By Nora Chan
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Contrary to recent articles written by the Chinatown International District Coalition (CID Coalition), most businesses are not opposed to plans for the development of a SpringHill Suites by Marriott Hotel at 8th and Lane. During the days leading up to the annual Dragon Fest in July, InterimCDA began posting “emergency notices” throughout Chinatown’s light posts and community message boards, specifically targeted Chinatown’s elderly. The posters, written in Chinese read: “Emergency Notice. We should not be forced to move,” caused such an alarm and uneasiness among seniors who thought they were in jeopardy of losing their homes, as a result of the city’s decision to upzone areas of Chinatown.
On the afternoon of July 18, seniors gathered together in Chinatown waiting for pre-arranged buses to transport them to the community meeting at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall. Many of the seniors thought the purpose of the meeting was to protest the Navigation Center. When they arrived, they were asked to sign in. The seniors did not understand that they were signing a petition to oppose the city’s plans for upzoning and/or the plans for the development of a Marriott Hotel.
No low income housing is being displaced by the proposed Marriott development. To imply that the project would result in the displacement of housing for Chinatown’s seniors is not only misleading, it is extremely insensitive and callous to provoke such unfounded fear. An English version of the poster was also prominently displaced throughout Chinatown with the same look and font as Executive Order 9066, which authorized the displacement of over 17,000 people of Japanese descent to relocation camps throughout the West Coast. It is very hard to believe what was going through the minds of the individual who designed the poster.
No one has said anything about the displacement of Chinatown’s low income seniors other than InterimCDA and the recently formed CID Coalition. Although rent rates have increased significantly over the years in Chinatown, the increases have no bearing on the cost of living of the seniors in low income housing.
The biggest threat to the future of Seattle’s Chinatown is a stagnant business environment. Throughout our nation’s Chinatowns, we have seen a rapid decline of what were once thriving centers of commerce, social and cultural activities, professional services, and of course exceptional Asian cuisine. With most likely the lowest margins of any business around, businesses in Chinatown cannot survive without a steady flow of customers from business workers, residents, families, and visitors. To imply that the first new hotel proposed for the Chinatown International District would displace elderly low income residents is tantamount to saying that a thriving business climate in Chinatown will displace the elderly. If we are not receptive to new businesses, they will most certainly go elsewhere. As the area’s economic health declines, so to will all other aspects of the neighborhood including public safety, desirability, livability, and viability for new business ventures.
Seattle’s Chinatown already has an extremely high percentage of low income housing in a relatively small area. In order for businesses to survive in Chinatown, there must be a balance and diversity of socioeconomic activity. If our urban planning policies are too restrictive, then business development will not happen and will go elsewhere. With the decline of the business environment we will more than likely experience an increase in the amount of crime, abandonment of properties by businesses and landlords, avoidance of Chinatown by our families, business people, tourists, and investors. We have had more than our share of challenges with the area’s homelessness, gangs, lack of parking, and trash left by trespassers.
The last thing we should be doing is keeping an internationally well-respected hotel chain like the Marriott from bringing more business and validation to Chinatown. What we should be most fearful of are the unfounded and misleading threats which instill a false sense of insecurity in the minds and hearts of our seniors. ■
Nora Chan is founder of Seniors in Action, a property owner, business owner, and Chinatown resident.