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Posts from the Gentrification Category


Gentrification Fears Threaten to Derail Mission Street Improvements

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City efforts to make more room for walking and transit on Mission Street are being fought by some residents who think they’ll exacerbate gentrification. Image: Planning Department

Mission District residents who equate streetscape improvements with rising rents dominated a community meeting discussion yesterday about public space upgrades along Mission Street.

It was the Planning Department’s latest public meeting about its Mission Street Public Life Plan, an effort to envision Mission Street “as a vital transit corridor with art, commerce and new public spaces for people to enjoy,” encompassing Mission outside of downtown (from South Van Ness Avenue to Randall Street).

The plan would complement other efforts from the SFMTA to convert two traffic lanes into Muni-only lanes and install bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety and streamline bus boardings. But residents who spoke up in the question-and-answer session seemed to fervently oppose any upgrades, especially beautification efforts like trees and art that helped transform nearby Valencia Street years ago.

Trees, benches, and other sidewalk amenities were blamed for the skyrocketing rents, evictions, and demographic shifts in the neighborhood. Little distinction was made between those and upgrades for transit and pedestrian safety.

One resident, Tom Stolmer, called the streetscape plan a “thinly veiled effort to exploit the Mission into a theme park for Google.”

“It’s just another way to bring gentrification,” John Mendoza of Calle 24, a group of Latino merchants and residents in the neighborhood around the 24th Street commercial corridor, told Streetsblog. “If they don’t get it one way, they’ll come in the back door. If they don’t come in the back door, they’ll come in the window.”

Calle 24 President Erick Arguello said “people are now suspicious” of the city’s agenda since planners hadn’t previously launched street improvement efforts when residents pushed for them in past decades. When streetscape improvements started going in on 24th Street, he said it resulted in rising rents, leading Calle 24 to push for a halt to any street upgrade efforts. “We saw the buildings go up for sale, we saw the prospecting coming in,” he said.

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Tea Partying and Beanbagging on Shotwell

tea_kettle_6475.jpg24th and Shotwell Tea Party

The citywide Stand Against Sit Lie campaign Saturday March 27 was a big success by all accounts. The website claims over 100 events took place on San Francisco sidewalks, and over 1000 people participated. That doesn’t sound overwhelming at first glance, but if you recall that this began as a brainstorm in a bar just a couple of weeks ago, and relied heavily on Facebook and personal networking, it is an impressive beginning.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, Police Chief George Gascón, and the S.F. Chronicle suburban-values attack-dog C.W. Nevius have been drumming up an Astroturf grassroots effort to criminalize sitting on sidewalks. The focus has been the Haight-Ashbury, where there are actual homeowners who have been contributing their energy to this effort. The joke at our 24th and Shotwell sit-in was that these same upscale homeowners in the Haight have been trying for over 30 years to “clean up” Haight Street. They had an organization for a while in the 1980s called RAD (Residents Against Druggies) and you could reliably buy pot or acid by looking for them, and then seeking the cluster of dealers who trailed them around the neighborhood!

Anyway, these folks, egged on by the powers-that-be, are clamoring for a new law to give police carte blanche to evict anyone they want to from the neighborhood’s sidewalks. The proposed ordinance is drawn very broadly, allowing for police to accost anyone on any sidewalk in the city and fine them and, if there’s a second offense, have them jailed for 30 days. This is being promoted as a means to enhance public safety, despite the fact that there are already laws against blocking sidewalks and aggressive panhandling. It’s unclear what purpose this new ordinance is supposed to fulfill, other than a new tool of arbitrary power for the police to use against “undesirable” populations.


Planning and Public Life

Lily_Alley_Union_Project_9639.jpgOn Linden Alley the "Union Project" held a public fair last year, just one of dozens of ways San Franciscans are taking public roads for uses beyond merely housing private cars.

San Franciscans, like residents of most big cities, are in a continuous process of reshaping public spaces. There are pilot programs for new ways to use Market Street, for pocket parks in areas covered with underutilized asphalt, for Sunday Streets closures, for opening sidewalks to “green sewers,” and even some tentative efforts to launch more public art and/or urban agriculture in empty lots. All of these experiments are welcome departures from the long-simmering biases favoring the total unquestioned domination of private automobiles over public space.

Behind most of the experiments are deeper ideas of an improved life, what some people are quick to dismiss as “utopian.” The anti-utopians apparently consider change impractical or threatening, or have accepted the close-minded meme of the past few decades that any kind of “social engineering,” or public planning to improve human interaction, is inherently totalitarian. This mentality is rooted in a presumption that the way things are is always good enough, or that even if they aren’t, humans are so inherently corrupt or power-mad that any effort to improve things can only make it worse. The dark chapters of mid-20th century totalitarianism (now being regularly conflated to the present by Murdoch’s pompous blowhards) are somehow supposed to be examples of why trying to make life better is impossible. The American Way of Life, with all its poverty, racism, militaristic imperialism, shallow materialism, et al, is somehow the best we can hope for, and anyone who doesn’t accept that at face value is at best a dupe of some future dictator.

For those of us concerned with transit planning, or urban planning more broadly, this politico-cultural baggage comes with the territory. It shapes the discussion before it starts, and so a lot of folks have learned to think small, so as not to fan the flames of fear.



Gentrification, Livable Streets and Community Stability

mission_east_w_planter_and_busstop_in_distance_1670.jpgPlanters and a tree on Mission between 9th and 10th... Planktown Neighbors effort to beautify this central city area.

Cities don't stand still. Going back at least to WWII, U.S. cities have been radically altered again and again. Economic restructuring has been part of it, as urban areas have shed manufacturing in favor of the so-called service sector: FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) and Tourism (restaurants and hotels plus retail and entertainment). Transportation changes have played a big part too, with the suburbanization of the 1950s-60s fueled (literally) by the interstate highway system and intraurban freeways, and the inexorable expansion of private cars at the expense of public transit. The populations that occupy various neighborhoods in cities, once relatively stable for generations, have moved away, leaving behind spaces whose character has changed with the arrival of new city dwellers, whether from other countries or just elsewhere in the U.S.

It's a long story, and every neighborhood in every city has its own tale to tell. During the past generation a populist opposition to urban gentrification has emerged. It probably starts with the bitter struggles to prevent the 1960s "urban renewal" programs from displacing whole populations (in San Francisco's Fillmore it became known as "negro removal," a precedent well-remembered by those now opposing the Redevelopment Agency in Bayview/Hunter's Point). But during the real estate booms of the 1980s and again during the dotcom boom at the end of the 1990s, right through the historically unprecedented housing bubble that finally popped in 2008, many progressives have worked to confront the forces of gentrification.

Gentrification as a term tends to conflate different "facts on the ground" though. Sometimes it defines a process of social displacement, usually class- or race-based, wherein a poorer population is forced out by rising prices and the steady influx of new residents who can pay those prices. To acolytes of the market, this all seems perfectly reasonable and fair, and the idea that there should be some kind of social restraint on such "efficient" "self-organizing" market mechanisms is anathema. To leftists and housing activists committed to defending the downtrodden and the poor, this system is a thinly disguised process of ethnic cleansing most of the time, and when the outcome isn't blatantly racist, it's still another chapter in a long saga of the rich screwing the rest of us.