San Fran’s Chinatown

 Chinatown is the oldest and largest of San Francisco’s 4 Chinese enclaves. There is a lot of history documenting the neighborhood’s ups and downs combating racism, gangs, sex trafficking, disinvestment and revitalization. I’ll just cover some of the highlights. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Chinese merchants were able to successfully rebrand Chinatown with Chinese-motif “Oriental” style in order to promote tourism in the rebuilt Chinatown. This helped quell efforts by City planners to relocated Chinatown somewhere else in the City. In the 1960s another huge wave of immigrants came with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion act. Most came from  Hong Kong. Currently the majority of residents and immigrant are elderly, and opt to live in Chinatown because of its affordable housing and cultural ties.  As of 2015, two thirds of the Chinatown residents lived in one of its 105 single room occupancy hotels (SRO). This explains why the district’s medium rent is $760 and medium income around 55K.  Many Chinese immigrants who managed to accumulate wealth while living in Chinatown have moved to more spacious Chinatowns in the City (i.e. Richmond District, Sunset District, or Visitation Valley).

Most tourist visit Grant Street (filled with indistinguishable souvenir shops) but nearby is the more authentic Stockton Street, home to fish markets, stores, restaurants, and mixed use bldgs more akin to what one would find in Hong Kong. Chinatown also has great urban qualities including superb transit and proximity to Dwtn, affordable housing, mixed use development, great services and walkability to department stores along Union Square, vibrancy, and quality schools. Areas for improvement include better ADA infrastructure and bike lanes, more park space, better tree canopy, more for-sale condos, and a full service grocery store would be nice.

Click here to view my Chinatown Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENTHS:

* One of San Franc’s densest districts. 
* Excellent economic diversity. Prob the best in the City.
* About 75% of the units are rent controlled. Medium rents are half the City average at around $760. A significant amount of the units are run by the housing authority.
* Cultural amenities are not surprisingly mostly Chinese and restaurants, but there are a lot of them! Also a good number of cafes & tea places, art galleries, several local museums, some bars & night clubs, the Clarion Performing Arts Center, and the Great Start Theater. Very convenient access to all the theaters, museums and cinema plexs located around Union Square at Yerba Buena.
* Retail amenities include an endless amount of souvenir shops, boutiques, small Asian grocerias, bakeries & dessert shops. Target and a plethora of department stores and retail are located with 1/2 a mile away. Also plenty of drug stores, & churches, several book stores, a post office, public library, a local Chinese Hospital.
* Several excellent schools within and near Chinatown. But limited # of high schools.
* Very vibrant district.
* Great urban massing and a very imageable district with its Chinese distinction.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Generally very good ADA infrastructure but several intersections missing modern ADA ramps and some steep hills along the western edge.
* Limited dedicated bike lanes but pretty good bike station coverage.
* About 70% of the population is Asian but very old.
* Rents are a bit high but certainly much more affordable than other parts of San Fran. Studios & 1-bedrooms lease in the mid-high $1,000s, 2-bedrooms in the mid $2,000s, 3-bedrooms lease in the $3,000s. Overall market rate product is pretty limited especially 3-bedrooms
* For sale products are even more limited but similar priced to surrounding areas.
* Chinatown is generally pretty safe. A bit sketchy at night in certain pockets.
* Several nice squares (e.g. Portsmonth, St. Mary’s, Wong Playground, and Woi Hei Yuen),  but much less greenspace than most San Fran districts. Good access to other Park Spaces in adjacent districts too.
* No supermarkets located within Chinatown nor nearby.
* Tree canopy is only so . Not much space for them in this dense district.

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