May 7, 2024 - News

D.C. to consider "big ideas" for how to reimagine Chinatown

A reimagined 8th Street with a median pedestrian walkway

A redesigned 8th Street (right). Images courtesy of D.C. government report

D.C. could reimagine Chinatown with wide pedestrian promenades, thousands of new housing units, and more of an emphasis on its Chinese heritage, per a new report.

Why it matters: The District's Chinatown task force released eight "big ideas" — some that feel aspirational, to be sure — to make the neighborhood more livable and energetic.

One of the most noticeable changes would turn the road-heavy perimeter of the National Portrait Gallery into a gathering place.

  • On top of that, a raised pedestrian promenade would be built through the center of 8th Street.
  • Capital One Arena, set for a $515+ million modernization, is a "large, imposing building" right now. When redesigned, it would look more like an entertainment district in sync with the neighborhood.
  • 7th Street would lean into its small storefronts that act as a commercial main street with better connectivity to the National Mall.
A redesigned Gallery Square has more pedestrian plaza space surrounding the Portrait Gallery
Image courtesy of D.C. government report and WXY

There is a push to better honor Chinese American identity, with examples of summer block parties and film nights in other Chinatowns in the U.S.

  • D.C. is in conversations about potentially drawing an Asian food grocery store to open in the neighborhood, according to deputy mayor Nina Albert, per WTOP.
  • A recent story on WAMU showed how dozens of senior residents, frustrated by the lack of Chinese grocery stores in the neighborhood, trek on a charter bus to Falls Church's Great Wall Supermarket once a month.
A reimagined 7th Street with more pedestrian-friendly and sidewalk dining options
Image courtesy of D.C. government report and Field Operations

Zoom out: In the long-term, the report considers what it would mean to redevelop three large federal buildings.

  • The FBI building, GAO site, and Department of Labor building in the vicinity add up to 24.5 acres of land.
  • Demolishing the FBI building could create 1,400 apartment units, a theater, a school, and retail, for example.

What's next: A key player in the future of Chinatown — Monumental Sports owner Ted Leonsis — will travel with D.C. officials later this month to a retail conference in Las Vegas to pitch downtown as a place for business.

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