The 12-square blocks that form Salinas’ Chinatown are, literally and figuratively, cut off from much of the rest of the greater community. The area is blocked from a main thoroughfare by railroad tracks, and blocked from full participation with the rest of the City because of its reputation as a haven for illicit activity.
But change is coming! The City of Salinas’ Redevelopment Agency (SRA), the California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Salinas Downtown Community Board (SDCB), comprised of stakeholders in the neighborhood, including various houses of worship, nonprofit agencies that serve the homeless, community members, property owners and businesses, are all collaborating to determine what the Chinatown of the future will look like as the area transitions from a light-industrial designation to a mixed-use zoning. The theme for this Project is, “Creating a Thriving Community.”
Two key champions of the Chinatown Renewal Project thus far have been the SRA and CSUMB. Both institutions have demonstrated vision and leadership to help transform this historically challenged neighborhood. Each has secured major Federal and State grant funding to further the Project’s goals. CSUMB’s resources enabled the opening of its Community Learning Center and Garden, and the SRA’s resources enabled the hiring of expert urban planners, who have furthered the community planning process necessary for future progress.
In 2007, grant-contracted planners used a 19th-Century technique of French origin known as charrette (often used to describe the intense work done by art and architecture students to meet deadlines) to bring openness to the design definition process. Over 300 community members were involved in the experience, which resulted in the creation of the Chinatown Renewal Project Plan.
What has been envisioned includes condominiums over retail, outdoor cafes, a pedestrian bridge to re-connect Chinatown to the main area of Old Town Salinas, community parks, a single location for community/social services, consideration of traffic roundabouts, and transformation of all one-way streets to allow for two-way traffic.
Chinatown conditions have already improved because of the presence of CSUMB students, who must participate in service learning as part of their degree program, and community members engaged in urban transformation. Multiple signs proclaiming the area as a “drug free zone” have gone up in the neighborhood, and illicit activity is down, due not only to increased police presence, but also the cooperation between and among nonprofit agencies, community members, property owners and businesses.
One of the only, still-intact Chinatown neighborhoods left between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Salinas’ Chinatown has tremendous potential as it serves as home for many positive uses, including the Salinas Japanese Buddhist Temple, Chinese Confucius Church, Bing Kong and Suey Sing Tongs, CSUMB Community Learning Center, Community Garden, light industry, and a variety of community/social service providers offering a range of services and housing options.
Chinatown may have a troubled past and is challenging at present, but many of us come together because of its promising future. If other urban areas across our great nation have reinvented themselves, then we can too! We invite you to be a part of the solution and get involved to help “create a thriving community.”
A community driven process, these addendum are responsive to many of the challenges facing the Chinatown neighborhood and address issues related to housing densities, connections to the downtown and to the near by transit station and lack of open space. They detail improvements in social services and steps that should be taken to preserve the cultural heritage of the community. These addendum add credibility to the current plan and encouragement to those who believe Chinatown will change.