Discovering the Many Neighboorhoods of Boston: Chinatown

The only historically Chinese area in New England, Chinatown, Boston is a neighborhood located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. Centered on Beach Street, the neighborhood borders Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, the South End, and the Southeast Expressway/Massachusetts Turnpike. It is the third-largest Chinatown in the United States.

Part of it occupies a space reclaimed by filling a tidal flat; the newly-created area was first settled by Anglo-Bostonians. After residential properties in this area became less desirable due to railway developments, it was settled by a mixed succession of Irish, Jewish, Italian, Syrian, and Chinese immigrants. Each group replaced the previous one to take advantage of low-cost housing and job opportunities in the area. During the late-nineteenth century, garment manufacturing plants also moved into Chinatown, creating Boston’s historic garment district. The garment district was active until the 1990s.

Negotiations resulted in the provision of funds for the construction of new community housing in Chinatown. During this period, city officials also designated an area adjacent to Chinatown as Boston’s red light district, also known as the Combat Zone. However, the Combat Zone virtually disappeared by the 1990s, due to city pressure and a general increase in property values, encouraging building sales and the removal of former tenants.

Chinatown remains a center of Asian-American life in New England, hosting many Chinese, and Vietnamese restaurants and markets. Chinatown is one of Boston’s most densely-populated residential districts, with over 28,000 people per square mile in the year 2000. Nearly 70% of Chinatown’s population is Asian. One can see many signs, etc marked in Asian characters.

The traditional Chinatown Gate (paifang) with a foo lion on each side is located at the intersection of Beach Street and Surface Road. Once a run-down area housing little more than a ventilation-fan building for the Central Artery Tunnel, a garden was constructed at this site as part of the Big Dig project. The Gate is visible from the South Station Bus Terminal and is a popular tourist destination and photo opportunity.The non-profit community newspaper Sampan provides English-language news and information about Chinatown.

Chinatown has excellent local and regional transportation connections. It is served by the MBTA’s Red Line, Silver Line and Commuter Rail at South Station, and the Orange Line at Chinatown Station. Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike are also in close proximity. Two Chinese-owned bus services (Fung Wah and Lucky Star/Travelpack) provide hourly connections with New York’s Chinatown.