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Chinatown keeps its place as a cultural hub

Chinatown keeps its place as a cultural hub as the city evolves around it

The gate in Boston’s Chinatown in 1987 (left) and in 2011 (right).
Left: Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File; Right: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
The gate in Boston’s Chinatown in 1987 (left) and in 2011 (right).

Back in 1987 when a Globe photographer captured the image at top of this page, the gate in Boston’s Chinatown, built in 1982, marked the very edge of the neighborhood, and sat just across from the then-exposed ramp to the expressway.

“All those autos, going under the arch, they’re all coming from the expressway,’’ says Tunney Lee of the 1987 photo. Lee is a professor of architecture and urban planning emeritus at MIT who immigrated to Boston from China at age 7, grew up in Chinatown, and has studied the neighborhood’s history.

After the Big Dig was completed, the ramp was covered over and the area around the gate became the Chinatown Park in 2007, closed to cars. Chinatown residents have truly embraced the park. “The old guys are there playing Chinese chess now,’’ Lee says. “In the evening, mothers with little toddlers kind of emerge. . . . It’s a really big asset now, a nice open space.’’

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While most of the region’s new Chinese immigrants - and their numbers are growing exponentially - head not for this part of the city but for the suburbs, Chinatown remains their cultural and economic center, Lee points out. The big family associations are all there, Lee says, drawing people from all over the area, for social reasons, on holidays, and for festivals. “It’s the most flourishing ethnic neighborhood in the city.’’