamese immigrants in the US were in fact Chinese - ethnic Chinese whose families had lived in Vietnam for centuries but fled after the fall of South Vietnam when many socialist reforms targeted them disproportionately.

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The majority make up of

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The majority make up of Chinatown is ethnically speaking Cantonese/Chinese (throw in some toisanese for good measure). The actual vietnamese mainly move to/settled in Dorchester around Fields corner long ago.

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Ya know who Chinatown has to blame?

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China.

That's where all the real estate money is coming from, that's who is buying up all the real estate everywhere.

Ironic.

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I'm going to have to butt in again with this

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The majority of the immigrants in Chinatown traditionally are not from the mainland. It's historically been a hub for those from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan. Only in recent years has there been an increase in Mainlanders. This is why most of the businesses still speak Cantonese, not Mandarin.

But yes, it's certainly an interesting cycle...

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Let's face it this change was

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Let's face it this change was inevitable. As others here and on Archboston have pointed out in similar threads the core of large cities will always be the most attractive particularly to those who can afford it the most. Chinatown, fair to say is just as much as the core part of Boston as Beacon Hill and Back Bay which have long been gentrified and Downtown Crossing which has just started to become gentrified. Heck South Boston and the South End are becoming or have become gentrified.
What has held Chinatown back in the past? Thanks to the combat zone Chinatown had a reputation for being a seedy part of the city. The Zone is long gone and that seedy reputation has been diminishing.
Note: I note necessarily implying this is a good or bad thing. I can understand the dilemma of the poor/working being pushed out but as was previously stated neighborhoods are always in flux.

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It would be good

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to append the library to the Quincy School complex, which contains residential towers, an elementary school, a health clinic, and a public swimming pool. Why not toss in a library, too?

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It does.

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If I remember right though, it's pretty central, ie I'm not sure you could ever allow public access without crossing paths with classrooms etc. I mean...I don't think you can allow the public access to a place where there are young school kids.

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Good idea, but having been in

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Good idea, but having been in the Quincy lower school many times, I don't think there's any room. Not unless you take one of the things you listed inside the school away.

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Never been to either have you?

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The Statehouse Library is basically a collection of Laws passed by the State legislature over the years, with a few public policy books mixed in. (I have done research there). I have never heard that DOT has a library, but a quick check of that link shows it collection to be technical treatises on transportation (fun for all ages). There is also a Law Library in the Adams Courthouse and of course the great Atheneum, which is private and costs something like $1500 per person, per year.

This will surprise you, but you can't simply google "libraries near Chinatown" and suddenly become an expert. You have come up 2 places which are not related to the topic, but somehow think you have worked it out. (And let's be honest: Who goes out of their way to discredit the idea of a new library?)

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MassDOT library

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I believe they have closed the MassDOT library. So no happy Transportation Plan reading for the children.

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MassDOT Library

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Is it still open to the public for walk-ins? I was under the impression it was an on-line request system at this point.

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I think she is arguing FOR a Chinatown library, not...

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against it, even though she may not have understood the nature of the two libraries nearby that came up in her search. No one says "oh they have a Little Free Library so they don't need one." Put your torches back in their torch-holsters.

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That is exactly what she said.

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And she was right snippy about it. She was mocking the idea that Chinatown needed a new library, and thought there was already 2 in the area. If there actually was a library in the Transportation Bldg she would have actually had a point. But alas....

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Their child story hour is subpar at best

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I took Junior once. The reading was from the estate planning volume of the Massachusetts Practice Series. The librarian just wasn't into it.

And their romance novel collection is out of date. And hello, urban lit?

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Not really, especially not in bad weather

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Also, neighborhood libraries serve a different role than the main library: They are community places, where you can find resources about and for your specific neighborhood (a well run Chinatown library, for example, would have a large collection of books in Chinese).

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Why do you think?

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Can you guess why a neighborhood with non-English speaking population might have their own particular reading needs? No one is suggesting a separate building but a small space should have been set aside for this long ago. (For instance the China Trade Center, which was once owned by the BRA.) Sure seems doable with all the developers looking for approval to build big.

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What's Happening to Boston's

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What's Happening to Boston's Chinatown? Life is what's happening. Urban Evolution.

Hey: Boston's Pocket Chinatown is probably one of my favorite neighborhoods around here (outside of Eagle Hill, Eastie). Worked there for ages, back when Pi Alley used to be Piano Alley. Things Change.

