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Bear the Brunt
Kai Zhang

Bear the Brunt

Bear the Brunt - A Video Memo of Observed Struggles in the 2020 Chinatown, Manhattan

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is a hub of immigrant communities and affordable housing. It is culturally diverse but also an income desert among the more affluent areas around it. Over the decades, it has also been home to one of the largest concentrations of the Chinese community in the west - Chinatown. 

However, there is affordability problem. The push to “develop” this area is real, manifesting as ever-rising property ownership and rental costs. The working class Chinese community is slowly being pushed out as living costs rise, making it impossible to afford to live in Manhattan. Eventually the working class will have to move out. The southern part of the island would lose its vital organs, permanently in need of delicate life support from far away. 

The city has never been too intent to let its architecture reflect the communities it shelters. Even within the rigid Manhattan grid, fully built over with century old tenements, the Chinese population has managed to assert spatial influence over the area in whatever small ways they can. The people in Chinatown have already built social solidarities on an intimate scale. But these solidarities will amount to nothing in the face of economic realities of real estate and rising cost of living.

Now we ask the questions. Can good urban design establish systems and infrastructure that protect the LES from being eaten up by NYC’s bourgeois sprawl? Are there ways in which we can ensure that property owners in the LES get their fair share of income while still regulating rent for small businesses and affordable housing to survive? Can new public space typologies actively protect local interests and allow more freedom for cultural expression? To answer these questions, we present the Co-opulence Urbanism Model.

Teammate: Anirudh Venkat, Xindi Wang, Rui Zhang
Year: 2020 (Fall)

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The Co-opulence Urbanism is a co-op model for the owners and users of the neighborhood. This model requires the city to:


  • Reaffirm responsibilities to protect vulnerable communities.

  • Build resilience to gentrification in working class communities by committing to a new model of development that allows them to take ownership of their neighborhood.

  • Facilitate the mobilization of resources in the city under the vision of “co-opulence:” A concept that the collective growth of all stakeholders in a community is possible through cooperation, while avoiding the displacement of people and erosion of cultures.

  • Encourage and facilitate community participation to shape the development goals of their own neighborhood.

STRATEGY: Air Rights Transfer and Aggregation


STEP 1  Determine available FAR (Floor Area Ratio)

This diagram indicates with red volume the available FAR (also known as air rights) of the existing buildings in Chinatown, which means how much you can still build by law.


STEP 2  Locate receiving sites

As a next step, we identified a variety of receiving sites to situate our proposed interventions. They range from vacant lots, underutilized structures, and existing tenement housing units with development potentials.


STEP 3  Aggregate FAR to receiving sites

In our proposal, we have worked with the city to liquefy the resources and free up development rights within the co-op so we can transfer and aggregate the unbuilt neighboring FAR to those receiving site locations designated earlier.


STEP 4  Deploy interventions

To ensure the economic balance, we will first situate the Income Engines, which are mostly constituted with benign and profitable programs like offices and business incubators. The engines generate income that helps the landowners with building renovations, and establishes a wide range of community benefit programs. They include but are not limited to cultural, service, residential housing, local business, community, and street level sectors.



Scenario 1: Scenario: Market + School + Office (Income Engine) 


Scenario 2: Public Space + Housing + Hostel (Income Engine) 


Scenario 3: Open Space, Senior Center + Business Incubator (Income Engine) 

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