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Saturday, April 26, 2008


Tom Carden

It's a great passage from a great book, for sure, but I'm wondering why you posted it with only minimal emphasis and illustration...

I assume from the included photos you think that it applies to The Mission in San Francisco. I'm curious as to how exactly - do you percieve the kind of malfunction Jacobs identified? Or are you worried that it's inevitable?


the malfunction is already starting to be perceivable in the mission. if you live in SF or the bay you know that the (constantly decreasing) amount of affordable living in the mish is only owing to rent control. even in a recession, even the slumlord-owned buildings can command amazing rents from new tenants.

this owes directly to the mission's popularity as a playground for moneyed white hipsters.

cheaper groceries, dollar stores, import goods stores, various types of diners and bakeries, wedding dress stores, martial arts supplies, hardware stores, locksmiths, plumbers, gas stations, garages, cheap day care centers, and so forth are still around. but they're actually being driven out by a level of commercial enterprises which contains within it a lesser diversity.

i'm talking about the "level" of commercial enterprise that serves the fairly homogeneous group of interstate, white, cultural-capital-possessed "hipsters" who are gentrifying the mission: clothing boutiques in which the clothing is designed by owners who meet the description directly above; design stores whose purpose is to provide furniture and home decoration items of a particular style; shops of various stamps whose ultimate purpose is to provide gift items that match with a particular lifestyle (indigenous art, refrigerator magnets with feminist slogans, woman-centered sex toys, etc.); wifi coffee shops; upscale down-home, cali cui, or international fusion restaurants--all starting at $35 per person; themed bars that permit the fantasy that they are "neighborhood bars"; and gallery/performance spaces.

every time a older shop of ANY type of use closes, it is replaced by something from one of the above categories ... something that is less of a basic service and more of a lifestyle enterprise, and requires its patrons to belong to a higher tax bracket to afford.

already most of the residential hotels in the mission have closed. don't know if you were around to remember this, but there was a slew of fires in mission residential hotels during the dot com boom because the owners needed simultaneously to get rid of their downscale tenants and acquire enough insurance cash to upgrade the building so they could start offering basically the same crappy rooms to white dot commers desperate to live in the mission, for outrageous sums.

so already two things are happening: the diversity of use is moving backward and the diversity of population has been severely curtailed.

the mish is still fun, but that's because affordable basic services can still be found there. as the gentrification marches on and it gets harder for the poorer hipsters, who run the cool galleries and so forth, to find afforable basic services, they'll move out and take a lot of the fun culture with them. this already started during the dot com boom, but the dot com bust put a halt to it for a period of time. but it's moving again, only more slowly, and soon people will REALLY start to notice that the mish isn't any more fun. then flight and blight.

Tom Carden

Thanks for balancing out the quote with your own thoughts, much appreciated!

I guess "playground for moneyed white hipsters" is exactly what I was worried was implied by your illustrations, and exactly the kind of loaded language that I find hard to get past in your otherwise thoughtful explanation. I don't doubt you have a point though.

Michal Migurski


"Flight And Blight" is one possibility ... though isn't that just a return to the way things used to be before the Mission became cool, according to Jacobs? When I first became aware of the neighborhood 13+ years ago, it was commonly understood to be a scary, dangerous place that you didn't want to get lost in.

Underneath that protective layer of bad reputation, all the things you seem to value found cover and may do so again. Then again, you may be nostalgic for the opening glimmers of a cool, artsy Mission, in which case I wonder if it's even possible to maintain such a liminal state for very long. The transition from pure-ethnic neighborhood to ethnic + artsy is almost by definition the opening salvo in de-diversification, when there's any kind of money present nearby.

I guess the thing I'd like to hear you explain is what you mean by "fun", because it seems at-odds with your wish for a pre-gallery, pre-boutique Mission. Maybe you meant "poor" ?


michal, when i wrote "fun," I was taking the point of view of those future hipsters who will flee the mission if it gets more gentrified. that wasn't an expression of my opinion, it was me snarkily putting words into their mouths.

naturally, i'm one of those who helped raze the knoll, no question. and i do have a bit of a hypocritical attitude about it in general.

but i didn't add commentary to the quote in this post because i didn't intend the post as criticism at all. i think it's pretty clear to anyone who's observed the sf mission for more than a couple of years what's happening there.

we generally tend to talk about it as a bad thing because people tend to move into a neighborhood at the moment when the neighborhood becomes comfortable for them, and then complain when the neighborhood gets even more comfortable than that. doesn't mean they're right.

i put the mission pics in there because that's the neighborhood i know that best demonstrates exactly what jacobs was writing about in her gentrification chapter.

"Flight And Blight" is one possibility ... though isn't that just a return to the way things used to be before the Mission became cool, according to Jacobs? When I first became aware of the neighborhood 13+ years ago, it was commonly understood to be a scary, dangerous place that you didn't want to get lost in.

actually, although i didn't live there at the time and only visited once or twice, apparently the mission was a neighborhood like boston's north end that jacobs talks about in the book: one that is constantly referred to as a dangerous slum, but is actually a vibrant community transforming itself.

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