We’re making a clean sweep on the road to recovery

By Wellington Chen

“The superior man acts before he speaks and, afterwards, speaks according to his action.”

— Confucius

Such is the inspiration behind the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation. The Chinatown Partnership was born in direct response to the realization that the needs of the residents and merchants of Chinatown in the public discourse to redevelop Lower Manhattan after the attacks of 9/11 were completely excluded.

The reality was that Chinatown suffered disproportionately as a result of 9/11, losing some 8,000 jobs — that’s 10 percent of the city’s total lost jobs among 1 percent of the city’s population. Nearly half of Chinatown’s garment factories, more than 100, were shuttered. Most of Chinatown’s 250 restaurants lost 30 percent to 70 percent of their business in the three months following 9/11. Street closings and police checkpoints brought tourism practically to a standstill. Small business owners who spoke little English struggled with relief policies seemingly written without them in mind.

As the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, I am thrilled to report that we are making progress to make Chinatown a stronger center of commerce, culture and tourism through a variety of programs and projects.

The Chinatown Partnership, with the help of research by the Rebuild Chinatown Initiative and input from all of Chinatown’s stakeholders, has identified Chinatown’s most pressing needs with near-term, midterm and long-term goals. One of the near-to-midterm goals is a signature campaign called the Clean Streets project. Through this project, we’re working with the city and neighborhood business owners to make Chinatown a cleaner, more attractive place to visit and conduct business. Gone is graffiti from fire hydrants, mailboxes and lampposts; storefronts and sidewalks have been power-washed.

So far, more than 2 million pounds of litter have been collected by workers since September 2006, bringing the first successful and sustained beautification effort to this area — and bringing Chinatown back to life.

Many residents and business owners are remarking about how much cleaner Chinatown is.

“I’ve been living and working here in Chinatown all my life. I am delighted when I walk out of my shop and look up and down the street in either direction,” said Andy Liu, owner of Fu Quiang Enterprise Inc., a gift shop on the corner of Mott and Pell Sts. “We still have all the unique sounds, activities and aromas you would expect — it’s just so much cleaner and inviting now to work here and we hope visitors will agree.”

Improvements to lighting and parking and wayfinding (signage, availability of maps) are also included in the neighborhood improvement plan.

Other areas of focus are in arts and culture, with the Lunar Stages and Taste of Chinatown. The award-winning marketing campaign, Explore Chinatown, was created to communicate the neighborhood’s relevance to New Yorkers as well as to the wider world. Making Chinatown a destination for residents and tourists increases local business revenue and makes the neighborhood more vibrant and diverse.

The Chinatown Partnership supports economic development by consulting with and providing resources for local businesses, and facilitates interaction between businesses inside and outside of Chinatown.

Future projects include a waterfront park and a performing arts and cultural center.

The reality of a 21st-century Chinatown begins with today’s vision.

This is only the beginning. The Chinatown Partnership encourages the community’s stakeholders to “think through and think big.” Rejuvenate, reconnect and reinvent Chinatown not just for tourists but for the residents and business owners as well. Visit the Web site www.chinatownpartnership.org, where you can see before and after pictures and the progress the Clean Streets project has made. Better yet, visit, shop or eat in Chinatown and see the transformation for yourself.

Chen is executive director, Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation