09/11/2013 06:56 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Can San Gennaro Save New York City's Little Italy?

New York City's Little Italy will celebrate the 87th Annual Feast of San Gennaro this Thursday, September 12th through Sunday, September 22nd. The San Gennaro feast is an 11 day festival to honor the Patron Saint of Naples, Italy. Over the last several years, residents and business owners of the now-stylish Nolita (North of Little Italy) neighborhood have opposed the feast viewing it as an inauthentic Italian celebration that is nothing more than a highly publicized street fair that greatly disrupts the neighborhood.

For generations, Little Italy was a vibrant neighborhood flavored by the influence of its Italian immigrants that was reflected in an abundance of good authentic food at its charming restaurants. Today, sadly, Little Italy caters to bargain-hunting tourists rather than local New Yorkers with its few commendable restaurants and remaining Italian specialty shops -- which are not enough to uplift the neighborhood.

In the late 19th century, Italian immigration to New York City formed what is now known as "Little Italy." It was a comforting safe haven for non-English speaking Italians who could keep their native tongue and customs alive with those close to them. Assimilation only occurred when the educated first- and second-generation Italian-Americans sought their American dream beyond their old Little Italy neighborhood, leaving its preservation and gentrification to the old-timers who could not keep the vibrancy of the neighborhood alive. Little Italy is now tired and rundown.

The Feast of San Gennaro brings hope each year as it showcases the much-needed Italian restoration and preservation of this struggling old Italian neighborhood. We must unify to uplift and give New York's Little Italy the Italian cultural renaissance it so rightly deserves. It's not too late. Above all, the Feast of San Gennaro will continue to bring people together to empower a neighborhood that's bound to make a comeback. If you are in the New York City area, visit Little Italy to support the old neighborhood.

Celebrate San Gennaro with Franco's Arancini di Riso | Italian Rice Balls