CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Philadelphia's Chinatown: An Ethnic Enclave Economy in a Changing Landscape

Jun Li, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Urban Studies

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Eric Schneider

Date of this Version: 20 December 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.



Philadelphia’s Chinatown: An Ethnic Enclave Economy in a Changing Landscape Abstract Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a residential-commercial neighborhood that is ethnically concentrated and still serves as a first entry point for many new immigrants. As an enclave economy, the businesses are geographically concentrated in Chinatown, the employers are self-employed, the business’s suppliers are largely located in Chinatown, there is a co-ethnic employee base, and there is a co-ethnic customer base. With a history of encounters with urban renewal, it is currently facing a slew of condominium developments. This paper seeks to address the impact of these developments on Philadelphia’s enclave economy and the implications for the structure of this enclave economy as well as hint at the future of Chinatown as a community. The findings show that Philadelphia’s Chinatown still shows remnants of an enclave economy, though businesses are simultaneously diversifying in response to external pressures on the enclave economy. Business owners tend to favor the developments because of the potential customer base they will bring in; they acknowledge the accompanying raise in rent but very optimistic towards the new customers. This attitude is particularly relevant among tourist-oriented businesses as they are increasingly catering to the general economy. However, the repercussions on the labor force are not necessarily as optimistic. Though outside of the scope of the study, the literature suggests that while immigrant laborers benefit from co-ethnic employment, their human capital depreciates, perpetuating their exploitation in the enclave economy. As businesses diversify to include non co-ethnic employment, as particularly relevant under economic constraints, this co-ethnic labor force is severely impacted. Furthermore, the co-ethnic laborers who live in Chinatown might be priced out as condominiums raise the value of land. However, despite this seemingly bleak outlook, the emergence of informal Asian residential congregations suggests other options for displaced immigrants. Hence, more research can be conducted to examine whether Chinatown, as it exists today – while still serving very tangible benefits – may eventually symbolic as other ethnically defined communities emerge out of need.


Urban Studies and Planning

Suggested Citation

Li, Jun, "Philadelphia's Chinatown: An Ethnic Enclave Economy in a Changing Landscape" 20 December 2007. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 16 April 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.




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