John Chin ’83 is the executive director of Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), a non-profit committed to the preservation and growth of Chinatown. Chinatown has always been a special place for Chin. He recalls that at his interview for the position in 2000, he said, “I want Philadelphia to know that Chinatown is a gem.”
When Chin started out with PCDC, he established three important objectives — improve the attractiveness of Chinatown and raise its profile as a destination; help limited English proficient (LEP) immigrants rise out of poverty; and build community pride. In order to accomplish these goals, PCDC raised more than $5 million in funding to improve the streetscape experience for pedestrians. The changes included new pedestrian lighting, trees, landscape, parks and daily sidewalk sweeping. PCDC also co-produced the successful food truck festival, Chinatown Night Market.
The efforts of PCDC paid off and Chinatown is one of the most popular destinations in Philadelphia. While Chinatown might finally be getting the recognition it deserves, it is not without some drawbacks.
Chin points out that many of the immigrant families who live and work in the neighborhood are struggling to make ends meet. Many residents are being priced out of the neighborhood or are forced to live in small, substandard housing. He says, “These families are our most vulnerable and most important. Many low-income families are too busy working multiple jobs just to survive. They cannot enjoy their community or celebrate their culture. Hard-working families deserve to be appreciated and should feel proud of their community.”
In an effort to ensure affordable housing for all residents, PCDC has worked closely with the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations to develop policies to address equitable development. Chin says, “PCDC will not have accomplished its mission unless all people have an equal chance to succeed.”
Chin offers some valuable advice to young people who are trying to make positive changes in their communities. “Start with action. Action can be simple, it can be impactful and it does not have to be complicated. Think big, aim high and be bold,” he says.