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Chinatown Summer Nights Lights Up LA's After-Dark Scene

Megan MacIver
Sep 23, 2010
Dec 14, 2017

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.

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

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.

Megan MacIver
Megan MacIver
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