My objective for week #4 was to learn about the Chinatown community, and particularly its cohesion and resilience.

CityLab's definition of "Resilient Communities" in livable cities.

How Chinese is DC's Chinatown?

Chinatown has steadily lost its vibrant Chinese community. Numerous articles have noted this decline. Census data confirms the trend with resident demographics. In the 1990s, roughly 67% (526/787) of Chinatown residents identified as Asian. The 2020 Census found that only 36% (361/1,009) of Chinatown residents identify as Asian.

As NPR says,

If you want to see Dua Lipa perform, eat a chopped salad at a fast casual cafe, or wait in line for ramen at a restaurant blasting hip hop, Chinatown’s your neighborhood.
But, if you want to get a whole fish scaled and gutted, host an eight-course Chinese banquet, or gather a group to practice tai chi in the park, many of D.C.’s Chinese residents will point you to D.C.’s greater suburbs in Maryland or Virginia.

Gentrification played a large role in the decline of Chinese residents. As the Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena) entered the neighborhood in 1997, it brought forth a wave of businesses that competed with the Chinese family-owned businesses that had earlier dominated the area.

Nevertheless, the Chinatown community is fighting to preserve its culture. Organizations like the 1882 Foundation host educational events about the history of Chinese American and DC's Chinatown. Back in September 2011, DC's Office of Planning published an impressive 56-page report on ways to reinforce the neighborhood's Chinese character.

Summer intern Gabi Chu talks about her Chinatown walking tour project. Screenshot via 1882 Foundation

Established Communities

Sixth & I Synagogue is a major venue for Jewish prayer and ceremonies, as well as public book talks with prominent authors like Keegan-Michael Key and Stacey Abrams.

The Muslim community has also gained traction in the area. Georgetown Law School hosts the Friday "Jummah" prayer on campus, which is a 10 minute walk from Chinatown. Center DC is a new organization located less than a mile north. They sponsor Ramadan iftars (dinners to break the fast) and have become my go-to community.

There are also plenty of informal meeting spots around Chinatown. Baked Joint is a local favorite, and a surprisingly common workspace despite the lack of Wi-Fi.

Local Events & Gatherings

Despite the cries of Chinatown's demise, the neighborhood still does an excellent job hosting regular community gatherings. More broadly, DC also offers spaces nearby for major conferences, conventions, and games.