Mar 9, 2023 - News

Bridging the divide in Philly's Chinatown

Chinatown Friendship Gate in Philadelphia.

The city is investing in a turnaround for Chinatown. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Philadelphia is taking its first steps on a major downtown renewal project some two decades in the making — a cap over Vine Street Expressway in Chinatown — with the area between 8th and Broad streets eyed for the cap.

Driving the news: City officials said Wednesday that they're partnering with the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation to start planning and design for the overhaul, dubbed the Chinatown Stitch.

Why it matters: The Vine Street Expressway — I-676 — cuts through the heart of Chinatown. Since the highway was completed in 1991 community leaders have complained that it negatively impacted the neighborhood.

Zoom in: The ground capping the expressway could include a mix of green space and residential and commercial properties, depending in part on what residents want to see in that space.

  • The planning phase includes a feasibility study, surveys of the community and a listening tour — scheduled for April — to help shape the final concept.
  • City officials hope the project will reverse historical inequities, make the neighborhood safer and possibly attract outside development.

Groundbreaking isn't expected until 2028.

What they’re saying: John Chin of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation said at a news conference that community organizations have received funding for smaller efforts to limit the expressway’s impact, but nothing in the realm of what’s needed to reunite the north and south sides of the neighborhood.

  • "Now there’s a glimmer of hope [for] all the work and planning that we’ve done for Chinatown in the last 20 years," he said.

The other side: "You have to move at the speed of trust," said Christopher Puchalsky of the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, acknowledging the concerns that Chinatown residents feel like they've been ignored for decades.

Between the lines: The project's initiation comes right as Chinatown faces a reckoning over the 76ers’ proposal to build a new arena in the neighboring fashion district.

  • A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney said the timing of Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t connected to the team's proposal, adding that the city remains "very conscious of the unintended impacts of large investment."

By the numbers: The city is spending $4 million in federal, state and local funds, including money from the Knight Foundation, for this early phase of the project.

  • Officials say they'll apply for more federal funds by fall 2025 to help with construction. Capping a single block of the highway could cost between $25-$30 million, Puchalsky said.

Of note: The forthcoming Park at Penn's Landing and the Chinatown Stitch will add two major — capped — public spaces to the heart of Philly.


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