A plan to upgrade Chinatown’s blighted alleyways into clean, well-lit, pedestrian-friendly pathways has received a new swell of support — $300,000 from next year’s city budget will go toward additional renovations.
Seven alleys in the Chinatown area — Jack Kerouac, Waverly, John, Commercial, Ross, Cordelia and Hang Ah — have already been renovated for about $2 million with new pavement, lighting, trees, bollards and artwork.
Backed by the Chinatown Community Development Center, the work is part of the nine-year-old Chinatown Alleyways Master Plan, which calls for 31 of the neighborhood’s 41 alleys to be renovated. The City originally allocated $2.3 million toward the project, but the funds quickly ran out.
The projects are expensive, but Chinatown residents have to get creative in using the little space they’ve got, said the Rev. Norman Fong, deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “Some people say, ‘$300,000 — that’s a lot to spend on a street.’ But, it’s creating a little piece of community.”
With 18,000 people, Chinatown is the most densely populated neighborhood in the country outside of Manhattan. It is common for families to pack into small apartments for financial reasons, and as a result, the streets of Chinatown have become the community’s open space. Portsmouth Square on Kearny Street has long been called the residents’ living room.
Chinatown’s 41 alleys create a network of passageways through the community. Many of the alleys are home to barbershops, ma and pa grocery stores and residents’ apartments.
Fong said the $300,000 will be used to renovate the Wentworth and Beckett alleys. Vehicles line one side of both alleyways, which are bordered by Pacific and Grant avenues and Kearny and Washington streets, while red-painted bollards keep people from parking on the other side. Restaurants put full trash bags out on the sidewalk, and litter clogs the gutters.
Despite the debris, Wentworth is a vibrant marketplace, with a hair salon, senior service center, arts and crafts shop, and jewelry store making the alley home. A temple and apartments align the quieter Beckett.
Betty and Alan Wong, who grew up in The City but live in Fremont, walked through Chinatown on Sunday, visiting family. Betty Wong said she was all for the renovations, but worried about losing the culture.
“Making it cleaner is always a good thing,” she said. “But we’re just used to the environment; it hasn’t really bothered us.”
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown, said he is excited to see the next alley beautified, but wishes The City could have allocated more funding toward the project.