Writing and Publications

“Chinatown Art Brigade: Resisting gentrification through the power of art, culture and stories” for Visual Inquiry: Learning & Teaching Art Volume 6 Number 2, released June 2017

By Betty Yu

Gentrification and Displacement in Chinatown

With a population of over 90,000, Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the oldest ethnic neighbourhoods in New York City. For decades, at its height the garment industry employed over 20,000 workers in Chinatown. Although globalization led to the loss of many garment jobs in the 1990s, the most devastating blow happened after 9/11 when commerce shut down for weeks, paving the way for real estate developers to funnel billions of dollars of 9/11-related government subsidies to gentrify Chinatown and the Lower East Side, in the name of ‘economic recovery’.

It is clear to anyone who has been in Manhattan’s Chinatown that the level of gentrification has accelerated in the last few years. The influx of art galler- ies, hi-rise luxury condos, bars and hotels is jarring. At the same time, Chinese immigrant working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, living under unsafe conditions, and forced evictions. Small businesses, stores and restau- rants that have been serving the Chinatown community for decades are being displaced or evicted by landlords who are making way for high-end establish- ments, businesses and art galleries. Currently, there are over 110 galleries in Chinatown and some commercial galleries are paying as much as $25,000 a month to rent their storefront whitebox. These days, real estate developers and landlords are more likely to keep storefronts unoccupied for months on end and wait to rent it to the next gallery, hipster bar or high-end restaurant. Some landlords are even catering to just renting out to galleries only. These spaces are often the Trojan horses needed to raise the value of property and neighbourhood. According the Pratt Center for Community Development 2013 Report Preserving Affordability & Authenticity the Asian population has declined by 30 per cent since 2003 and Chinatown and the Lower East Side has lost more than 30,000 units of affordable housing.

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“Gentrification, the Art Gallery Influx, and Other Pressures on Manhattan’s Chinatown” for Hyperallergic, 2016

By Betty Yu

Displacement and gentrification in Manhattan’s Chinatown has accelerated in the last few years. The influx of art galleries, hi-rise luxury condos, and hotels is jarring. At the same time, Chinese immigrant working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, living under unsafe conditions, and forced evictions. Small businesses, stores and restaurants that have been serving the Chinatown community for decades are closing to make way for high-end establishments, businesses, and art galleries.

In the past eight years, 100 galleries have opened in Chinatown with over 60% of them opening up in the last three years. Since galleries have been priced out of Chelsea they have been moving into Chinatown, it has been dubbed by some of the media as the “last frontier of downtown New York.” These galleries have contributed to the rapidly rising rents. There are galleries that are paying upwards of $9,000 a month, while low-income tenants next door are paying hundreds of dollars to share a small room in a dilapidated building. This kind of inequality is unconscionable. While it’s true that the galleries are one part of the larger machine of gentrification, it’s important as community-based artists that we hold these artist institutions accountable for their role in displacing Chinatown residents.  Their real estate choices have real consequences that affect people’s material living conditions. A 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund revealed that the number of Chinese residents in the area has declined between 2000 and 2010, while the number of white residents has increased. In 2011 less than half of the Chinatown population was foreign-born.

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“A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing” for Art F City, 2016

By Betty Yu and Noah Fischer

“Gentrification is displacement and replacement of people for profits”

definition from the School of Echo Los Angeles

This definition of gentrification sits at the top of A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing, a new collaboratively produced art piece that is viewable, as a part of the Third Wave of the AgitProp! Show at the Brooklyn Museum. In the words of its curators, Agitprop! “connects contemporary art that advocates for social change with many activist movements throughout the 20th century,”

The Monument currently functions as a community educational board with a narrative that will change as actions or new information arises around Mayor DeBlasio’s rezoning plans. It features a black-led activist group called Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) that is struggling against rezoning in highlights in Crown Heights.

Why did this Monument get built?

As two of the artists who have participated in the collective process behind the Monument, we want to lay out the unique community-driven process we went through to produce the monument. We also wanted to show how the Monument itself is a mobilization tool addressing today’s pressing issue of gentrification in Brooklyn and around the city.

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