Mulberry Street Fire and Coronavirus Hysteria a Double-Whammy for Chinatown

Posted on: February 7th, 2020 at 5:02 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

In the wake of a devastating fire, Chinatown is cleaning up, but nerves over Coronavirus is exacerbating the situation.

It has been exactly two weeks since a five-alarm fire gutted the historic PS23 building at 70 Mulberry Street. Several community nonprofits and a senior center were displaced, each forced to find temporary refuge elsewhere in the neighborhood. (Seniors are directed to four alternate locations.)

Salvage efforts began last week to recover as much as possible from the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America. So far, roughly one-third has been saved. Published reports indicate that invaluable artifacts – such as Chinese folk art, a rare 1926 typewriter that can produce 70,000 characters, and original copies of the Chinese American Times – were pulled from the charred structure intact.

Meanwhile, online fundraising efforts are underway by H. T. Chen Dance Center, United East Athletic Association, MOCA, and the Chinatown Manpower Project. And response has been successful.

Photo: Karlin Chan

Back on the street, city contractors last week erected an eight-foot wall around the hollowed-out structure. The Mulberry side allows for one lane of traffic to pass north towards Canal, but Bayard is totally blocked off. I can understand the safety concerns and the need to keep looters at bay, but is there another reason to extend the wall to opposite curb from the building? Is there a danger of collapse, and if so, is that wall sufficient to protect passerby?

The closure of Bayard Street exacerbates our already congested streets by funneling all traffic from Worth, Mulberry and Bayard towards the parking lot known as Canal Street. Bayard is a vital traffic artery, especially for Chinatown delivery drivers, and needs to be reopened ASAP.

Another potential concern is air quality around the fire site, and whether the NYC EPA is monitoring. Having gone to school there in the early 1960s, I remember all those pipes wrapped in asbestos material and wonder whether abatement happened during the renovation in late 1970s before building reverted to community use.

Photo: Karlin Chan

Further compounding matters is the hysteria surrounding Coronavirus. It has put a double whammy on Chinatown, fueled by media and racists alike. During a time of celebration of the Lunar New Year, our streets are void of the usual tourists. Fear is keeping people away, even though there are still no confirmed cases in New York City.

Maybe it’s time people stop treating Chinatown like a medieval leper colony.

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