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2008.040.023 Oral History Interview with Toby Turkel March 28, 2008

Toby Turkel is a Jewish woman who was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn, and moved to Chinatown in the mid-seventies. She is an active community member, serving as the president of Chatham Towers, a co-op in Chinatown, as well as the vice president of Synagogue for the Arts. During this oral history, she begins by discussing her childhood in East New York and her personal journey that led her to live independently on the Lower East Side beginning in the sixties. Turkel later got married and moved into Chatham Towers, an apartment building located in Chinatown and predominantly inhabited by Asians. She explains how her relationship with the Chinatown community has grown over time and how she feels privileged to experience its unique culture, affectionately describing the area as “gritty” and down to earth. She also reflects on her unusual circumstance of being a non-Chinese resident of the neighborhood. Turkel goes on to describe some of the issues affecting the Chinatown neighborhood that arise during the Chatham Tower board meetings, such as placard parking, congestion pricing, the proposed reconfiguration of Chatham Square, and the “Chinatown arch.” She also discusses the pros and cons of a proposed Chinatown Business Improvement District [BID], which would assess businesses and buildings and collect funds from landlords for community improvement. Although she recognizes there are some positive outcomes of gentrification, Turkel rejects changes that would threaten the fundamental character and distinctness of the Chinatown neighborhood.