During the Literary Arts & Performance Poetry (LAPP) Festival 2013 this year in Washington, D.C., film director and producer Yi Chen offered a film screening of "Chinatown," a documentary of DC residents' ongoing battle against closure of Wah-Luck House.
In this movie, the attractive Shanghai-born female filmmaker interviews Chinatown residents at Wah-Luck, such housing projects once a relatively common phenomenon in U.S. cities, even in Chinatowns.
Wah-Luck House in "Chinatown" is the symbol of struggle under new urban planning mandates, policies that promote the United Nations' Agenda 21 definition of sustainable certification over historic neighborhood community interests. If there is a moral concern, then why do the interests of corporate franchises and real estate magnates often seem outweigh those of small businesses and residents? Does anyone care when businesses have to move, or displaced low-income people become homeless?
Historic ethnic enclaves have become the object of the latest urban housing bubble, called "gentrification," with the ethnic or native residents being supplanted and having to move elsewhere. This has happened in Harlem, to artist communities such as in Berkeley, and any place else where, ironically, historical character is now the exploit.
The changes enacted by D.C. zoning ordinances and planning has raised the ire and passions of many. Since the 1970s, area Chinese-owned family businesses and residential population have declined over 200 percent. There are no longer any significant Chinese grocery stores. Earlier this year, Asian Fortune's Dottie Li published several articles on the controversy with the Metropolitan Police Department's closing of the Liaison office. Ironically, the transformation has enriched D.C.'s coffers.
Gentrification is happening not just in the Washington, D.C. community, but also in many large urban cities. Urban sustainability planners in many metropolitan cities claim that it revitalizes neighborhoods, attracting wealthier shoppers and residents. They like to point out that planned developments comply with green building standards.
But how much of planned redevelopments are actually affordable? If the planned Wharf development near Waterfront Metro provides any indication, only a small fraction of the upscale condominium and apartment buildings will be affordable studios.
Finding affordable housing in DC is becoming as challenging as in New York City (NYC), where low income and low class are a conundrum. While DC has a more forgiving atmosphere due to proximity to national non-governmental organizations, newspapers such as Streetsense struggle to elevate local consciousness on the realities of poverty, limited economic opportunities, and injustice.
Add to this many college students travel to study and work in the D.C. Metro area, and so a fraction of housing must be set aside for dormitories. Yet when one studies the apartment listings, there are glaring scarcities in affordable housing. Decent single bedroom apartments are over 2000 per month, and applicants (without co-signers) are required to submit statements demonstrating they earn twice that amount per year.
With lower-income class definitions translating into anyone earning less than 50,000 per year, for whom are the new sustainable megacities being designed? Clearly, it will not be for traditional Asian immigrants or those who struggle to make ends meet and who are grateful to be able to locate semi-independent communal housing for their elderly.