Toronto has a small, Downtown Asian Market area, in addition to two Huge Asian areas in the outer burgs.

NYC has Similar. Don't even get me started about Paris, France, which has several "Petites Chines," in addition to some serious, brutal Urban Renewal.

Boston's current Asia Town is to the South of the City - in the Quincy, MA area. (Don't forget the Asian Presence in Lowell, too.), like many other places. The culture pockets don't just disappear, they relocate.

The whole inability to accept Change in any form is sort of getting tiresome, whether it be "Christians" not willing to accept different sorts of marriage contracts or "Anti Gentrification" sorts unwilling to accept that cities, which are groups of people, evolve.

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All hail Eris, um, Change

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Contrariwise, reading stuff about how people who have lived a particular way for a long time just have to suck it up and move the hell out of the way of Progress and Shiny Things and People with Expensive Foreign Cars is pretty tiresome, too.

Yes, cities and their neighborhoods change. That doesn't mean that change for the sake of change is always a good thing. The West End changed pretty dramatically in the late 1950s. Is Boston the better for that?

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So, Boston is against Change

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So, Boston is against Change and Progress? Adam, I don't quite understand what you are saying.

Change Hurts. I experienced a lot of that Hurt when I moved here. As didn't you, I'd expect.

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No, Boston is not against change

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Boston is, in fact, a very dynamic city that is constantly re-inventing itself - one of the things that keeps the city moving and thriving (and something which Boston seemed in danger of losing for several decades in the middle of the 20th century).

I'm not arguing against all change. What I am arguing against is the idea that ALL change is good, and that Chinatown residents should just shut up, bow to the inevitable and move to Quincy simply because real-estate speculators demand it.

I suspect people from Hyde Park to Somerville faced similar arguments when they fought against I-95 and I-695 in the 1960s and 1970s. Should they have just accepted the fates assigned them by the state highway department?

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Who owns all the buildings

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Who owns all the buildings and land in Chinatown? I know the coffee shop is owned by a local guy who's brother may or may not be well known in the community, but yeah, blame the outside forces there. Simple fact is: if landowners in Chinatown sell out, then we get another North End. The question really is: who should residents be fighting? The outside developers who purchased the land/buildings at extraordinary markup/prices, or the people in the community itself that are selling out to make a huge profit while selling out their community? Obviously not all buildings in Chinatown are owned by community/Chinese, but you would be surprised at the inner works of things.

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oddly enough, the address of

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oddly enough, the address of the Coffee house isn't in there (I had tried it awhile ago).

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Coffee shop

The coffee shop at Harrison & Beach? It should show up under 66 Harrison. Owner is Billy Chin.

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A bit disingenuous to compare

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A bit disingenuous to compare people selling out in high rising property values vs government bulldozing of an entire neighborhood, don't you think?

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Yes. Some change is to be

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Yes. Some change is to be expected, but not all change is good or necessary. People who have long ties to an area and a certain way of life shouldn't be cast aside just because transplants who feel uncomfortable about being newcomers have different ideas or tastes.

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Not the West End

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I'm very attached to Chinatown and loved it even in its seedier heyday when the residents were fighting what seemed like a relentless tide of crime and ick from the combat zone. I remember the mortifying walks with our parents past the porno theaters and sex toy stores as we went to or from dinner. I remember when the first Vietnamese businesses started to trickle in. And I'd be curious to know who does hold most of the real estate--Chinese? Non-Chinese? But I feel as if the exodus has been happening for a long time now as it does with most ethnic groups that move into cities. Lots more people in minivans driving in to do their weekly shopping. It's sad--a dense, lively, crowded urban neighborhood is much more fun and interesting than a similar spot in a car suburb. But people want out--they want fresh air, more room for their kids, better schools (though it seems that the Quincy is still top notch after all these years).

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Kinda sad it took until this

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Kinda sad it took until this comment for Eastie to even be mentioned. I totally get the comic...with our waterfront views, more and more "luxury" condos are coming in and most are not filled. I heard that they were turning one into apartments so that they could get people to move in.

There is still a great swath of land open down at the waterfront next to Piers Park. I'm really hoping that they turn it into a park park instead of a condo blocking the view and a pocket park.

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So then, all change is good

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So then, all change is good and or inevitable and resistance or criticism irritates you? I think that is a very ignorant stance.

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Not Quite...

