Monday, April 22, 2013

Thinking about cities and gentrification

Just to be sure I was on the right track, I looked for a definition. Here's the Merriam Webster dictionary:

Gentrification:… the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

I think there's a predicate missing there. Gentrification is peculiarly something that happens in cities. It is urban.

Here are a couple of stories that have me thinking about gentrification.

A Catholic Worker House (CWH) in San Antonio, Texas, has been barred from providing meals to homeless people. They had been doing this work since 1985, currently handing out about 400 meals a day. Local columnist Gibert Garcia explains:

There are two issues at play here: the official one that's driving the city's effort and the real one that's motivating neighbors to get the city involved.

The city argues that CWH is defying a local ordinance that prevents an establishment from preparing food without a licensed kitchen. That issue first flared up in August 2009, when the city shut down CWH's kitchen.

Shortly after that, the charity seemed to render the issue moot by moving next door to a new home that did not have a kitchen. From that point on, CWH simply handed out meals prepared for it by local restaurants ...

Truth be told, the people who are instigating these investigations -- the community members who've made four complaints to the city in the past 20 months about CWH -- are not worried about the quality of the food being served or the possibility that CWH's clients could get sick from eating it.

They're angry about what's happened in Dignowity Hill since CWH's clientele exploded about three years ago [thanks to changes in city policies.] ...“We have people laying on the porch, sleeping on the porch, sleeping in the back, going to the neighbors' homes begging for money, peeing in their yards, and hanging out in the alleys and drinking,” said Dee Smith, president-elect of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. …

If there's a “compelling public reason” for this city to tamper with CWH, it has little to do with food safety (the ostensible justification) and everything to do with the popular will of a frustrated neighborhood.

This sounds like a classic conflict -- a neighborhood feels it is on the way up and wants to be able to be part of its city without having to see the city's underside. These people may have some legitimate complaints -- in fact, I am sure they do. Homeless people with no facilities don't mix well with others. But there's an escalation reported here and that's where the label gentrification comes in. What used to be tolerable, even if unwelcome, somehow became intolerable to this neighborhood, apparently an upward trending place.

Wonder how they'll work it out? People who have been serving the poor since 1985 aren't likely to just stop …
The second situation I'm pondering is much closer to home. Last week I went down to City Hall to support Planned Parenthood at a hearing on a proposed 25 foot buffer zone meant to keep anti-abortion activists away from patients and clinic doors. PP says, and I certainly believe them, that women seeking medical services are being harassed and given inaccurate information as they approach the clinic.

San Francisco has a rule that protesters must stay 8 feet away from their targets, but it isn't working. Some cities have much stricter limits -- up to 300 feet -- but we're into free speech here.

There was cogent testimony from medical providers and from the anti-abortion folks. Here's a news report, prefaced by a 15 second ad.
Don't miss my friend Renee at 1:37. What they didn't include from her that goes to the heart of this conflict is her indignation with the very idea that young women like her hadn't thought through their decision to abort and need half-baked "sidewalk counseling."

So all well and good. Supervisor Campos has done a careful, lawful, balanced job of framing it. This proposal will pass overwhelmingly -- this is San Francisco after all.

But during the long public comment period, there was another strain besides that represented by Planned Parenthood, its clients and medical providers. Resident after resident from the neighborhood got up to talk about how they shouldn't have to see the anti-abortion people's gory signs -- their children should not be exposed to such things. Hmm …

I wonder if that's what Representative Nancy Pelosi's neighbors and Senator Diane Feinstein's neighbors say about my kind -- antiwar and eco-liberals periodically invade their neighborhoods to make our voices heard. I think I know the answer to that question.

The neighborhood of the Planned Parenthood clinic is not considered a "good" location. Not exactly a slum, working class in an insanely expensive city. But I was hearing the hope that the area could be on the way up. Right now, that rouses residents to want to get the anti-abortion protesters out of sight. But will this same impulse someday move the neighborhood to want to push Planned Parenthood out as well? "Too controversial .." Could happen I think. That too is gentrification.

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