Manhattan’s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; Jyutping: Maanhaadeon waabou) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. With an estimated population of 90,000 to 100,000 people, Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. Manhattan’s Chinatown is also one of the oldest Chinese ethnic enclaves. The Manhattan Chinatown is one of nine Chinatown neighborhoods in New York City, as well as one of twelve in the New York metropolitan area, which contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, comprising an estimated 893,697 uniracial individuals as of 2017.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Chinatown was 47,844, a change of -4,531 (-9.5%) from the 52,375 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 332.27 acres (134.46 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 144 inhabitants per acre (92,000/sq mi; 36,000/km). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 16.3% (7,817) White, 4.8% (2,285) African American, 0.1% (38) Native American, 63.9% (30,559) Asian, 0% (11) Pacific Islander, 0.2% (75) from other races, and 1.3% (639) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.4% (6,420) of the population.
The entirety of Community District 3, which comprises Chinatown and the Lower East Side, had 171,103 inhabitants as of NYC Health’s 2018 Community Health Profile, with an average life expectancy of 82.2 years. This is higher than the median life expectancy of 81.2 for all New York City neighborhoods. Most inhabitants are adults: a plurality (35%) are between the ages of 25–44, while 25% are between 45–64, and 16% are 65 or older. The ratio of youth and college-aged residents was lower, at 13% and 11% respectively.
As of 2017, the median household income in Community District 3 was $39,584, though the median income in Chinatown individually was $68,657. In 2018, an estimated 18% of Chinatown and Lower East Side residents lived in poverty, compared to 14% in all of Manhattan and 20% in all of New York City. One in twelve residents (8%) were unemployed, compared to 7% in Manhattan and 9% in New York City. Rent burden, or the percentage of residents who have difficulty paying their rent, is 48% in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, compared to the boroughwide and citywide rates of 45% and 51% respectively. Based on this calculation, as of 2018, Chinatown and the Lower East Side are considered to be gentrifying.
Despite the more recently emerged large Fuzhou population, many of the Chinese businesses in Chinatown are still Cantonese owned and because of still the large Cantonese population on the Lower East Side, the Cantonese language still carries a strong presence in Chinatown including to the additional large influx of Cantonese speaking customers coming from other places to neighborhood on the weekends to do shopping and eat in restaurants even though Mandarin Chinese is rapidly sweeping Cantonese aside as the lingua franca of Chinatown, allowing Cantonese to continue to exert a significant level of influence upon the cultural standards and economic resources of Manhattan’s Chinatown. The Cantonese dominated western section of Chinatown also continues to be the main busy Chinese business district.
As a result, it has influenced many Fuzhou people to learn the Cantonese dialect as well to maintain a job and to be able to bring more Cantonese customers as additional contributions to their businesses, especially large businesses like the Dim Sum restaurants on what is known as Little Fuzhou on East Broadway (小福州), the center of Fuzhou culture. The Fuzhouese, the subgroup of non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese with the most interactions with Cantonese, also constitute the majority of non-native Cantonese-speaking Chinese. Many of the Fuzhou immigrants in the 1980s and early 1990s learned to speak Cantonese in order to maintain jobs and communicate with the Cantonese-speaking population. However, since the 2000s, the dominant Cantonese dialect has been uprooted by Mandarin Chinese, the national language of China and the lingua franca of many newer Chinese immigrants.
A significant difference between the two separate Chinese provincial communities in Manhattan’s Chinatown is that the Cantonese part of Chinatown not only serves Chinese customers but is also a tourist attraction, whereas the Fuzhou part of Chinatown caters less to tourists, but it is now slowly receiving tourists as well. Bowery, Chrystie Street, Catherine Street, and Chatham Square encompass the approximate border zone between the Fuzhou and Cantonese communities in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Unlike most other urban Chinatowns, Manhattan’s Chinatown is both a residential area as well as commercial area. Many population estimates are in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 residents. One analysis of census data in 2011 showed that Chinatown and heavily Chinese tracts on the Lower East Side had 47,844 residents in the 2010 census, a decrease of nearly 9% since 2000.
