Reuters

Changing immigration patterns are partly to blame

Over at The Atlantic, Bonnie Tsui has written a piece about Chinese immigrants who are being lured back to China by a more prosperous economy. This is having devastating effects on major cities’ Chinatowns, where new working-class immigrants tend to land. As the numbers of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. decreases, so will the value of the support system in these Chinatowns. As China grows, Tsui writes, Chinatowns will fall.

Smaller Chinatowns have been fading for years - just look at Washington, D.C., where Chinatown is down to a few blocks marked by an ornate welcome gate and populated mostly by chains like Starbucks and Hooters, with signs in Chinese. But now the Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York are depopulating, becoming less residential and more service-oriented. When the initial 2010 U.S. census results were released in March, they revealed drops in core areas of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Manhattan, the census showed a decline in Chinatown’s population for the first time in recent memory - almost 9 percent overall, and a 14 percent decline in the Asian population.

The exodus from Chinatown is happening partly because the working class is getting priced out of this traditional community and heading to the “ethnoburbs”; development continues to push residents out of the neighborhood and into other, secondary enclaves like Flushing, Queens, in New York. But the influx of migrants who need the networks that Chinatown provides is itself slowing down. Notably, the percentage of foreign-born Chinese New Yorkers fell from about 75 percent in 2000 to 69 percent in 2009.

China's attractive economy is definitely one reason why Chinatowns are struggling. But the changing patterns of immigration in the U.S. is another likely factor. As we’ve previously noted, a recent report from the Brookings Institution shows that foreign-born populations in the U.S. are increasingly moving to small cities and suburbs within metropolitan areas. The age of big cities as entry point and holding tank for immigrants seems to be ending, if not over.

As Chinese immigrants become less concentrated, the conditions under which Chinatowns develop and sustain are disappearing. That's not to say that ethnic enclaves in U.S. cities are going away. But as these populations deconcentrate and spread into different cities and smaller suburban areas, it's likely that the Chinatowns we've known will become increasingly irrelevant. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, form in their place in the new suburban centers of immigration.

Photo credit: Luke MacGregor / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

    American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

  2. Design

    Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks

    The “Vessel” at New York’s Hudson Yards—like so many of his designs—look as if the dystopian world of 1984 has been given a precious makeover.

  3. Life

    The Bias Hiding in Your Library

    The ways libraries classify books often reflect a “straight white American man” assumption.

  4. Transportation

    China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare

    What happens when a checkpoint merges 50 lanes down to 20.

  5. Homes in Amsterdam are pictured.
    Equity

    Amsterdam's Plan: If You Buy a Newly Built House, You Can't Rent It Out

    In an effort to make housing more affordable, the Dutch capital is crafting a law that says anyone who buys a newly built home must live in it themselves.