When I first moved to New York City in 2017, one of my favorite meals was at a small restaurant in Dimes Square, a micro-neighborhood in downtown Manhattan between Allen and Essex, that was formerly called Chinatown. At the time, it wasn’t on the scene, and there would only be neighborhood kids there; grabbing food, drinking coffee, or chatting on their skateboards. It was very downtown New York and felt untouchable. Fast forward to 2022, where for the past 18 months I’ve lived within walking distance of Dime Square, I’m shocked at how much it has changed.
You still have the skateboard kids, coffee shops, and grungy hype, but with the recent hotel development, cheeky restaurants, and bars, the vibe has completely changed there. And with the repopulation of multiple cultures, some deem as the sign of its “cool factor” decline and a symbol of gentrification. Urban planner Samuel Stein defines gentrification as “the process by which capital is reinvested in urban neighborhoods, and poorer residents and their cultural products are displaced and replaced by richer people and their preferred aesthetics and amenities,” in his book Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State.
Sadly, Chinatown and many other areas of New York, are not a stranger to forced relocation. Like all neighborhoods and cities that fall under gentrification, they quickly become uncool. And even quicker become places that people can no longer afford. And this isn’t just unique to Chinatown, but the speed in which this has happened is unique.
Nine Orchard, a 14-story hotel, in place of the Jarmulowsky Bank Building, and the 3 restaurants that accompany it: Estela, Lodi, and Altro Paradiso, were developed because the “hotel is surrounded by cultural institutions, animated neighborhood streets, and some of the city’s most exciting shops and restaurants,” said Ignacio Mattos, owner of the restaurants. The hotel has 116 guest rooms, a corner-tavern-style bar, and a cocktail lounge. Before that there was the Dimes Square play, written and directed by author Matthew Gasda. After that was the show Real Housewives of Dime Square and Le and Dive, a natural-wine bar.
Sometimes gentrification is a planned thing by local officials, which sounds horrible when you think about the displacement and mom and pop shops that lose their homes and livelihood. But occasionally, mid-tier cities that are desperate for a facelift and population will implement scholarship programs and artist fellowships to gather new communities.
Long story short, the artists end up liking it, making the space attractive with all new designs that they place the city or neighborhood on the map. Soon enough, affluent people get a hold of the news and move into these pockets of areas and take over — destroying the current culture that exists and raising rent miles above what people can afford.
It’s even more apparent that Dimes Square is completely gentrified because of its new reality show.
Photo via Christopher Robbins