Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mission homecoming

Back in San Francisco, I'm once again at ground zero for a novel and painful urban transformation. The Google buses transporting affluent tech workers in and out of the neighborhood roll on; resentment from longer term residents potentially or actually displaced runs high. Most of us will be voting YES on Measure G, a modest impediment to rampant real estate speculation.

A few observations after a four month absence, all perhaps merely the result of spending most of four months in car-centered US exurbia.
  • Parallel parking is a necessary skill here. I don't think I had to do it more an a couple of times driving across the country. It comes back quickly, but the unfamiliarity helps me understand how foreign most of our fellow citizens find any city.
  • My partner says the streets feel more densely crowded than when we left. That makes sense if poorer people hit with rising rents are crowding into smaller rental units.
  • Venturing into one of the city's more squalid blocks to snap photos, I thought the street scene seemed a bit more painful than usual.
The second two items may simply reflect that San Francisco has enjoyed unusually comfortable weather for the last two months, so we're not huddled inside against the fog. Or maybe four months away has de-urbanized us.

There's no question that many of my neighbors feel under attack.

The landlord chasing the almighty dollar is an obvious culprit.

This street complaint is more sophisticated but also more debatable. "Tech" is a culture, nowadays a controlling, confining corporate one, but certainly a sort of "culture," just not the kind that long time Mission and many other city residents would choose for themselves. Artists and poor immigrants simply don't fit in the world the current crop of newcomers are creating. They don't have enough money. Note however that the creator of this bit of lamppost art uses the ubiquitous tools of the new "culture" to communicate.

In the 1970s and 80s, we called this kind of development -- expensive, antiseptic, homogenized -- "Manhattanization." Having spent some time recently on the Upper West Side, I think we were right then and we can see where this goes. Sure, that neighborhood still has pockets of middle-income people and business hanging on, but chain retailers have crowded out most old-time stores on Broadway. Want to shop somewhere "different"? There are still plenty of gourmet foods outlets, but Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are working to reduce their number. Even New York, that most "urban" of US cities, is losing diversity to corporate culture. Jane Jacobs spelled out the consequences two decades ago.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Ballard, where we bought our condo (Yes, we are part of the problem) is now being fully condo-ized. There seem to be roughly three times as many people on the streets, mostly young and white or Asian. The number of restaurants is getting ludicrous, and they are always full. A huge Trader Joes is nearby, and a Whole Foods not too far away. A local co-op, PCC, is a short drive away and the best place to shop. We can also walk to a QFC. And public transportation is good and very much used.
The care facility across the way must have very sick people living there, since the fire truck and ambulance come there so frequently. I get a general feeling that services are keeping up with needs.
Nonetheless, last night I did see a person in an advanced state of dilapidation and all her rags and other possessions around her sleeping on the sidewalk. But markedly less of this than there once was here.
Our condo does get a lot of use, because friends and relatives, etc. use it quite a bit, so it's a good thing, I suppose.
Your observations about the U.S. and our car culture are so right on. And the filling in of urban spaces, which I believe is necessary but not always well planned.

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