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Foxwoods @ the Gallery: the process still stinks
This weekend marks one of Asia’s most significant holidays – the Harvest Moon – as well as Asian Americans United 13th Annual Mid-Autumn Festival, an event AAU founded to celebrate the cultural survival and community power of Philadelphia Chinatown, one of the city’s oldest immigrant neighborhoods.
Eight years ago, Mid-Autumn Festival was marked by the thousands of people who used this cherished gathering to declare their defiance of a new mayor’s proposal to establish a baseball stadium on Chinatown’s borders. At the time, it was considered a “done deal” and few expected resistance from a largely non-English speaking community with one of the poorest zip codes (at the time) in the city. No effort was made by the city to communicate with the residents of the neighborhood or to engage with the community’s plans for affordable housing, schools, parks, and gardens.
Chinatown had to fight tooth and nail to establish itself as a neighborhood with real needs and a vision for itself. Among the many arguments used against us was that Chinatown had no alternatives for the land north of Vine Street. But eight years is telling. Eight years later, Chinatown North (as it is dubbed) is a far different vision for a city’s development than the one nearly forced upon this community.
Cross Vine Street and walk the footprint of what would have been the stadium. You’ll find:
- a new annex for Chinese Christian Church, to house their growing congregation;
- the building headquarters of the Greater Philadelphia Fujianese Association, one of the fastest growing ethnicities in Philadelphia, whose business and community leadership has changed the face of the community;
- Khmer Art Gallery, which celebrates the culture and arts of Cambodia, and Liao Collection, a gallery and store of Asian arts and antiques, whose owners relocated to this location after being active participants in the battle against the proposed baseball stadium; and
- Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School, an arts-based elementary charter school serving 400-some students founded by Asian Americans United and the Philadelphia Folklore Project.
Contrast this with a stadium that would have stayed empty two-thirds of the year, and offered this community little of the kind of “progress” it desired. Is it any wonder that this community fought a baseball stadium with every bit of its breath?
So why would city and state officials think that a casino would be any less repellant? The expected announcement today of the Foxwoods casino re-site to the Gallery is shocking on a number of levels.
First, since it’s apparently been forgotten: Chinatown is a NEIGHBORHOOD. Almost a quarter of its residents are children. We have homes, places of worship, cultural centers, and schools. A casino has no business in or around residential neighborhoods
Second, given the stadium history, it’s shocking that city and state officials would repeat past mistakes and make an announcement without any communication with neighborhood residents. The broader Chinatown community was neither consulted with or even informed of this announcement. We applaud the move to re-site the casinos – done largely in recognition of the flawed process and community activism that sunk the waterfront sites. But it is ironic/disrespectful/outrageous to ignore these past lessons and simply re-site to a different neighborhood with the same lack of process and communication.
Third, the Gallery location reportedly may come with perks for Foxwoods – including potential input on the development of the Market East corridor, a trouble-free approval process, tax breaks or compensation to abandon the waterfront sites, and legal immunity. None of these are priorities or an appropriate use of public process or dollars in difficult economic times.
And finally, we deserve a city that sets its development priorities based on a public planning process guided by unifying principles for what a city and its people need. It doesn’t need politically-connected operators to dictate how and when a city develops and uses its precious resources and money.
Obviously we need a lot more information to know where this is going. But right now, unless we hear differently, we’re ready for a fight.