Thursday, January 01, 2015

A new year in the City

I encountered this on a sidewalk while on my 10-year project, chronicled at 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. Over the last two years, I've trekked with camera around 120 of these small electoral subdivisions, 20 percent of the total. For each, I post one, two or three photos. I've now ventured into all 11 supervisorial districts; by some time in 2022, I intend to have walked all 596.

The posted images are not meant to be documentary or representative. They are just the shots I found most interesting among what is sometimes a haul of more than 100 images.

Inevitably I am learning about the city where I've lived and worked for over 40 years.

I am continually amazed by the force of many residents' impulse to put an individual stamp on their surroundings. That can mean anything from painting their houses in exotic color schemes, to wild garden plantings, to creative signage. San Franciscans are inclined to shout their opinions in all venues, from bumper stickers to the sidewalks.

I am also amazed by how often birds, butterflies, humans and other critters allow themselves to be photographed.

But mostly I am overwhelmed by the visual evidence that the city is changing very rapidly. In every area including squalid and affluent pockets as well as everything in between, there's construction underway. Old buildings are being spruced up; new buildings are going in. There's an awful lot of money being spent on physical plant. There's also an awful lot of money being put into what were recently vacant commercial spaces, now occupied by what to me seem strangely minimalist emporiums selling hip clothes, or furniture, or designer chachkas. And the restaurants -- how can so many expect to survive and thrive? They don't, naturally. I've seen some turn over just in the year or so after I first noticed them.

This new money, and the new people who bring it, are unsettling. I've been here long enough to see San Francisco's ethos overturned successively and concurrently by hippies, and gays, and AIDS, and wave after wave of Latin American immigrants, political and economic. I've watched the Chinese-American community grow and spread out. I've seen too many bastions of the African American community driven out. It is the nature of living cities to change -- that's part of why many of us choose to live in them. But a change driven by the out of scale affluence of a relatively small number of newcomers rather than some cultural, political or even survival imperative seems different.

Over the new year, the city will continue to fight out the implications of current changes. I've long opted for the remaining people and institutions that work to keep San Francisco available to the immigrants, the renters, and the middle class. Nothing about this is going to be easy.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

It's a dynamic situation. The best thing that's happened to SF is the opening up of the waterfront with the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. Oh, and tearing downthe Jack Tar Hotel! See, it isn't all bad!
Even though I was born there, SF has never felt to me like "my city." That would be Berkeley, through all its changes.
I think next time I'm in Berkeley I'll do a walk-around. Come to think of it, that would be a great thing to do in Hilo. I thought of that a while ago and then forgot about it. This place is full of interest.
Wish I could make it to SF in January, though. Not this year but maybe next.
Happy New Year!

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