BARS Campaign Update: Chinatown
BY: TOM O’NEILL, October 11th 2018
As the BARS Campaign outreach efforts come to a close we just had to come back through Chinatown, and let’s be honest, who could stay away? The dumplings! The Dim Sum! The Bubble Tea! The MICROGRIDS! There is just too much to be excited about!
Chinatown is a staple neighborhood within the colorful patchwork of Boston. Walking down the energetic streets, you are met with the intricate beauty of traditional chinese design, the smell of multicultural cuisines, and the sounds of a bustling neighborhood. It reminds us of the importance of diversity, what it brings to society, and how we must celebrate it rather than shy away from it. Having the opportunity to canvass around Chinatown and talk with local residents has also reinforced for us the importance of climate resiliency and sustainability.
At the end of the day, that’s all we want, for things to be sustainable, and businesses in Chinatown to be prepared in the face of climate change, sea level rise, and severe weather.
Chinatown presents a different set of challenges from the other communities that we have connected with. Not only because the risks of sea level rise and flooding are elevated due to the density of urban environments, but also from the language and cultural barriers, and an intense lunch rush! Chinatown has proven itself time and time again as a meeting place, a social space, and an all out destination. You really get to develop a special relationship with a neighborhood and its people the more you connect with their experiences and integrate yourself within the community. During our outreach in Chinatown we have partnered with two local organizations that are working towards creating a resilient Chinatown, Chinatown Main Streets and the Chinese Progressive Association have been endlessly helpful!
I don’t think anybody would say that preparing for climate change and extreme weather is fun, but it is necessary. It’s hearing stories like that from Crave – Mad for Chicken, where a lack of understanding about insurance policies caused the restaurant to miss out on valuable claims.
“We had to close, and regarding insurance, we didn’t know the fine guidelines, so we apparently had to close for 96 hours before we got compensated for anything, so we had shut down for two days and we didn’t get compensated for anything but we lost two days’ worth. But this past January wasn’t as bad as a couple years ago when we were shutting down every week. We’ve also had a flood in here, down in our basement where there’s a lot of goods–again. We didn’t realize with insurance we had to be closed for 96 hours to get compensated for anything. And with the paperwork, it’s easy for them to take your payment but there’s a lot of paperwork to get any compensation.” – Sue Cheng – Crave – Mad Chicken
Insurance policies may not be glamorous, but as CABA says, redundancy is necessary.
The global context that Chinatown offers reminds us of just how far reaching and impactful climate change will be around the world. This isn’t a local issue by any means, though the New England area will experience a further 20-30% increase in sea level rise. This is due to the uneven gravitational forces that are at play around the planet, you can learn more about the science behind the phenomenon by watching this video by Verge Science. At the end of the day, no one really knows how, where, or when we can expect to feel the full impact of our negligence towards carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
For this reason, we feel empowered to go out into the community, talk with local business owners, help them understand their climate risk, and provide easy low-cost tips to help prepare.
Resiliency is a term that has been making its rounds around the green economy, and has left many with a lot of questions. In short, resiliency is a measure of how much disturbance a system can take on without drastic changes to its overall function. When considering our energy systems, resiliency is taking the form of microgrids. Smaller, isolated networks that can be disconnected from the larger grid system in times of stress, weather events, or power outages. Often with the capacity for internal electrical generation, further increasing the independence and resilience of the overall system. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is running 14-feasibility studies throughout the state, one of which being in Chinatown! At CABA, we are working with a team of eight other organizations dedicated to environmental justice and energy democracy, known as the Resilient Urban Neighborhood Green Justice Coalition to generate interest in microgrids and conduct a feasibility assessment in Chinatown.
People around the world are taking note of the potential benefits of microgrids, especially for those in places that have fallen victim to natural disasters such as Puerto Rico. There are many lessons that we can learn from observing how extreme weather has impacted other regions of the world and how they responded.
Our climate is getting progressively hotter with each passing year and this excess heat will only further exacerbate the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect is when dense urban centers are hotter than their surrounding country lands, due to the dark asphalt and concrete absorbing solar thermal energy and re-releasing it back into the environment. Residents of Chinatown have already been dealing with intense heat, such as Emily Chin the owner of the Double Chin restaurant and Sue Cheng from Crave-Mad Chicken. Emily told us about how when the weather gets hot customers change their consumption habits. Sue also detailed how she has to run her air-conditioning all year, counter-intuitively because her insulation works too well! Restaurants certainly face different challenges than other businesses when it comes to dealing with energy, sustainability, and supply chain considerations.
‘“Last year when our ACs weren’t working up to par…on those days when it is 90 degrees there’s business lost. People will come in and say it is too hot and leave. I can’t enjoy my hot tofu soup when it is 100 degrees. “
Emily Chin, Double Chin Restaurant
“Absolutely, because when it comes to us losing electricity, losing any sort of power, or even increasing costs when it comes to efficiency, due to cooling because of the weather being so hot, we haven’t had a day where the AC hasn’t been on. Year-round, we have the AC on because there’s insulation in here.” – Sue Cheng – Crave – Mad Chicken
With each year getting increasingly hotter we can only expect to hear more stories like Emily’s and Sue’s, because unfortunately their stories aren’t unique. Preparedness is key, especially in our unpredictable world where there is an ever growing threat of extreme weather events driven by a changing climate. It has been such a fulfilling experience being out on the ground talking to business owners in Chinatown; learning about how climate change is impact everything from the price of produce to chronic flooding of streets.