Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Webinar Series: America's Chinatowns: Identity, Belonging, and the Future of Place

Ernie Wong, FASLA, Jenn Low, PLA, Yu-Chung Li, ASLA, and Jim Lee, ASLA led a four-part webinar series about the past, present, and future of Chinatown and drew analogies to other neighborhoods like them that are subject to ongoing forces of gentrification driving neighborhood change.

Ernest Wong, FASLA

Ernest Wong

On Tuesday, May 12, Wong kicked-off the webinar series with a brief history of Chinese American communities, with a particular focus on Chicago's Chinatown and how landscape architecture is shaping the culture and future of a changing community. Through the lens of Chicago’s Chinatown, he shared how landscape architecture is changing the shape of an expanding Chinatown, including the challenges and successes of his practice and identity in doing this work. View that discussion here.

About Ernie Wong, FASLA

Ernest C. Wong, founder and principal of site design group, ltd. (site), has been instrumental in the evolution of the firm as a multi-cultural cutting edge design entity and fostering the landscape architecture profession in the City of Chicago. In managing the firm for over 30 years, site has established a reputation for creative design solutions and developing thoughtful, community-oriented urban spaces.

Through professional and service leadership, Mr. Wong has advocated for and helped revitalization efforts of numerous Chicago neighborhoods, including Chicago’s Chinatown, which has evolved through transformative, community-oriented projects, including the multi-phased Ping Tom Memorial Park, Wentworth Avenue Streetscape, the Chinatown Vision Plan, the Chinatown Branch Library, and the ongoing Wells and Wentworth Connector.

A strong proponent of civic and community engagement, Wong sits on the board of numerous service organizations and professional juries including the Driehaus Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design, Chinese American Service League,  Near South Planning Board, and the Chicago Landmarks Commission. In addition, Mr. Wong is a frequent speaker at universities as well as design, business, and diversity conferences. This year, he served as the keynote speaker at the Chicago Loop Alliance’s Annual Meeting, discussing the future of retail and public spaces. 

Jenn Low

Jenn Low

On Thursday, May 14, Low presented Dear Chinatown, D.C. This research-through-design project illustrates how we can do more than hold meetings, but design for engagement. Dear Chinatown reveals an opportunity to look closer at the mechanics of engagement -- both the opportunities to foster more meaningful forms of exchange and learning and how to fill the gaps where we are deficient.

Dear Chinatown, D.C. is a making and sharing station for the neighborhood's past and present to declare what they love about the neighborhood and why through poster-sized love letters. Through words, sketches, calligraphy, poetry, or sharing a story, the project captures the hearts and minds of the community and what they treasure most about Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown. This webinar will share key findings from this project including the value of new networks and collaborators, intergenerational convening, improvements and ongoing obstacles to inclusive engagement, and data quality.

About Jenn Low, PLA

Low is an integrative designer, design educator, and landscape architect who graduated from the MDes in Integrative Design program at the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. As work in the public realm becomes increasingly complex, her work aims to push for more integrative and collaborative forms of design practice to improve social and environmental equity in our cities.

Prior to her graduate studies, Jenn spent 11 years as a practicing landscape architect at MNLA in New York City, CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, and Site Workshop in Seattle. She was also a Program Manager at the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) in Washington, D.C. where she applied her experience and knowledge from design practice to manage and develop their suite of leadership and scholarship programs. At LAF, Jenn also led the successful pilot of the first year of the LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership.  

Jim Lee, FASLA

Jim Lee

On Tuesday, May 19, Lee and Li presented on the Portsmouth Square Renovation. Portsmouth Square is the heart of the Chinatown San Francisco community. As the largest public open space with a central location and ease of access to transit, this park has become the outdoor living-room for many local residents. The fundamental goal for this renovation was to enhance the park and keep it as the community living-room for the local neighborhood. Thus the community process focused on local stakeholders and residents through a participatory design process to develop priorities, evaluate and refine designs, and provide feedback and direction for the improvement Plan.

About Jim Lee, ASLA

Lee is a principal of SWA Group's San Francisco office. Over the past 40 years, he has designed sites that honor the qualities of their locations and value the eccentric characteristic aspirations of their programs. This is most evident in his mixed-use programs in the western U. S. and Asia, where he embraces a modern sensibility in resolving site charactertistics with programs to create livable places. Lee was born in the San Francisco Chinese Hospital and raised in the Chinatown community. Lee is passionate about working on the Portsmouth Square Improvement Project, as it is the heart of his community.

Yuchung Li, ASLA

Yuchung Li

About Yu-Chung Li, ASLA

Li is a registered landscape architect in California and a registered urban designer in the Netherlands. A diverse training in the fields of civil engineering, urbanism, and landscape architecture gives him sensitivity in complex urban, natural, and social systems. He is particularly interested in social equity in landscape and public spaces in cities. Prior to SWA, he had worked on many community-based planning and design projects with participatory approach in Taiwan. He has been enthusiastic in working with local community. In addition to diverse urban design and landscape projects with SWA, he also devotes time to community service and pro bono projects to work with local non-profit organizations such as Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs' Activities League to envision outdoor community spaces. Currently, he lives in Oakland Chinatown and very much enjoys vibrant and energetic atmosphere there.

On Tuesday, May 26, Wong and Low led a discussion with special guests on the future of American Chinatowns. 


About Ted Gong

Gong retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2009 after assignments in policies, laws and operations on visas, border security, immigration, refugees, citizenship and consular services. He served in American Embassies and Consulates in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, Manila, and Sydney and at the Departments of State and Homeland Security. He is the Founder-Director of the 1882 Project Foundation, a non-profit organization that broadens public understanding of the history of Chinese in America through programs to preserve oral histories and sites, conduct teacher workshops, and build collaborations and best practices among APA museums and public educators, including how digital processes and wall-less museums can be integrated.  He is President of the DC Lodge of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance and National Vice President for Policy for the Alliance, a founding member of the Fairfax County Asian American Oral History Project, and organizer of monthly Talk Story Events held in Chinatown Washington DC. Ted was educated at the University of California in History, University of Hawaii in Asian Studies, and U.S. Army War College in National Strategic Studies. He received the Frederick Douglass 200 Award in 2019.


Debbie Liu

Debbie Liu


About Debbie Liu

Liu joined MPC in April of 2019 as a Community Engagement Associate. Prior to joining MPC, she directed the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, where she worked to empower Chinese Americans through civic engagement and community development for the Greater Chinatown area. Through that work, she has been involved with the Our Great Rivers Chicago initiative for the south branch.

Liu is a Chicago native and is a daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. She received her Master of Public Health degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studied health policy. Her interests are development without displacement, improving community health outcomes through grassroots community organizing and interventions to the built environment.

Liu serves on the board of Active Transportation Alliance and is an active volunteer with Ping Tom Park Advisory Council, Greater South Loop Association and Sit Stay Read. She is a foodie and enjoys traveling, gardening, reading, following local politics, and volunteering. She lives in South Loop with her partner and dog.

Her preferred gender pronouns are she/her/hers.

Please direct questions about ASLA's National Heritage Month celebrations to Lisa J. Jennings, Senior Manager, Career Discovery and Diversity at ljennings@asla.org. 



ASLA General Inquiries:

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Lisa Jennings
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