Some conventional wisdom has it that concentrating more people and jobs in an area will increase prices there to the point where the character of the neighborhood changes. In doing some research for another writing project I found a few things that might indicate just the opposite in the Chinatown International District, where more transit and more development are likely. The kind of density increases in Pioneer Square that the City Council stepped away from earlier this week could actually help maintain and enhance the character of the Chinatown International District.
First, a study I found in the Journal of Public Transportation indicates that immigrants use transit at significantly higher rates than the general population. That’s probably consistent with most people’s intuition. But the study also found that that use drops off over time. Here’s the key paragraph I hooked into:
Over time, immigrants’ reliance on transit declines. Transit managers would be well advised to plan for these inevitable demographic changes by enhancing transit services in neighborhoods that serve as ports to entry for new immigrants, those most likely to rely on public transportation.
The Chinatown International District has long been a neighborhood that fits that description, providing housing, jobs, and business opportunities for new immigrants.
And what about new immigrants? Just the other day the Seattle Times did an analysis of new immigration patterns, specifically of new immigration among Asian Pacific Islanders. They found, based on 2010 US Census data, “a 55 percent increase in Asians in the Seattle area over the past decade.” There’s more:
Just 4.8 percent of the total U.S. population, Asians represent about 13.1 percent of the population in the Seattle metropolitan area, which includes Bellevue and Everett. People of Chinese descent are the largest segment, their ranks growing 67 percent between 2000 and 2009, to nearly 77,000.
So when I put these two things together it seems to me that Transit Oriented Development in and around the Chinatown International District would actually support what the neighborhood itself identified as its unique character in its plan:
A community characterized by a sizable elderly population, significant low-income households, and a large number of affordable housing units. We are primarily small businesses as well as social service and community development organizations. We are a delicate social connection for many elderly. We are a regional hub for Asian-Pacific American commerce and culture.
Let me add one more thing. Another study from California found this interesting item:
Transit ridership depends on proximity to transit, especially workplace proximity. Employment density is more strongly associated with transit ridership than residential density is.
If I put these disparate pieces of information together I get this thesis:
Immigrants use transit more than the general population. One of the fastest growing groups of immigrants are Asian Pacific Islanders. The Chinatown International District is a community that has long been a regional cultural and economic hub for the Asian Pacific Islander community.
Improving and concentrating transit access can offset a tendency for immigrant populations to decrease their use of transit over time. Therefore, locating more people, jobs, and transit in and around the Chinatown International District neighborhood is likely to promote and preserve its underlying character and function as an economic and cultural hub. More density in South Downtown should include Transit Oriented Development that concentrates not just residents but more jobs in the area.
But it’s just a hunch.