In LA, Chinatown is known as the spot to savor dumplings, noodles, bubble tea—and now, with the huge success of Chinatown Summer Nights, a summer festival that emerged from PPS’ CRA/LA Placemaking Academy, it’s also become a new, bright light in the city’s downtown after-dark scene.

Summer Nights drew more than 7,000 people to the streets of LA's Chinatown

LA’s Chinatown Summer Nights expands on PPS work facilitating a community visioning process to enliven key public spaces around Chinatown, including Central Plaza, West Plaza, and Bamboo Lane.  This event floods the streets of this neighborhood with more than 7,000 visitors of all ages and backgrounds who come to enjoy cooking demonstrations from local chefs, LA’s gourmet food trucks, large-scale, outdoor video projections; hands-on, Chinese cultural activities; and dancing with KCRW’s DJ’s.  Businesses throughout the district enjoyed a record increase in sales and many restaurants even ran out of rice!

But the benefit of this event lasts long after the sun comes up: seasonal festivals like these that emerge from collaborative planning processes can positively impact the community all the other nights of the year by “re-branding” the area as a lively, public multi-use destination that brings people back again and again, strengthening local businesses. Sometimes one or two nights can be enough to catalyze new life for a neighborhood.

The idea for this festival grew out of a series of collaborative Placemaking training courses PPS facilitated in April of 2009 for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA] and City staff who were in search of a shared vision for renewing Central and West Plazas in LA’s Chinatown. In an effort to kick-start the short-term implementation process, Community Arts Resources, an LA-based arts and events engagement organization, was brought into the stakeholder process to translate the Placemaking vision into a catalytic project.  The community expressed a desire to create an event series that showcased a fresh face for Chinatown as a hip place for eating and entertainment—in short, to become a great destination in downtown Los Angeles.

Each week in August, crowds increased as more and more local stakeholders became invested in the process, promoting a sense of pride and momentum to return Chinatown to its former prominence. As a result of this success, the CRA has requested an extension of the program into September. More than just another shiny capital improvement, Chinatown Summer Nights celebrates the power of short-term, low-cost festival to invigorate a community through grassroots buy-in.

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