I see all kinds of transplants come to my city with their idea of what it means to be a San Franciscan. Growing up here I can tell you it is a mix of things. We are a city of contrasts and anyone who tries to meld its people as belonging only to liberals, or only gentrified whites and Indians, or only the opposite, is living in a bubble where they wish everyone was like them. I was reminded of this recently after hearing about an anti-gentrification piñata party. They beat a piñata shaped like a Google bus. Seeing the image of men with sticks hitting something tied to a rope calls forth images of anything but progressive anti-gentrification. Again, a city of contrasts.
I compare hatred for gentrification to my own nativist tendencies. I see people who aren’t from here who don’t conform, not only to my personal style but more importantly to my basic mores and civic mindedness. I’ve had to learn that my city is not for any one group, nor is it for everyone. Of course there are limits, we need to be considerate of others and protect the weak. It becomes clear once again that you can deconstruct so much bias and hatred down to a dislike for “the other.”
Gentrification is a change in demographics. It often refers to a neighborhood where middle-income singles, couples, and small families (two kids or less) move into a neighborhood that is predominantly low income. Gentrification also refers to the impact those people have on a neighborhood. Laundromats are replaced with upscale restaurants, a struggling business may be bought out and replaced with a bank. These are not necessarily negative things. However, it can cause rents to increase (not significantly in SF due to rent control). It can change the former homogeneous community into a diverse one, only to replace the former community entirely who must now move to areas that have amenities they demand at the price point they can pay. It is sometimes a “white flock” phenomenon versus “white flight”. This is my own phrasing; there could be more standard terms out there. Gentrification is not a bad word. It is a mixed bag. Maybe folks hate the idea of being mixed.
I am not a fan of all the company busses navigating slowly through the streets, but they do help the environment by cutting down on the need for cars and it helps employees maintain work-life balance. We can debate the good and bad side of these Silicon Valley corporations, but what strikes me is how trendy it can be to hate gentrification. And what’s funny is transplants that are so vocal about it. Perhaps they are feeling what I sometimes feel when I see them. Perhaps they are claiming San Francisco as their own by telling what it means for them. I can relate.
The public beating of a symbol of the commuters to Silicon Valley at 16th and Mission by hipsters in a traditionally Latino working class neighborhood reminds me too of white Nativists resisting the Irish from immigrating after clearing away peaceful Native Americans. (I use peaceful as a qualifier because many were, but I will not lump all the ethnicities classified as Native American as one idyllic stereotype.) Gentrification triggers so many contrasts.
We need to look more closely at gentrification and not use it as a catch-all for a stereotype. We need to ask why a small taqueria is going out of business just because people with more expendable income move in down the street. You would think they would eat out more, right? Why does one group flee? Why do some remain? Why can’t we have a diverse neighborhood?