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JAD Realty Group's Blog

By Jeffrey Ditri | Broker in New York, NY

Chinatown, Little Italy Too Tough for Tourists to Navigate

Chinatown and Little Italy need to do a better job of helping tourists navigate their neighborhoods if they want to become more successful tourist destinations and drive up economic growth, a coalition of local business groups announced Tuesday.

A recent survey by the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, conducted late last year at an informational kiosk at Canal and Baxter streets, showed that the majority of those using the kiosk were confused by a map of the area and weren't able to locate the historic neighborhoods' main shopping corridors.

The survey, which drew the data from 100 interviews, found that visitors often got turned around after viewing the kiosk's large map because it is oriented in a different direction from where the person is standing on the street.

The data also showed that fewer than a quarter of tourists could name Little Italy's main street (Mulberry Street) and that only 12 percent could name Chinatown's main street (Mott Street), where most of the neighborhoods' shops and restaurants are located.

"You're missing a great opportunity to inform people," said Robert Weber, and urban planner who designed the survey.

The effort to educate visitors about both neighborhoods — which were designated as a single historic district by the state in 2009 — comes as part of push to secure funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was established to help revitalize downtown following 9/11.

To make their case, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council joined with the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation and the Little Italy Merchants Association Tuesday to unveil the survey and press for more recognition of the area as a destination.

"Culturally, we want our children and our grandchildren to have a Little Italy and Chinatown to walk through," said Ralph Tramontana, president of the Little Italy Merchants Association. "This is going to ensure that both neighborhoods survive."

The survey showed that nearly double the number the respondents found their way to the kiosk from SoHo as they did from lower Manhattan, despite Ground Zero's popularity as a tourist destination.

The 9/11 Memorial will likely be one of the most-visited tourist destinations when it opens in September, meaning that nearby Chinatown and Little Italy could stand to capitalize on that traffic, said Chinatown Partnership executive director Wellington Chen.

But encouraging that tourism requires creating better "way-finding" information, advocates noted, starting with the kiosk.

For example, the survey found that about three-quarters of visitors to the kiosk — nearly half of whom hailed from foreign countries — didn't know it was open and staffed with workers.

In response, the group has recommended creating a less-confusing map that is more closely focused in on the neighborhoods, lists more points of interests, and highlights Mulberry and Mott streets.

The group also suggested highlighting the points where both streets intersect with Canal Street by adding signage, lighting, public art and more kiosks.

"Way-finding is not about one point," Chen said. "It's about connecting all the dots."

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