If you followed a lot of other threads on Universal Hub you'd see there's a lot of nuance you're missing out on here. While I won't necessarily mourn the loss of that particular bakery, many of these businesses represent something vital to a rapidly growing demographic in the area. Access to specific markets and amenities is an element of how my family, and many others, chose where to buy their homes and put down roots.

Your mention of the "Asian presence" in Lowell is completely tone deaf. There's a large Cambodian population there for sure, but your presentation of this as a place where Chinese people and businesses could naturally "relocate" to is bizarre. It's akin to telling people that would be up in arms if we razed the North End to put in a Super Walmart that hey, stop whining, you can still get European food in Massachusetts at this Scottish place in Springfield that sells haggis.

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And when rich in their condos

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And when rich in their condos take over Quincy too, I guess the asians and middle class whites better just pack up and move even further away?

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Perhaps we can get a P.F.

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Perhaps we can get a P.F. Chang's or a Benihana to fill the void?
.. or better yet - another Panda Express!!

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Maxim might have been in Chinatown,

...but the other buildings highlighted in the comic strip aren't. Washington Street between Essex/Boylston Street and Kneeland is an area Chinatown sprawled into after the Combat Zone died off. Before it was the Combat Zone, when the "adult entertainment was still in Scollay Square, the area was a skid row. It's never been nice. It's where Andrew Puopolo was murdered. It's where women were forced into prostitution, abused & killed. It's always been an area of blight and dirt and crime and drugs in my lifetime. Now, Heaven's forfend, someone has built something nice and clean.

What exactly is this young lady demanding Mayor Walsh do here? Save a grubby cramped coffee shop because they sold "buns" she liked for 33 years? I've passed the place a million times. Never went inside. Buildings in Boston have been going up and coming down for hundreds of years. 33 years isn't that long in the big picture. She thinks the City should put a BPL branch there just so it can be the "Chinatown Branch"? What will we shut down/tear down for that?

I am 54 and a lifelong Bostonian. I also have my cancer treated at Tufts/NEMC, so walking in this area is something I do frequently. And I just don't see the harm in a Starbucks with a clean bathroom going in anywhere.

If I want to demand Marty Walsh do anything it's that he have the trash picked up more often and maybe send the street sweepers through more often. The Thursday before last (24th?) I cut down Harrison Ave to Kneeland Street to avoid the human crush on Washington Street. It was gross. I walked with my hand over my nose.

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I agree. I must have been to

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I agree. I must have been to Chinatown over 500 times in my life. Never once had the desire to step into that coffee shop. Hopefully something better goes in there! I know they are Korean, but why not a Cafe Benne or Paris Baguette??

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Good for you

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I don't like eating flesh, but I'd prefer a Chinese meat-based restaurant to a McDonald's or similar store despite the bathroom cleanliness. Industrial Monoculture is a shitty environment.

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I don't like Starbucks, can

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I don't like Starbucks, can we replace every one in Boston with a Cafe Ogawa or 85C? They're better.

Not fun when it goes the other way, is it?

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I should probably just write my own blog about this but:

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Let me try to "Big Picture" this for you. The issue is not that Maxim closed and she can't get her buns. It is not that there is no library to research the neighborhood. Frankly the whole "Let them eat cake" attitude is pretty frightening.
The issue is this.

What type of city do you want Boston to be? I was referencing Downtown Crossing AND Chinatown when I was asked about this in the article and here is my very simple point.

If you go to Boston and walk down the street in Downtown or Chinatown and the businesses you see are mostly chains like GNC, CVS, Starbucks, The Gap,Forever 21, Macy's, Dunkin's, and a myriad of places you can find in any mall then why go to Boston to spend your money?

If you live or work in a neighborhood and a cup of coffee is $3.00. A beer is $8.00. A sandwich for lunch is $13. Grocery shopping for your family is hundreds of dollars more than it was before then what will you do? You will go somewhere else.

Are luxury condos enough to sustain a neighborhood? Do you really believe that all the well heeled people moving in to Millennium Tower will be sustaining the whole neighborhood? They won't. You already have empty store fronts in both neighborhoods sitting there because the cost per sqare foot is prohibitive for all except a few big deep pockets namely Starbucks and such.

Which brings up the culture. Have you been to Provincetown? Have you been to the Village in NYC, Coconut Grove in FL, Bourbon Street, and many other cities? These places have a personality. These places are unique.

