Chinatown Gets a New Year Makeover

The neighborhood has undergone a top-to-bottom scrub down before the “Gum Lung” Golden Dragon hits the streets.

Mike Koozmin

At least 50 men and women are needed to hoist a 288-foot-long Golden Dragon, or “Gum Lung”, down the streets of San Francisco during this year’s Chinese New Year Festival.

And as a million plus parade-goers pop fireworks and welcome in the Year of the Dog, the Department of Public Works plans to have Chinatown scrubbed down and ready to go.

For the past three weeks, workers have swept and blasted sidewalks clear of bird droppings and grime.  Fresh coats of paint cover previously graffiti-covered light poles and storefront rollups. A thorough power-cleaning cleansed busy Broadway and Stockton Street tunnels, and Recology plans to swap out bins tagged with graffiti at no cost, giving customers an easy incentive to continue to keep them graffiti-free.

“One reason why Chinatown is getting a little extra attention is because there’s a ton of street activity and it’s the most densely-packed neighborhood west of the Mississippi,” said Rachel Gordon, director of policy and communications for the Department of Public Works.

Chinatown’s makeover comes on the eve of one of San Francisco’s busiest events of the year. Organizers anticipate 1.2 million people will attend this year’s Chinese New Year Parade on Feb. 24, which comes almost a week after New Years Day on Friday, Feb. 16.

Although the Chinatown deep-clean happens every year prior to the big parade, Gordon says Public Works is taking it to the next level this year. The agency has partnered with the nonprofit Chinese Newcomers Service Center, which has a full-time crew of a dozen street cleaners cleaning Chinatown daily, similar to efforts currently underway in the Filmore and Tenderloin neighborhoods. After the New Year festivities, the crew will stay on permanently.

The first Chinatown in North America is also one of the San Francisco’s oldest neighborhoods, steeped in history — and currently, a fair amount of grime and dirt from high foot traffic and the nearby Financial District.

Started in the 1860s by Chinese immigrants, San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade holds the title as the largest parade celebrating the Lunar New Year outside of Asia. Starting at 11 a.m. today, former Mayor Willie Brown will ceremonially cleanse the Golden Dragon or “Gum Lung” during an unveiling ceremony in Portsmouth Square by dotting the Dragon’s eyes, awakening the Dragon symbolizing of the Emperor.

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