Currently, the rising prices of Manhattan real estate and high rents are also affecting Chinatown. Many new and poorer Chinese immigrants cannot afford their rents; as a result, most of the growth in new Chinese immigration has shifted to other Chinatowns in New York City, including the Flushing Chinatown and Elmhurst Chinatown in Queens; the Brooklyn Chinatown and its satellite Chinatowns in Brooklyn on Avenue U and in Bensonhurst; and to East Harlem in Upper Manhattan. Many apartments, particularly in the Lower East Side and Little Italy, which used to be affordable to new Chinese immigrants, are being renovated and then sold or rented at much higher prices. Building owners, many of them established Chinese-Americans, often find it in their best interest to terminate leases of lower-income residents with stabilized rents as property values rise.
By 2007, luxury condominiums began to spread from SoHo into Chinatown. Previously, Chinatown was noted for its crowded tenements and primarily Chinese residents. While some projects have targeted the Chinese community, the development of luxury housing has increased Chinatown’s economic and cultural diversity.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a continuously increasing number of buildings in Chinatown, neighboring Two Bridges, and the Lower East Side, taken over by new landlords and real estate developers, who then charged higher rents and/or demolished the buildings to build newer structures. Often, whenever this happens, many Fuzhouese tenants are more likely to be evicted, especially in the Eastern Portion of Manhattan’s Chinatown, where many of the apartment buildings hold the vast majority of Fuzhou tenant population due to the majority of Fuzhou people in legal risks such as illegal apartment subdivision; often excessive occupancy overcrowding, lack of leases, and lack of immigrant paperwork; these legal risks were often overlooked by the original, Chinese landlords. In addition, within recent years since the 2000s, there have been city officials inspecting apartment buildings and cracking down on illegally subdivided apartments and kicking out the occupants throughout Manhattan’s Chinatown, however the Fuzhou occupied apartments have been the primary main targets of these crackdowns and mostly in the eastern section of Manhattan’s Chinatown where the Fuzhou population is primarily concentrated.
With tenants that have rent-stabilized leases, legal residency documents, no apartment subdivisions, and a lesser probability of subletting over capacity—most of whom are long-time Cantonese residents—it is usually harder for the newer landlords to be able to force these tenants out, especially including the western portion of Chinatown, which is still mainly Cantonese populated. However, newer landlords still continuously try find other loopholes to force them out.
By 2009, many newer Chinese immigrants settled along East Broadway instead of the historic core west of Bowery. In addition Mandarin began to eclipse Cantonese as the predominant Chinese dialect in New York’s Chinatown during the period. The New York Times says that the Flushing Chinatown now rivals Manhattan’s Chinatown in terms of being a cultural center for Chinese-speaking New Yorkers’ politics and trade.
Despite the gentrification going on in the area and the decline in Chinese population and businesses and although there is an increasing influx of high income hipster residents and businesses moving into the Chinatown neighborhood, it is still a large popular Chinese commercial shopping district, frequented by residents of the New York metropolitan area. An influx of tourists and visitors also come to Chinatown, including both non-Chinese and mainland Chinese. In addition, high income professionals are moving into the area and patronizing Chinese businesses. All these customers contribute significantly to the profits of the Chinese businesses.
However, the distribution of consumer attractions and busy business sections are not equally concentrated throughout all of Chinatown. The western half of Chinatown (the original Cantonese Chinatown), known as Little Hong Kong/Guangdong, is the only section of Chinatown that is still a very busy Chinese shopping business district with many Cantonese and non-Asian consumers. Since the 2010s, there have been fewer consumers, causing many of the Chinese businesses to close and resulting in many of the remaining Chinese merchants struggling to make a profit. However, the eastern/southern part of Chinatown, known as Little Fuzhou has been the most primarily affected by the rapidly declining Chinese businesses and profits/consumers, due to the area’s declining Fuzhou population, as well as the lack of tourists and there are now very few Fuzhou consumers from other parts of the New York metropolitan area coming to Manhattan’s Chinatown. As a result, the Little Fuzhou section has become a primarily residential, increasingly gentrified area with the new residents being primarily white, and is increasingly becoming very unprofitable for new or existing Chinese businesses in this section of Chinatown. Because of the uneven concentrations of the consumers and busy business sections between the two different portions of Chinatown, there is a high likelihood that the Cantonese portion of Chinatown will become the last remaining significant Chinese shopping business district. On the other hand, businesses in Little Fuzhou may be affected by the spread of gentrification from the nearby Lower East Side and East Village.