Exploring Historic Chinatown

9, May, 2018 Gavin Damore


The 1.5-mile Greenway runs from the North End through the Wharf and Financial districts, past the Leather District to Chinatown. This winter/spring, our staff sought to learn more about Chinatown’s history and culture with three different educational sessions.


We invited Tunney Lee to present on the history of Boston’s Chinatown from the mid-1800s into the early 21st century. Mr. Lee is MIT Professor Emeritus and former head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and he formerly was the Chief of Planning and Design at the BRA (now BPDA). His presentation to our staff gave particular emphasis to two projects that caused massive upheaval in the neighborhood: the construction of the elevated highway in the 1950s and the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (aka the “Big Dig”) in the 1990s-2000s.

The history and changing nature of Chinatown since the completion of the Big Dig was the focus of a second lecture and Q&A from Lydia Lowe. Ms. Lowe, the former Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, is currently supporting the Chinatown Community Land Trust. A significant focus of her presentation and follow-up questions was on the real estate developments in and adjacent to Chinatown.

Armed with a better understanding, we took a See-Town tour of Chinatown led by the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC). We heard about community issues and explored themes relating to education, activism, and culture. From the Chinatown Gate on The Greenway, we visited Ping-On Alley, the old Josiah Quincy School on Tyler Street, Oxford Street, and more historic sites.

The Conservancy can now host festivals, tend to the Viewing Garden, and offer free Play programming in Chinatown Park with a deeper appreciation for the community’s history.