In his 1961 book The Death and Life of America’s Big Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote “I focused on inner cities”. If Jacobs, arguably the critical mother of urban planning, were still alive, she would undoubtedly weigh in on the micro-neighborhood-meets-art scene that is Dimes Square in what was once called Chinatown.
Dimes Square is specifically a small section of Chinatown, which vanity loungeNate Freeman describes as “just the three block stretch of Canal between Allen and Essex and the two block stretch of Division before it reaches Seward Park. I first went to what is called Dimes Square in 2019. I was on a date in Dimes with a reporter I was seeing at New York Times. The food was good and I left with a postcard of two ladybugs having sex. The little vibes of transgression that define what’s cool in New York were definitely there, among the various diners that could easily be seen on your favorite timeline or heard on a podcast you might have listened to. For a brief period at the start of the pandemic, renting an apartment in Chinatown was suddenly somewhat affordable. The rest is unfortunately history.
In 2022, Dimes Square is so ununique when looking at the history of gentrification in New York; what is remarkable in the current moment is grotesque and full of post-fascist aesthetics, so it seems that cultural fascination and obsession is a sign of general decline.
New York is a city of displacement, organized destruction and reconstruction. Even age-old places associated with the city, such as beautiful Central Park, are rooted in a history of violent forced relocation. The park that puts Shakespeare on every summer was created thanks to eminent domain which from 1853 to 1857 led to the displacement of 1,600 inhabitants of the majority black region Village of Seneca. The Lower East Side, formed and created on the remnants of crowded immigrant apartment buildings, saw artists settle in the 1970s and then give way to yuppies as gentrification took hold in the 1980s. of the 1970s, in search of cheap rents for apartments and studios, embraced the slums of the Lower East Side until the playground of the wealthy became a cultural capital.
1984 by filmmaker Alan Benson documentary about author and legend of the Lower East Side art scene, Kathy Acker notes the gentrification that occurred on the Lower East Side during the 1970s, while Benson notes that in 1984, the life of ‘Acker’ spins in SoHo near the southern tip of Manhattan. SoHo is a neighborhood as distinct as Chinatown or Little Italy. Its few square blocks welcome the chic community of New York’s avant-garde. Like Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s, it is the center of artistic life in the city. This once impoverished neighborhood has become one of Manhattan’s wealthiest and most fashionable neighborhoods.
In his book Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change, Sociologist Sharon Zukin quotes a SoHo resident discussing her experience at a public hearing on a proposed artists’ neighborhood. The board was quick to pounce on complaints from those in the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy about “rats, rent control and things like that,” but when it zeroed in on the resident of SoHo, “all the press officers were there, as well as the journalists. The klieg lights came on and the cameras started rolling. And all these guys started giving speeches about the importance of art in New York. All concerned know that art and culture are an integral part of real estate interests that develop neighborhoods, and arts scenes of all kinds have played a vital role in displacing the poor of all backgrounds.
There’s no denying that in the wake of the economic meltdown and recession of 2008, the neighborhoods that make up North Brooklyn suddenly became livable to chill artists and writers who couldn’t afford Manhattan, and drove out residents mostly black people who had lived there for generations. The creation of Vicea news media founded in 1994 in Montreal, played a direct role in the gentrification of Williamsburg and the development of the area surrounding the former Domino Sugar factory. Of course, now, if you go to Williamsburg, you’ll find kids playing and pushing strollers. Like all spaces gentrified by art and temporal coolness, they quickly become uncool. They quickly become dated. They are quickly becoming places where no one can afford to live.
This is not unique to New York; however, the speed at which New York is moving through these gentrifying neighborhood scenes is unique. It’s so unique that other cities would love to replicate what happens naturally as a result of important people meeting in New York, to the point that many cities create art grants just to attract such an event.
My hometown of Tulsa — where every time I go back I hear about rising rents and there’s always a new gastropub that matches the traditional art-deco decor — has the Tulsa Arts Fellowship. The scholarship provides artists with $40,000 and two years of subsidized housing and studio space in the Tulsa Arts District (formerly known as the Brady Arts District until it resurfaced in recent years as the (one of Tulsa’s founders, Tate Brady, was a Ku Klux Klan member) or in historic Greenwood, which many may remember as the center of one of the worst violent racist hate incidents, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Similarly, in Michigan, there was the short-lived Detroit-based nonprofit Write a house which in 2014 offered selected writers a renovated home in gentrifying neighborhoods as long as they created in the city. Mid-tier cities looking for a facelift and a capital-backed population love the arts.
The streets of Mott, Pell and Doyer are the heart of Chinatown, which quickly spread beyond these three, where 150 Chinese immigrants made their home in 1859, leading to 2,000 Chinese living there by the 1870s. Banned from citizenship, those who lived in Chinatown formed tight-knit communities to survive. It was not until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that many of the previous immigration restrictions, such as the pointed and racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were lifted. and that Chinatown has really been able to fully develop. community settling in lower Manhattan.
With the existence of an arts scene such as Dimes Square forming a “micro-neighborhood” within their own, journalists like Esther Wang at hell gate were smart enough to ask real Chinatown residents who lived in the neighborhood before the pandemic what they thought of Dimes Square. Wedding Banquet Liquor Store owner Sharon Lin, when interviewed in Dimes Square, told Wang “Before, there were more Chinese-owned stores, but most of them have left, and non-Chinese stores have arrived. This had an impact on our rent, which became more expensive. Our rent increases every year. I think other stores left because their rent went up.
In his 2019 book Capital: gentrification and state of real estate, urban planner Samuel Stein defines gentrification as “the process by which capital is reinvested in urban neighborhoods, and poorer residents and their cultural products are displaced and replaced by wealthier people and their preferred aesthetics and conveniences” . The description of Dimes Square, while seemingly difficult to locate on a map for the average person, is often associated with: Clandestino, Dimes, Kiki’s and whoever decides someone is important enough to take notice, they were there. But you weren’t. Time has already passed on this neighborhood scene and the sad thing is that the impacts will be felt for quite some time. Little has been said about how the pedestalization of Chinatown’s gentrifying “tastemakers” must inherently ignore the shadow of Peter Thiel. silver and right-wing influence, and almost nothing discusses how Chinatown has been in the debates over rezoning for years. Much has been said about how there is an unfortunate room named after the “micro-neighborhood”.
Regardless of what happens next in Chinatown, the endless articles debating whether Dimes Square is cool just proves that it’s been cool for a long time already. Despite what some papers might have you to believeit would certainly be giving Dimes Square a little too much credit to attribute the recent popularity of aesthetic Catholicism to a gentrified neighborhood.
I wish I could say there is something unique about Dimes Square, I wish I could believe the culture could end there, but that would be too devastating and also ignorant of New York history . After all, the next Dimes Square is just around the corner.
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