The Plan for Chinatown and Surrounding Areas: Preserving Affordability and Authenticity

The Plan for Chinatown and Surrounding Areas: Preserving Affordability and Authenticity
Chinatown Working Group (CWG)
Jocelyne Chait, Mercedes Narciso, Eva Hanhardt, Meta Brunzema
Services & Activities
Urban Planning, Workshops, Sustainable Design, Advocacy Initiatives, Comprehensive Plan
Chinatown, Manhattan, N.Y.
Pratt Center
Work Product
The Plan for Chinatown and Surrounding Areas: Preserving Affordability and Authenticity

The “Plan for Chinatown and Surrounding Areas: Preserving Affordability and Authenticity” was a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort built upon meetings, interviews, surveys, and consultation with many of the 51 member organizations of the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) in Lower Manhattan. The CWG plan set the basis for a rezoning of the area in order to stabilize and increase the amount of affordable housing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side while preserving and creating more small business and cultural opportunities.

Collaborative Planning

The Plan for Chinatown and Surrounding Areas is both a celebration of New York City’s rich immigrant history and the contributions that waves of immigrants have made and continue to make to New York City’s economy and culture and a strategy for preserving one of the last remaining islands of affordability in a borough that is becoming increasingly unaffordable for most New York City residents.

The planning process was a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort with 51 member organizations of the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) in Lower Manhattan. The plan – also known as CWG Plan – was submitted to the NYC Dept. of City Planning for consideration of a rezoning action in July 2014.

In response to the City’s lack of action, the Collective was retained by Manhattan CB3, and community organizations GOLES, CAAAV, and TUFF-LES to further develop the waterfront area of the CWG Plan (Sub-District D).  In 2019, the “Special Lower East Side and Chinatown Waterfront District” plan was submitted and accepted by the NYC Dept. of City Planning; it is currently under negotiation.



Participatory Workshops

The Collective designed and coordinated public outreach, and facilitated both large and small participatory sessions.

The larger sessions, attended in total by several hundred community members, involved visioning and small group review and recommendation formats. All materials and presentations were translated into Chinese and Spanish.

Specific zoning workshops were conducted for CWG’s zoning and land use committee. Multiple presentations and individual meetings with different stakeholder groups were conducted throughout the entire planning process.

User-friendly brochures, fact sheets, GIS maps, charts and graphs, and a glossary of planning and zoning terms were provided in all three languages to assist the CWG and Manhattan CB3, in considering the different strategies proposed in the final Plan and building consensus among their members.

Affordable Housing

The plan provides recommendations for preserving affordability – for both housing and small businesses, while protecting cultural and historic resources, and promoting local economic development. It also includes specific zoning language for a proposed Special District and sub-districts.

The CWG Plan preserves existing affordable housing and incentivizes the development of permanently affordable rental housing, based on local area median income (AMI).  The plan also promotes affordable homeownership development. In sub-district D, near the East River waterfront, real-estate developments are subject to a 350-foot height limit and provide at least 50% affordable housing.

The recommendations are based on detailed research on existing conditions, concerns, and opportunities in Chinatown and surrounding areas, including socio-economic, demographic, zoning, land use, historic preservation, cultural, and economic development documentation and analysis. The zoning and land use recommendations are intended to be implementable by the City – and demonstrate a high level of technical development and understanding of New York City real-estate development forces.

Culture and Historic Preservation

The CWG plan provides recommendations for the protection of cultural and historic resources that also support local economic development.  Three Historic Districts include the 5 Points area, and significant areas of  Henry and Oliver Streets will preserve sites of cultural and historic significance to the Chinatown community. Potential individual landmarks outside of the Historic Districts were also identified.

The Plan also develops strategies to preserve and build upon Chinatown’s cultural assets and to promote opportunities for artistic and cultural expression. These policies and efforts are aimed at long-term community preservation and development rather than the creation of a “Disneyland Chinatown”.