Southeast Asian community pushes back on South Philly gentrification

Shara Dae Howard
February 03, 2020 - 11:13 am
The annual Lunar New Year Winter Block Party was also a protest against gentrification in the neighborhood.

Shara Dae Howard/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A South Philadelphia neighborhood is trying to play a greater role in the fate of a 30-year-old South Asian community anchor slated for redevelopment. The fourth annual Lunar New Year Winter Block Party on Sunday served also as a protest.

"This year we decided to hold it in front of Hoa Binh Plaza to make the statement that our Vietnamese community has been here and we are super proud of our culture and history," said Nancy Nguyen with nonprofit organizer VietLead. "We don't want that history erased by a developer."

Hoa Binh Plaza, the first Southeast Asian plaza in the area, was sold in 2019 to local developement company Streamline. Protesters fear the redevelopment, at South 16th and Washington Streets, will erase a cultural landmark and push out long-term residents of the neighborhood.

Nguyen says the deal didn't make sense.

"I think it's different if a developer is coming in and developing a place that isn't producing anyting. This is just not one of them," she said.

She says the loss of the businesses in the plaza affects not just the Vietnamese community but the entire South Philly neighborhood. 

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"From what we've seen, Black and brown neighbors are coming out from all over, saying they come here, their mom comes here," she said.

Neighbor Shawn Clay says that's what Philly is all about.

"That's what makes Philadelphia awesome, like a melting pot," he said.

Student Chelse Vong, 16, helped organize the block party to bring the community together.

"This is super important, because having everyone come together like this shows how much of a community we still are and how much we care about one another," she said. 

Like many in the community, 17-year-old Damien says the loss of the plaza would hit hard at the heart of the community.

"I had many great memories here as a child, and tearing it down would be like tearing down my whole childhood," he said.

KYW Newsradio's efforts to seek comment from Streamline have gone unanswered.