The ARD spoke with Taryn Flaherty, a University of Pennsylvania student, and co-leader of Philadelphia’s Students for the Preservation of Chinatown (SPOC). Alongside dozens of other organizations, SPOC is fighting to prevent the construction of a new sports stadium next to Philly’s Chinatown. This development would destroy a long-standing immigrant neighborhood in the heart of the city. Chinatown has been under attack for decades, but the community has a long history of successful resistance. Today, SPOC has taken a leading role in organizing to defend Chinatown, save the People’s Townhomes, and stop gentrification across Philadelphia.
• Sign the petition to save Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
• Follow Students for the Preservation of Chinatown and No Arena in Chinatown Solidarity to learn more.
• Research local Chinatowns or other immigrant communities facing displacement. How can you support their fights?
• Support SPOC’s allies by taking action to defend the People’s Townhomes.
Q: How can we be sure that the arena would harm Chinatown?
Chinatowns across the country have been culturally destroyed or physically demolished by nearby sports stadiums, arenas, or casinos, like in Seattle and St. Louis. They built the Capital One arena next to Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. The running joke is that it’s now a Chinatown with no Chinese. All the Chinese-owned businesses and residents were displaced. It’s now a lot of large chain businesses like Starbucks with Chinese signs translating their names. Even those businesses are struggling to survive because no one wants to live next to an arena.
Q: Why are you involved in the fight to save Chinatown?
[SPOC co-founder] Kaia Chau and I are both daughters of longtime Chinatown activists. We both went to Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School in Chinatown, which was built by immigrant community activists to re-envision education with an appreciation for Asian heritage and culture. I would see my teachers, classmates, and principal out in the streets, organizing. My aunties, the Asian American women who would cook for me, would be in the streets with megaphones for education justice, immigration justice, and an end to mass incarceration. Chinatown has always been a place of joy for me but also a place of strength in organizing. Chinatown is my home.
Q: Has Chinatown been threatened by “development” before?
There have been a lot of efforts to build large developments in Chinatown. Two hundred families lost their housing for the Convention Center, and six blocks were lost by the community to the Vine Street Expressway. Those were very hard fights, and even though we didn’t succeed in stopping them, the fights built a base of consciousness and organizing about what happens if these developments are built in or next to Chinatown.
In 2000, there was a proposed baseball stadium where the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasure school is now. If it had been built, a whole school dedicated to serving immigrant youth would not exist. The Asian Arts Initiative would not exist. Things that actually nourish and serve the community would not exist. But we won.
There was a proposed casino in 2008. Stopping the casino was also a huge fight that we won. That was the fight that I and most of SPOC’s members were alive for. I remember being five years old and marching beside my teachers, classmates, and principal to save the community. A lot of the same people are involved today. Philly’s Chinatown is unique in that there’s a lot of successful organizing history. People know how to fight these developers.
Q: Why should students care about the arena?
The University of Pennsylvania is so strongly connected to the developers behind the arena. Two of them are [University of Pennsylvania] Wharton grads. One sits on the Wharton Board of Trustees, another sits on the General Board of Trustees and the Wharton Board of Trustees, and the last one sits on Penn Medicine’s Board of Trustees. A developing partner of the arena is developing office buildings for Penn. We show students where their tuition is going and that they are closely tied to the arena.
Penn is a horrible institution. You can see how they’ve treated the UC Townhomes residents and organizers. They’re harassing them. Students are served with disciplinary cases for fighting for people to keep their homes.
Q: How is the fight to save Chinatown connected to the fight to save the UC Townhomes or other struggles across the United States?
Both of our fights are against gentrification. They’re fights for community land and community space. Sixty-eight families who have known each other for decades at the UC Townhomes are facing eviction, and that’s very similar to what Chinatown is facing now. Chinatown has existed for over 100 years. A lot of these families have lived in this community for generations. They’ve built their lives here, just like the residents of the UC Townhomes.
Chinatowns across the country are under attack. New York is facing a jail being put right next to their Chinatown. This is a national effort against predatory development in Chinatowns. All of these fights, like those in South Philly, West Philly, and Philadelphia’s Chinatown, are connected. They’re fights for the literal right to our existence.
• A proposed basketball arena threatens to destroy Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
• Chinatown has successfully fought off previous developments, and a coalition of organizations has formed to stop the planned arena.
• Communities of color, including Chinatowns, are under attack across the United States by predatory developers.