Monday, May 14, 2007

San Francisco markets
Fair Oaks and Fair Trade

This is story about San Francisco mini-neighborhoods.

When my friends and I bought the communal property where we live, the seller's real estate agent optimistically handed us a descriptive flyer claiming the house was located "just blocks from Noe Valley!" Sure and pigs can fly. When you are half a block from 24th Street and Mission, you are pretty far from Noe Valley.

Noe Valley, a neighborhood five long blocks up a steep hill from where I live, was a quiet working and lower middle class location when I moved to the city in the 1970s. Folks who lived there were families, mostly white but with a large sprinkling of Latinos. The one thing that Noe Valley had in common with the Noe Valley of today was lots of kids. Now though, the children are mostly blonde and they are often watched by nannies while their upwardly mobile, professional parents toil long hours in the upper reaches of San Francisco's economy. The houses are valued in the million $$ plus range and the commercial thoroughfare, upper 24th Street, is a mix of boutique shops and yuppie chain stores.

Don't get me wrong. I like Noe Valley fine -- my gym is there and their supermarket sure beats anything else in walking distance. But Noe Valley is another country from the Mission.

Last Saturday was the annual Fair Oaks Street Fair. Real estate optimists aside, Fair Oaks is where you know for sure you've gone far enough uphill to be in Noe Valley, absolutely no longer in the Mission. The annual garage sale is a BIG DEAL, 5 blocks of neighbors selling their junk in front of their houses.

These young women were enthusiastically hawking "Lemonade -- Cookies."

There were some amusing items for sale.

But it was hard to imagine why anyone would want most of this stuff. Even the sellers seemed simply to be going through the motions, acting the part of holding their annual garage sale.

The most enthusiastic participants were folks selling food for the benefit of the local schools, public and private. This woman was slinging hot dogs and tamales for Fairmount Elementary.

I bought a cookie to support these women, though I had to interrupt their conversations to make the purchase.

As I walked north on Fair Oaks, the displays became further apart -- less householders were participating. This segment of Fair Oaks hopefully aspires to be another neighborhood altogether:

I've never heard anyone actually use that label for this area, but I haven't been reading real estate flyers lately.

In its northernmost block, Fair Oaks runs uphill coming to an end at 21st Street -- Noe Valley shades over here into Dolores Heights, land of magnificent Victorian follies.

It was a pleasure to wander down into green Dolores Park itself, an oasis where the Mission, Noe Valley, and the Castro come together, more or less amicably.

There I found another kind of market where volunteers were eager to tell me about World Fair Trade Day. These good folks sent me off with a message of global hope and a sampler of goodies they trust are produced equitably.

I wandered home via Valencia Street, a main drag in gentrifying transition which I'll document another day.

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