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The Significance of Enclave Neighborhoods in Shaping NYC's AAPI Communities

Updated: May 31


Manhattan's Chinatown ( Enclave neighborhood in NYC)

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we want to recognize the significance of enclave neighborhoods in urban planning. Enclaves, characterized by their vibrant cultural identities and close-knit communities, play a crucial role in shaping the social, economic, and architectural landscape of cities like New York City (NYC). AAPI enclaves are important centers of community in New York City, particularly for recent immigrants seeking critical support systems and social networks. As these neighborhoods continue to grow, it is important for urban planners to connect with AAPI communities to work together to address challenges.


A brief overview of enclave neighborhoods

Enclave neighborhoods are communities where significant numbers of people of a particular ethnic or cultural background reside. These neighborhoods often feature cultural institutions, businesses, and religious centers catering to the community's specific needs and fostering a sense of belonging and cultural pride.


Importance of understanding their significance in urban planning

Enclave neighborhoods are integral to urban planning - they provide invaluable contributions to the diversity and richness of the city's fabric. Enclaves have critical social support networks, economic opportunities, and cultural resources for their respective populations. These assets are particularly important - if not imperative - for sub-groups such as immigrants, English language learners, and low-income residents who may face identity-based obstacles to accessing traditional social, economic, and cultural resources. Perhaps more notably, these neighborhoods help sustain the cultural identity of an ethnic group amidst a larger, ever-changing urban environment. By providing access to a familiar and navigable urban ecosystem, the presence of these neighborhoods can reduce social isolation and serve as touchpoints for individuals arriving in the United States. Understanding their significance allows urban planners to develop policies and initiatives that promote inclusivity, social cohesion, and economic empowerment within and outside of these communities.


Overview of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities in NYC

New York City’s unparalleled diversity is its greatest calling card, and deep AAPI roots are a driving force behind this reputation. NYC is home to one of the largest and fastest-growing combined AAPI populations in the United States - between 1990 and 2019, the AAPI community in NYC rose more than twofold from 490,000 to 1.2 million residents, of whom 77% were born in an Asian country. Residents of Asian and Pacific Islander descent are not a monolith, but represent a diverse array of ethnicities, languages, and cultures. AAPI communities in NYC comprise individuals from China, India, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and many others. These communities often take the form of enclaves spread across all five boroughs, each with its own unique cultural heritage and identity. The incredible diversity within NYC’s AAPI communities is perhaps even more notable than the size of the combined population


Historical context of AAPI enclaves in the city

The first significant wave of Asian immigration to the US occurred in the mid-19th century. Open immigration at that time resulted in large-scale migration, particularly Chinese immigrants who came for the opportunity to work on the transcontinental railroad, which spanned from California to Utah. However, by the 1870’s, the US economy was experiencing a post-Civil war economic downturn. As many Americans lost their jobs, Chinese laborers became a scapegoat for high unemployment and declining wages. Racial discrimination pushed many of these laborers to migrate east to cities like NYC and settle in the area we now know of as Manhattan’s Chinatown. Chinatown’s population grew significantly until the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which sought to ban Chinese laborers from immigrating to the US. It took decades before this law was reversed. In the mid-20th century, the rise of the civil rights movement pushed the US government to reform exclusionary immigration policy, culminating in the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This law significantly changed immigration patterns into the US, resulting in a multitude of AAPI communities developing across the city. 


Examples of notable enclave communities in NYC

Manhattan’s Chinatown is the oldest AAPI enclave in NYC and is known for its vibrant atmosphere, authentic cuisine, and cultural institutions. However, as of 2019, Queens comprises the highest population of AAPI immigrants. Neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Flushing, Howard Beach, Elmhurst, and Jamaica have significant AAPI enclave communities along with Sunset Park and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. Throughout the year, NYC hosts various cultural festivals and events highlighting these communities, including Lunar New Year celebrations, Diwali festivals, Philippine Independence Day parades, Korean Harvest Festivals, and more. These events create opportunities for AAPI communities to celebrate and share their culture and traditions. 


Challenges and opportunities for urban planning

In an urban planning context, AAPI communities have both shared and unique challenges that may include language access, accessible community space, small business support, and affordable housing, among others. It is critical for urban planners to have cultural competency, ensuring that planning development initiatives meet the diverse needs, preferences, and cultural values of AAPI communities. Engagement with diverse stakeholders creates opportunities to develop inclusive and equitable solutions for evolving challenges in AAPI communities.


Connection to Karp Strategies' commitment to inclusive urban development

AAPI communities need and deserve an inclusive and culturally relevant approach to work toward solutions to complex challenges. At Karp Strategies, we go beyond simply identifying and understanding the unique needs of AAPI communities—we actively engage and collaborate to create effective solutions. Our team conducts comprehensive community assessments, facilitates inclusive planning workshops, and implements data-driven strategies to ensure equitable urban development. This involves collaborating with local organizations and translating surveys and communications into Chinese for projects like Park Slope Fifth Ave BID, ensuring the engagement of Mandarin-speaking residents.We prioritize language accessibility because limited English proficiency can often be a barrier to accessing valuable resources and limits interaction with public institutions. AAPI month is an important moment to ensure that as planners we are celebrating and engaging these communities in our work.

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