Look at Downtown Crossing. See any art galleries? Do you see any interesting and cool stores that you can't find anywhere else? I could list the ones that used to be there. (Don't get me started on the street vendors) Places like Provincetown have local city Gov and a community that are working hard to keep the culture, flavor, and personality of the place alive. Boston does not. It is NOT all about dollars. It is NOT all about greed.

It is a cyclical self fulfilling prophecy when greed takes over a neighborhood. This is why gentrification is so dangerous. We are not in the middle of an economic boom right now. The people are not flush with cash. They are still very much struggling. The developers and the real estate sharks would have you believe that it's a boom but it is false. So here's what's happening:

Business A has had a long term lease at a reasonable price and has built a business. The lease is up and it is time to renew. They get a letter from the landlord saying that the 50 dollar per sq foot space will become a 150 dollar per square foot space. Business A has to leave.

The space will either remain empty or Business B, let's call it Hipster's Bar will take the space but the overhead is higher so the cost of the items will have to be raised.

The neighborhood is slowly filled with these types of places and lots of empty space as well. People go where they can afford to go. People won't pay $30 to park in a neighborhood when they can go to the mall, People will literally stop coming. It's happening on Newbury Street right now. Go look at all the empty stores. Eventually what you have is a blighted neighborhood again.

It can be avoided. Give these places back their personality. Don't let greed rule the city. There's plenty of answers to this. The proof is all the places that ARE unique, that ARE interesting and successful. DTX and Chinatown and East Boston can be like those places....or not. Someone above referenced an article about NYC. It is exactly what I'm talking about. Read it. Is it what we want for Boston? I say no.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/01/kill-a-complex-city...

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Amen!

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I'll make grilled cheese at home, thanks, and not pay $11 for one sandwich.

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Thanks for this great write up!

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I know to many Bostonians, Chinatown is just a dirty smelly area where you can get cheap food at 2am and where the Combat Zone used to be, but speaking as someone whose family immigrated to the area from Asia a couple decades ago, it's so much more to me and others like me and my family. It's a second home, a place where we can speak our native language, a place where the food and smells remind us of home, a community where I actually felt welcomed.

I get that with increasing modernization and the incredible value of the area (close to South Station, the financial district, and touristy areas...), things are bound to happen, but it's sad to see a place where I basically grew up (and still frequent quite often) being eroded away. And sure, we can just move everything to Quincy...but it's really not the same. The history's not there, there isn't a community established so deeply.

So thanks again, Kayla, for taking the time to speak out on this. Especially as someone who's not Asian - I feel like these articles are typically written by Asian(-Americans) for each other, but I think within that community we all know and understand what's happening. So it's definitely refreshing to see the conversation opened up to the general American/Bostonian public.

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A few observations and theories

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I see different trends which are converging:

1. Urban living is fashionable again reversing the trend, call it middle class and/or white flight, of the 50s through 70s.

2. Because middle class are returning to urban living that creates an image of greater consumer capital being available in cities. Since the capital is available - demonstrated by a willingness to pay ever increasing rents or prices for a cup of coffee - the demand for capital (prices, residential sales prices and rents) is increasing to match the supply of capital that is available to pay the higher prices.

3. Folks who grew up in the suburbs are used to chain stores. Most people prefer the familiar over unfamiliar. So familiar chain stores thrive while unfamiliar businesses suffer as their regular customers leave without anyone replacing them. People want predictability and guarantees. The repetition of the familiar result in homogenizations. A CVS or Starbucks is theoretically the same anywhere and so are familiar and patterned in fulfilling expectations of service and product. So there is an automatic bias among newer city residents for recognized brands instead of locally owned unique brands.

4. Major western cities are viewed as low risk real estate investment opportunities. Therefore the 2nd world nations (Communist China, Russia, wealthy Arab states) that have concentrations of capital are looking for low risk real estate investments. They will invest in the least risky and highest returns.

5. American cities in particular which are showing a return of American capital (in the form of people moving back to cities) returning to city centers are looking like strong real estate investment opportunities because the consumer and residential capital to afford higher rates and costs is available. Result is that the overseas investors are hoping that the capital (money) in US cities will reward the foreign investors for putting their capital into American cities. As an aside is foreign capital in the form of real estate investments going into American non-city centers? Or is it focused exclusively in the areas which are perceived as being both on the rebound and having high levels of residential concentration?

