Neighborhood groups envision cultural center and affordable housing.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
With railroad tracks and busy streets cutting off Salinas’ Chinatown from Oldtown, Franciscan Workers President David Ligare says it’s critical to reconnect the historic area to downtown. Whether by installing a pedestrian bridge or a railroad crossing, Chinatown needs to be more accessible. “I think that is the most important part of any kind of plan that is going to happen,” Ligare said, at a recent planning event in the area.
Ligare is a member of one of the seven groups that took part in a community design workshop for the dilapidated neighborhood on March 10. The groups, including social service providers, Salinas Buddhist Temple and Confucius Church members, drew up new plans for the neighborhood in the multi-purpose room of the Buddhist Temple. Participants in the “charrette” suggested cultivating new businesses, expanding homeless services and building affordable housing. They also want to make Chinatown a tourist attraction by developing an Asian cultural museum.
But Soledad Street’s row of shopping carts and abandoned buildings is hardly alluring. This is why some suggested turning the empty lot at the corner of Soledad Street and Market Way into a park.
“Right now you see a bunch of feeding pigeons or trash,” said Robert Smith, director of Dorothy’s Place, a Soledad Street soup kitchen. “But this could be a major attraction.”
The groups also recommended having a police substation in the area. Chinatown is notorious for crack dealing, while heroin addicts frequently shoot up along the railroad tracks. With no permanent housing or businesses on Soledad Street, drug dealers can sell crack without getting reported.
“If we talk about illegal activity, the only thing that is going to change that is a lot of eyes,” Smith said.
Property owner Ruben Cortes saw this firsthand, when his family refurbished a burned down grocery store at the corner of California Street and Market Way in 1996. Cortes says drug dealing dropped instantly. “If you rebuild something,” he said, “the people who are doing the illegal activity move on.”
With input from a team of New Urbanism planners, Chinatown’s charrette also focused on creating pedestrian-friendly intersections and high-density housing.
During a walk through of the neighborhood, Paul Zykofsky, director of land use and transportation programs for the Local Government Commission, demonstrated the importance of curb extensions. By rounding the corners of intersections, Zykofsky said cars will enter the street more slowly and pedestrians will have less distance to cross.
Another component to redeveloping Chinatown is undoing bad planning—like the one-way streets in the neighborhood and the wall that separates Soledad Street from public housing on Rossi Street. “All these things create a new problem,” said Dan Burden, director of Walkable Communities and a workshop facilitator.
In a month or two, Burden’s group will present a final design concept for redeveloping Chinatown. The City can then use the concept to seek out a developer.