Inadequate Action, Inadequate Response

The grip of gentrification is slowly beginning to tighten in the bay area. In San Francisco’s Mission district, local housing committees are discussing and voting on proposed developments in multiple areas of the neighborhood. A recent development on the corner of Mission and 15th street was put to a pause by the SF Housing Commission on the basis of its “aggressive design”, that does not “smoothly integrate into the context of where it is”. The design (pictured below) appeared to one commissioner as if it was made out of materials from the “Starship Enterprise”. Another commissioner stated that the building “speaks to, really, the new housing demographic”, the new wave of techies and white-collar class. It is evident from the picture that these claims are well-founded, and as reported on by Mission Local, this seems to be a clear case of Gentrification. Although the housing committee is completely aware of this fact and is making efforts to push back, how much change will they actually bring? Why does it matter how the building looks if the reality is the price and occupancy will be exactly the same? Do these efforts to slow Gentrification actually make any difference, or are we just deciding on what color to paint?

Figure 1: Proposed Development

As is obvious by the photo, this building does not appear to fit into the surrounding area in any way. The contrast between the new building and its surroundings is blatantly stark to say the least. What type of clientele does this design attract anyways? I imagine that most people moving into this neighborhood are somewhat attracted to the current appearance of San Francisco, with its Victorian look and unique sense of nostalgia. Is there a market for buildings like these, and will this become the norm? I believe that both architects and bay area locals alike feel that it would truly be a shame for the the city to be lost to modern architecture. The space-like theme of many new buildings is an absolutely ugly trend to say the least. Hypothetically speaking, lets say that this building is redesigned to fit the model of a perfect San Francisco market-rate home. Would this result in any difference in price? Would less people move want to move in? If the fight for keeping San Francisco’s nostalgic look was the same as the fight against gentrification, then the battle would have been won with the Housing commission’s ruling. The true and honest fact here is that the process of gentrification will go on despite what appearance it’s given. Whether the espresso drinking, mustache-having occupants live in a replica of the home from Full House, or in a star trek jet plane, they will still live there. In the process, one business will be displaced and the neighborhood will see yet another new housing development.

In this spot currently is a small auto-body shop that, by all means, does appear to be rather run down. A recent picture of the shop can be seen below in figure 2. The shop’s clear grunginess makes it an understandable target of Gentrification, which most often singles out homes and businesses who have prime location for real estate but are not able to turn out much economic output. It’s not hard to agree that the shop looks like it could use an upgrade, so why not renovate this place up into something that could definitely produce a larger economic income? Although the answer seems to be a unanimous yes (from the developers perspective at least), the 20 heart-warming Yelp reviews of the autobody shop which praise the honest owner Peter offer the only rebuttal to fast moving discussion. As part of the deal to build on the property, the developers are being asked to help Peter find an alternative location. What about the clientele he had right where he was? Will his business survive somewhere else? Is there another location for the housing development that could have been more efficient for the neighborhood as a whole? Perhaps the abandoned building across the street, as pictured in figure 3, could have served as an alternative option. It seems more absurd to cram the development right onto the corner and up against an adjacent buildings as opposed to giving it some space on the other side of the street. Could the development have just gone in a completely different district? To me, there seems to be more questions that could have been asked than just: hows it gonna look?

Figure 2: The Auto Body shop is seen on the corner of Mission and 15th
Figure 3: The abandonded building across the street, not currently in use.

It is important to remember that even relatively-small scale developments like these have a lasting impact, as they displace long-time inhabitants and begin to reshape the area. With this addition of new housing comes the inevitability of wealthier inhabitants, who will drive a completely new demand for goods and services in the area. Other “old” businesses may become obsolete to the crowd of newcomers, who bring with them a different set of tastes and preferences. This changing market, along with the price hikes that it will inevitably bring, are very important in how gentrification will affect this area over time. Will closely monitoring the appearance of these proposed developments give us an accurate idea of the people or business who are directly being affected? Are these governing bodies going to need to do more? Whether we like it or not, Hybrid-driving hipsters from all over are packing up their solar panels at this very minute. The wave of new buildings and new people is no longer in the distance, it is in happening right here, right now. Whether these homes blend right in with the neighborhood or not, the actual living situation for both new and old residents is going to change quickly. How will long-time residents be affected because of this development? Will any job opportunities open up? Will these developments provide any other beneficial factors to the existing situation of the neighborhood? These are types of questions that fail to be considered in both governmental bodies and the news sources that cover this. These are the types of questions that provide us the opportunity to make positive, well-informed decisions that can benefit everyone. These are the types of questions that are not being asked. The silent buzz of electronic vehicles is growing in the distance, we better get to work.

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