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If you have time, head to Chinatown with your friends for dinner some time soon. Take a good look around over the next 12 months, because by December 2009, you'll see something very different: a casino in the Gallery. And once the casino shows up, it won't be long before crime and decay set in.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council effectively put an end to the long-raging debate over casinos in our city by voting to re-zone the area between Market and Filbert and 10th and 11th streets as a "commercial entertainment district." This is a poor decision for Chinatown and the city as a whole and a complete subversion of the democratic process.

The Foxwoods Casino is wrong primarily because the community in which the casino would be located is against it. Not only are most Chinatown and Center City residents against the casino, but the City also hasn't adequately listened to their voices while making the decision to locate a casino in their neighborhood.

"There was no attempt on the part of councilwoman Anna Verna to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the group that was [at Thursday's meeting] in protest," said Rev. Beverly Dale, who has been active in organizing people of faith against the casinos and attended the meeting. (Full disclosure: She's also my boss at the Christian Association.) Rather than attempting to hear out all sides, there was no public debate and the decision was made in a matter of minutes.

And for what? The standard argument is that the city is hurting financially and this can only help. But let's look at the facts. The economy's tanking, so people won't have much disposable income to blow at casinos. The casino industry has been hurting in places like Atlantic City and Las Vegas because of this, so Foxwoods won't bring as much revenue to the city as expected. Furthermore, the negative impact on the small businesses in Chinatown combined with the cost to the city of dealing with the increased crime rate in the area will more than cancel out any economic benefit.

"The casino would affect the moral integrity of the city," said College senior Ling Tran, who is from Philadelphia and formerly worked for Asian Americans United, which has led the last round of the fight against the casinos. "Philadelphia is a very historic city and Chinatown is a very community-oriented place, and [the casino] is totally against those values."

But there may be one last opportunity to reverse this process. Mayor Nutter unfortunately signed the bill passed by the City Council on Sunday. Concerned Philadelphia residents - and yes, fellow Penn students, that's us too - need to make our displeasure known to the mayor through phone calls, letters, e-mails and protests if need be. If community groups decide to sue, we need to vocally support that too.

"Penn students should try to influence President Amy Gutmann, because there is no single major entity against the issue" in Philadelphia, said College and Wharton senior Fei Fang, who is from China and has been involved in opposing the casinos. "If some community could concentrate their voice, that could make the difference."

The University administration needs to make its voice heard, by publicly declaring that this is a poor decision not only for the city of Philadelphia, but also for Penn as well. Who wants to send their kid to school in Las Vegas?

President Gutmann has a close working relationship with Mayor Nutter. If she just picked up her phone once or twice and said the right things, who knows how great an impact she could have on the process?

"City Council should be called on what's really operating here - it looks a heck of a lot like racism and is certainly a failure to appreciate the diversity of that part of the city," said Rev. Dale.

Chinatown's unique culture will certainly bear much of the burden of the casinos. But this is bigger than Chinatown. Cities need economically vibrant, diverse, safe, welcoming downtowns in order to be successful. Once we strike a blow at a thriving neighborhood in the heart of the city, it's hard to imagine that Philly will be able to continue its long, slow process of revitalization.

Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.

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