Historically, Chinatown came into being when spaces are designated as a special area to contain foreigners ie Chinese as in the case of Manila Chinatown or when new migrants lived in the same location creating a sense of community such as Liverpool Chinatown.
Overtime, Chinatowns function as a symbol of Chinese identity, common space for collective celebration of festivals and a place where ethnic produce can be found. These functions paved the way for the creation of "instant Chinatowns" such as the Atlanta Chinatown.
These are malls developed with Chinese or Asian clientele in mind and attracting tenants offering Chinese food, products, social and religious services.
Instant Chinatown - just add tenants
Built in 1988 as the first Asian mall in south east America, Atlanta Chinatown's main entrance resembles an impressive Qin or Han palace complex flanked with a pair of lions.
The main spaces of Atlanta Chinatown are taken by a Chinese restaurant, food court and a supermarket. Many other smaller shops occupy the first and second floor. They offer goods and services from books, beauty products, gifts shops, tea houses, legal and translation services to feng shui consultancy services. A small shop lot is used as a Buddhist centre.
A substantial space was also allocated to build a small Chinese garden decorated with an attractive red bridge, sculptures of bodhisattvas and wall murals of the Great Wall of China. Tables around the garden become points of socialisation allowing friends to chat, play Chinese chess or enjoy a cup of tea.
Atlanta Chinatown is also a site of collective celebration for the Asian community especially using festivals such as the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Functions of a Chinatown
Atlanta Chinatown is a functional Chinatown closer to Oakland Chinatown than the more tourist orientated San Francisco Chinatown. It may lack the romance of time that has seasoned other Chinatowns but it satisfies the cultural needs of Chinese and Asian families as well as anyone looking for Asian food or products.
Atlanta Chinatown marks a new style Chinatown and testifies to the social significance of Chinatowns to Chinese and Asian populations.
Its formulation might be unique or maybe a little too commercialised to some. Nevertheless, it performs the same functions of a traditional Chinatown and represents a response to patterns of urban development.
The success and importance of this Chinatown can be attested by the new Chinese business that has emerged in its vicinity.