San Francisco’s Chinatown is the second most dense part of the United States besides downtown Manhattan. It is the birth place of San Francisco and was settled in the 1850s during the gold rush due to the large influx of hopeful young immigrants looking to make their fortune. Building stock is now 60% comprised of single resident occupancy (SRO) units consisting of 8 by 8 foot units that house bunkbeds full of families in the only affordable district in downtown that has services in place to facilitate immigrant relocation.
The alleys are packed full of everything from produce markets to senior family organizations, where the smell if hot tea and the sound of stringed instruments being played starts around 8 in the morning. Culture thrives in these alleys. The Chinatown alley masterplan has created signage, seating, plants, and a cohesive environment in the remodeling of 12 of 30 total alleys in this district.
A large part of the controlled cleanliness of these spaces was a revamped waste dipsosal regiment. As with most alleys in heavily trafficked areas, illegal dumping was a latent problem. As I witnessed today, dumpsters are no longer present, but owners and merchants keep regular trash bins in the back of their spaces and take them out to the mouths of the alleys everyday for pickup, eliminating illegal dumping and the need for garbage trucks to run down the alleys.
The masterplan continues to grow, and I was fortunate to snap some pictures as the last pavers were being placed in the newest remodel, Beckett Alley.
The primary thing I have not been able to learn is how these alleys drain runoff, as it has not rained on my trip, and there don’t appear to be any downspouts. This set of alleys pays testament to the fact that if you want to change something in your city, you only need to take action, be dedicated, and understand your community’s needs. The transformation of spaces such as these require political and social finesse. As they are typically not considered, these spaces require new legislation which takes time, but when done right, transforms the city and many lives for the better.
I would like to thank the Chinatown Community Development Center, the Reverend Norman Wong, and my fantastic tour guide Jessica for a rich experience and inspiration.