Improving Efficiency and Prioritizing Investments for Mom-and-Pop Shops in Chinatown
For over two centuries, Chinatowns across the United States have provided Chinese immigrants with the opportunity to build thriving businesses for their communities. New York’s Chinatown in Manhattan stands as one of the largest in the nation, consisting of 1,600 small businesses and 900 professional offices providing medical, legal, and tax services. However, the impact of the pandemic along with inconsistencies in public records and aging infrastructure created a growing need for restoration. In 2022 New York’s Chinatown received a $20 million grant from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) to begin creating valuable change.
The first challenge was ensuring that the business archive was accurate. The New York nonprofit Chinatown Partnership supports this culturally rich hub spot by preserving and promoting the community as a destination for residents and tourists. The Chinatown Partnership must conduct a yearly audit of active businesses to determine the condition of storefronts and which storefronts need assistance. With the recent government grant, Chinatown Partnership is collecting and visualizing real-time data to give internal staff and city decision-makers the information they need to approve proposed projects. Special projects manager Rosie Derong Li from the Chinatown Partnership determined that geographic information system (GIS) technology would be the most suitable tool based on her previous experience with another organization. The nonprofit opted to use GIS to
- Collect storefront and business data from the hub spot.
- Map and visualize where businesses needed support or resources for restoration.
- Monitor the exterior status of historical storefronts.
- Visualize business data.
- Compare existing city agency data with the data collected in the field by staff.
Streamlining Collaboration with Local Government
As a non-profit organization, Chinatown Partnership uses data from the NYC Open Data portal collected by the local city government, including the New York Department of Transportation and the New York Department of Planning. It cross-references this data with real-time data it collected in the field. However, a lack of uniformity between data collected by each department made it challenging to decipher differences. The organization also needed to visualize data on a central platform to improve efficiency. A successful alternative has been using thorough data and maps available in ArcGIS Online.
By using ArcGIS Online, Li can access Esri’s ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. The ArcGIS Living Atlas contains a plethora of data and content from the US Census, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many more authoritative sources. Li can easily search the New York Department of Buildings data for specific locations and cross compare the data her team collected in the field.
Li shares, “It has been the best option to use ArcGIS Online because the datasets and maps we have accessed are the most accurate and reflective of the community businesses I have used.” By using web-based maps, the organization can streamline collaboration with local government.
Understanding Where to Intervene with GIS
With over 1,600 locally owned small businesses, Chinatown Partnership needed to make data-informed decisions to help stakeholders determine where to allocate $20 million in funding. The nonprofit needed to apply a geographic approach to understand which areas need restoration and how many restaurants, businesses, parks, and cultural institutions should be prioritized for revitalization.
Over the last year, Li has begun to train the organization’s interns to use ArcGIS Field Maps apps and ArcGIS Survey123 to manually collect business data for the entire Chinatown. By using these GIS tools, the team can capture real-time photos of each storefront. Once the interns have collected all the data, Li can upload the data to ArcGIS Online and cross compare it with data from the Department of Buildings and other city agencies. By doing this, she can identify discrepancies and confirm accuracy. The ability to toggle between multiple dataset layers on the map provides her with a geographically based perspective.
A long-term goal of Chinatown Partnership is to promote the businesses to the public in a story created in ArcGIS StoryMaps. Photos captured by the interns can be used as assets. This process typically requires several months to complete, but by using GIS, it has become much more manageable for Li due to the ability to visualize the data through maps. Ultimately, this will help community stakeholders and the Chinatown DRI Local Planning Committee (LPC) to better implement the DRI projects selected by New York State.
Surveying the Community for Beautification Murals
In addition to collecting data about locally owned small businesses, Li and her team have also used GIS to determine where to paint new murals. Using ArcGIS Survey123, they documented the walls most visible to the public, the walls with existing murals, and places where new murals could have the greatest impact. “That’s the beauty of using GIS—we had an initial purpose for using Survey123 and Field Maps, but we kept adding to it. We found other ways our community can benefit from it,” shares Li.
Raising the Bar for Community Partners
While new to using GIS, the Chinatown Partnership has started to transform its data collection process to thoroughly understand its community.
“We want to make this community a safer place for everybody,” explains Li. “We want our community to understand that we need to have authoritative data to help us reach that point. For example, when community members need to know about a [safety] incident that occurred at a specific business, we need to be able to provide the exact location so our local government can know where to intervene. ArcGIS can help us think spatially and make data-informed decisions in the future.”
This vision of this nonprofit’s implementation of GIS will begin to serve as an example for neighboring partners, such as Little Italy and the Lower East Side, so that they can efficiently communicate and engage with community stakeholders. By prioritizing GIS, the Chinatown Partnership can also understand, document, and clarify to decision-makers where restoration is needed. Together the organization and local government can intervene to preserve the neighborhood's unique culture while ensuring it continues to thrive.