Ong on Pandemic’s Threat to Chinatown’s Survival

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Reuters about the dramatic drop in businesses suffered by Chinatowns worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they mark the Lunar New Year, many Chinatown businesses are struggling to stay open, partly due to xenophobia, Ong said. His research studied smartphone data to determine that Los Angeles’ Chinatown experienced an earlier and sharper drop in foot traffic than other areas even prior to the lockdown. Language and cultural barriers, limited digital literacy and socioeconomic disadvantages have prevented many Chinatown business owners from obtaining financial aid, he added. “It’s part of a systemic inequality that we’re seeing. We need to pay attention to helping these neighborhoods survive,” Ong said. “One of the most vibrant aspects of cities is diversity — diversity of culture and diversity of lifestyles. And if we lose that, it just makes the city as a whole a poorer place.”


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