It's time for Philly Chinatown to get a Community Rec Center

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It's time for Philly Chinatown to get a Community Rec Center

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The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority owns a 140,000 square foot parcel on 8th and Vine Streets. It is the last parcel in Chinatown. For over 50 years, the parcel has been undeveloped and has served as a parking lot. In September 2016, PRA put out a Request for Proposals. Two developers put forward proposals. Click here for Plan Philly's description of the social impact components of each proposal.

Serving over 90,000 individuals and families in the Greater Philadelphia area, the Chinatown community has had a challenging history with the City's urban development projects: the construction of the Gallery, Convention Center, and the Vine Street Expressway displaced many families and reduced the Chinatown community's ability to expand. Thankfully, with leadership from organizations like Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and Asian Americans United, the community successfully mobilized to fight a jail, baseball stadium, and a casino. 

At present, although Philadelphia Chinatown is home to thousands of individuals and families, it does not have a community recreational center. The two nearest YMCAs are Christian Street Branch and Columbia North, which are 1.7 miles and 1.8 miles away by foot, respectively. The Eastern Tower Project, a proposed development at 10th and Vine, will have a banquet space, meeting rooms, and a 7,500 square foot gymnasium. While that space will certainly be well-used by the community and the developer is PCDC, a trusted community leader, we petitioners have looked at the YMCA spaces in other neighborhoods and believe that given the population density within Chinatown, as well as the enrollment numbers at our neighborhood schools, a community recreational center of a larger scale is needed. Because this parcel is over 140,000 square feet and it is the last parcel of land in Chinatown, we believe it is reasonable to make this request at this time.

Specifically, families in Chinatown and Center City in general will benefit from a community recreational center which provides:

  • safe, affordable, and enriching summer programs and year-round after-school programs;
  • a state-of-the-art fitness center;
  • a public pool so residents don't have to travel 30 minutes or pay for private lessons to learn to swim;
  • a place where families can organize Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops;
  • a place that is ADA accessible so people with disabilities of all ages and their families can enjoy activities together;
  • programming that fosters a lifelong love of learning;
  • a place where multilingual residents can teach their languages to those seeking to learn new languages;
  • a space where film screenings, art shows, and cultural performances can teach all Philadelphians about our diverse backgrounds and heritages;
  • a center which can be staffed and run by community members for community members, thereby providing community members with jobs;
  • a center that, like the proposed Equal Justice Center, can bring together a diverse coalition of grassroots groups, which will foster new partnerships and help leverage new opportunities for the Chinatown community.

A large-scale community recreational center will help reduce health and educational disparities in our community, and promote cross-cultural learning and social opportunities within Center City. This center can be a tremendous resource to neighborhood students, families, educators, and school professionals. We envision that this center will be governed by a community board which will consist of resident representatives, community organizations with a track record of serving the Chinatown community, school representatives, and a diverse coalition of community groups. This community board will ensure that the community and its representatives will yield real power and have true representation regarding the development and use of its last parcel of land in the years to come, regardless of the proposal that is selected for development.

With regard to the PRA's new "social impact" component in the scoring rubric, we ask City Councilman Mark Squilla, Gregory Heller from PRA, and the developers to consider what we believe would make a social impact for individuals and families living in Philadelphia Chinatown and beyond, who need a community recreational center in our neighborhood. 

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