As New York closed in on itself when COVID-19 bore down on the city, Chinatown became a ghost town especially at night as the streetlights burned out and restaurants were shuttered.
Local businessman Patrick Mott conceived the idea of stringing lantern lights across the neighborhood streets to bring life back to the community and hopefully attract the foot traffic that had disappeared due to the pandemic and the related xenophobia. He reached out to Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), a NeighborWorks network organization known for its loans supporting community development, placemaking and urban planning. They backed the program with a $10,000 contribution.
“The lanterns were an invitation to New Yorkers to visit and provided a greater sense of safety while helping to combat residents’ fears of venturing out into their own neighborhood due to the phobias surrounding Asian communities,” explained Jennifer Sun, co-executive director of AAFE. “Our hope was the lanterns would be part of our efforts to preserve the neighborhood and encourage its residents and the local artist community, as well as seniors living in Chinatown, to feel safer and committed to staying.”
According to Sun, the most rewarding aspect of getting involved with this project was the response of the neighborhood artists, businesses, and residents. “Chinatown and its economy are intimately connected to the rest of the New York economy especially when you consider its proximity to the financial district. This program will continue in its efforts to bring foot traffic back to the neighborhood as we work with different neighborhood and community groups to bring it back from the ravages of the pandemic.”
Sun points to 154 individual loans that AAFE has made to local, individual businesses and the arrangements it has made with local stores and butchers to develop a food pantry to provide a meal distribution program to 150 families as part of their commitment. “We have pieced together a funding entity by working with other local organizations. This group will continue to support the neighborhood during the long, continuing recovery period ahead.”