Combine middle class who want the familiarity of homogenized businesses and services with the foreign and (absentee) landlords who want to buy up as much as they can to profit from what appear to be sure investments. Result is a commercial profile that emphasizes familiar chain businesses over local one off businesses combined with high density buildings (high rises), higher rents and property values.

Other factors may include a city government that prefers larger sources of capital to smaller sources of capital. BRA prefers large complexes that are capital intensive. ISD supports and maintains a permit process which creates needless delays, resulting in costly waiting periods that can not be withstood by smaller investors and businesses but can be tolerated by larger capital projects that can budget both for both BRA and ISD delays.

This is probably an oversimplification. Nevertheless investors want their rewards, middle class is moving back, familiarity usually trumps unique difference and local shops continue to disappear while large corporate entities fill up the retail districts around large complexes that are both expensive and big.

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WELL

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I guess I would just ask for ANY link or supporting data from something other than your imagination.

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He did say 'theory", however - not sure why the irked tone?

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You described the foreground aspects of urban gentrification, Daan hypothesized about the possible background economic movements that might be driving it.

Do you have an alternative model to explain what is happening in Boston and other major American cities?

Fwiw, Daan is hardly the first to describe how the increased interest in urban living and the large upswing of foreign investment in real estate over the last decade or so seem to be affecting the demography of our cities. (Much of Europe and the UK are wrangling with this issue as well).

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Facts win over Theories every time

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I'm guessing Daan is a Millenial with no home, no kids and no real world experience. Daan if I'm wrong please correct me.

The fact is The middle class in Boston make somewhere in the high 60's to 100K a year:

http://www.businessinsider.com/what-middle-class-means-in-50-major-us-ci...

So if you make less than that you are lower middle class or poor. The true middle class can't afford to live in the city. They have left for more affordable pastures.

By affordable I mean places where they can buy a home. The condos in Boston especially the luxury condos in Chinatown and DTX are EXPENSIVE and the middle class of which you write about aren't buying them:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/business/affordable-housing-drives-mid...

In the old days the poor folks moved to the inner cities to get a place to live and as they started to succeed they moved out of the cities into bigger homes with a yard and that old white picket fence. Not any more. The affordable housing and lifestyle are further away from the city. And taking it a step further it's far awy from the north east. Maybe middle class are going where the grass is greener. South Carolina, Texas and places where you don't need a 500K mortgage to own a home.

So what does it mean for Boston? It means they are chasing away dollars by gentrification. Sure there are some rich foreigners and upper class families who can afford it but more often it's students and transitory types who are just passing through.

I also found this story about the great American Inversion very interesting. It more or less confirms my theory over Daans but it is optimistic about the upwardly mobile types who are marrying later and having kids later. They may save us all . Hahahaha....I knew I couldn't type that without laughing.

READ:

http://www.citylab.com/work/2012/05/how-and-why-american-cities-are-comi...

Also # 3 is nonsense. No one is moving into the expensive city to be near the familiar retail chains like CVS.

#4. Are you seriously telling me that you don't think buying a 700+K minimum condo in DTX where no others currently exist coming out of a Depression/Recession isn't a risky investment? Buying a 600K 3 bedroom in Newton isn't a risky investment my friend. That other one is totally risky.

Come on man!

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then maybe provide some facts?

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Or even a theory - I'm not quite sure what you're saying yours is - or why you think it is somehow in opposition to what Daan is saying.

Also, refs to an article about a study that doesn't even address 'middle class' income levels, and an opinion peice - not really illustrative.

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Well there was alot of

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Well there was alot of sadness too when Joe & Nemo's , which where all over downtown in little nooks , closed. Just have to persevere.........

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All I want to say that it

All I want to say that it just sucks. Chinatown got the bad luck of existing in the area that the next logical location for an expanding center. The North End has the luck that it is in a corner that the next towers is not going to, the value has rise there, but in a way that bring infill rather than something that end its existence.

I know things change. Quincy and Malden are both coming along fine and I imagine they will be the future centerpoints for Asians. But I hate imagining a future where Chinatown becomes a sad, pathetic gate with maybe a chain restaurant or two at best like you see the one in DC. A North End fate where the Italians have long moved but the traditions and culture remain is much more preferable. But I can't control market forces, and I don't expect Walsh to influence that much either.

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North End vs Chinatown

I think the North End is also protected by zoning that limits height, as well as by some city, state and federal historic preservation laws. For a few decades, the elevated Central Artery divided it from downtown, and that also seemed to protect it rather than damage it.

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