Located just outside Washington D.C. in Falls Church, Virginia, the Eden Center is the largest Vietnamese shopping and cultural center on the East Coast. The Vietnamese strip mall has been the regional gathering place for the Vietnamese community since its creation in 1984.
In June 2023, the Falls Church City Council unanimously voted for the approval of the East End Small Area Plan, a redevelopment plan for a ten-block commercial zone that includes the entirety of Eden Center. This redevelopment plan is one of many small area plans adopted by the city in a hope to redevelop and revitalize the city’s neighborhoods, community services, facilities, schools, parks, and commercial areas to better support its citizens.
However, despite the good intentions of the plan, many in the Vietnamese community are worried about the possibility of displacement that comes with redevelopment, a repetition of what had occurred with Little Saigon in Clarendon, Virginia after the 1989 redevelopment plan. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, many Vietnamese refugees settled in the DC metropolitan area, creating a Vietnamese enclave in Clarendon, Virginia that is often referred to colloquially as Little Saigon. However, the 1989 redevelopment of Clarendon led to the demise of Little Saigon, displacing the Vietnamese community who then moved to Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Eden Center is now regarded as the largest Vietnamese shopping center on the East Coast, with about 120 stores and restaurants primarily owned by members of the Vietnamese community.
As Falls Church moves forward with the East End Small Area Plan, the advocacy group Viet Place Collective (VPC) plans to further promote a united Vietnamese community outreach position with the city to improve communication between the local Vietnamese community and shop owners and the city’s local government.
Viet Place Collective have been lobbying with government officials, translating documents, spreading awareness, and working with the city to adequately represent the Vietnamese community in Falls Church’s redevelopment initiatives since the announcement of the East End Small Area Plan two years ago.
“This is just the beginning,” said VPC organizer Jenn Trần, in an interview with DCist/WAMU. VPC plans to continue working alongside the City of Falls Church and Capital Commercial Properties (Eden Center’s landlord) to preserve and protect the history, businesses, and the Vietnamese community that resides at Eden Center.
“The best way to ensure the long-term health and viability of Eden Center as a Vietnamese/Asian American cultural hub is to simply allow the center to continue operating as it has, and to build upon its well-established legacy. Our tenants deserve nothing less” wrote Graham E. Eddy, Associate General Counsel and Vice President of Capital Commercial Properties, in an official letter to Chairman Tim Stevens of the City of Falls Church Planning Commission.
The adopted East End Small Area Plan emphasizes anti-displacement strategies, the establishment of a cultural district, and the preservation and promotion of Vietnamese cultural identity through infrastructure, arts, and more. The city attributes the vision of the adopted plan to the significant amount of collaboration and community engagement done these past couple of years. It remains to be seen how the plan will affect the Eden Center once put into action.
Natasha Yotmanee is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a student at the College of William & Mary, studying International Relations.