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Great Wall Street

Downtown as Asian bedroom community.

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As more and more people move into the office-tower wastelands of the financial district, the area is also, curiously, becoming increasingly Asian. A new census commissioned to study the impact of 9/11 on lower Manhattan, covering all neighborhoods south of Canal Street excluding almost all of Chinatown, found that the white population grew by 15 percent while the Asian population ballooned by 35 percent from 2000 to 2005. Now East and South Asians make up nearly one third of downtown Manhattan. The rest of the city is only 10 percent Asian. “It’s dramatic,” says Arun Lobo, deputy population-division director at the Department of City Planning, who co-authored the study.

The new demographics are a surprise to city planners, real-estate agents, and even Asians who live downtown. “Whoa, that’s a lot!” says Valerie Lai, 28, who lives at 99 John Street. “I am noticing a lot of young Asians around. It wasn’t like that when I first moved here a couple years ago.” For younger Asians, the financial district is the center of the boom. “My building is largely Asian, and I have no idea why,” says John Provenzano, who lives in the Crest Building at 63 Wall Street. “I thought it was surprising when I moved in. But it’s normal on my block. It’s mostly young Chinese and Koreans.” Nearly all Asian downtowners (95 percent) are American-born—60 percent are Chinese, 15 percent are Korean, 9 percent are Indian.

Everyone has a theory. “I think it has to do with the people now working in the financial district,” says Lobo. Real-estate agents point to the Chinese predilection for new condos. “Chinese culture believes in ownership of real estate. It’s difficult for them to understand co-op policy,” says Cindy Yin, a Douglas Elliman real-estate agent with a large Chinese clientele. “They have a tendency to look only at condos.” Others, like Lai, point to the youthful allure of cheap luxury buildings in proximity to nightlife. Many of the new Asian residents are homeowners. “Young Chinese people invest a lot more in real estate than Americans,” says Yin. “At least 35 to 40 percent of my clients are parents buying for children.” Meanwhile, other downtown neighborhoods remain status quo. “I certainly would not agree with those statistics in my neighborhood,” says Sonali Das, 28, a Tribeca resident. “Tribeca’s pretty homogenous, in terms of being a lot of wealthy, predominantly Caucasian people. I was watching a school get out yesterday, and I hate to say it, but the area’s very geared toward Caucasians.”

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