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What the Gentrification of Baltimore's Chinatown Means

As developers turn to Baltimore’s historical Chinatown, Ethiopian residents worry about displacement while others worry about cultural commodification.
Park Avenue in Baltimore's historic Chinatown was largely abandoned, but has recently become home to Ethiopian businesses that now fear being pushed out as developers move in.
Park Avenue in Baltimore's historic Chinatown was largely abandoned, but has recently become home to Ethiopian businesses that now fear being pushed out as developers move in.Amir Khafagy/CityLab

The remains of Baltimore’s once-thriving Chinatown are now so sparse that most who venture into the city might not realize it’s there. All but one Chinese restaurant along Park Avenue, the historic core of Chinatown, have closed, leaving behind deteriorating facades with the Eastern-architectural touches that have become synonymous with Chinatowns worldwide.

Yet after several decades of neglect, a renewed vibrancy has emerged: Many of the ornate facades have been supplemented with Ethiopian flags and Amharic lettering on storefront windows. A row of abandoned buildings is enveloped by a large mural of a Chinese dragon and an Ethiopian lion, signifying the neighborhood’s past and present communities. Over the course of a decade, Ethiopian businesses have proliferated along the 300 block of Park Avenue, revitalizing the neighborhood as well as building a space for the city’s Ethiopian community to converge.