A Narrative of Displacement

This was the first tableau I encountered in the Mission District after parking the car.  Tech people chatting amiably next to a mural decrying the displacement of renters by tech people.   The afternoon was off to a very meta start.

When we were younger and rather prettier Mrs. U and I once lived near Valencia street when it was known primarily for taquerias.   Now you can buy retro sci-fi themed tchotchkes for $3200.  Is there a viable business model for this?  Probably not, but doesn’t matter.  The people who start stores of this nature have already made their money in you-know-what and are doing it for fun, which would be an example of loose capital not displacing labor, rather sober capitalism itself, as historically understood.

For the hyper-aspirational parent,  Valencia St. is also home to Aldea Baby and Paxton Gate Kids. In a city which has largely displaced young families, it is difficult to believe the register would ring often enough to pay SF rent. In the new paradigm one need not chase sales volume to be in the black, rather the loose money of a few undiscriminating uberwealthy couples who want their wunderkind to design rocket ships.

Staffing is an obstacle.  As my friend Johnny explained it to me: “unless you pay $20/hr, no one shows up”.

So much muraling in the Mission celebrates matriarchal themes…ironic for a city in which matriarchal power, otherwise known as procreation, has been forsaken by the women who live there.

San Francisco is not entirely motherless. I was hosted by a mother of two, a dear friend who lives in a house which dropped on her head as a marital dowry.    Inherited property and trustafarian arrangements are one workaround to the Google problem (the other being a time machine to 1992), but mothers anchored to paychecks tend to find raising children in communal rentals difficult and decamp for the outer commuter rings, or further.

SF is white AF now  (and Asian), far more so than we lived there.  The Mission is Latino no longer.   Black people…? Well, there was once a lovely movie made about the disappearing black population in SF called Medicine for Melancholydirected by Barry Jenkins, who went on to win an Oscar for Moonlight. You can no longer stream it on Netflix,  which makes the memory piece of black SF also now a memory.

And yet…the nouveau riche, Chewish San Francisco loves its narratives of third world oppression.

As though to illustrate the point for tourists from LA, this woman, who appeared to be about 60, wearing designer clothes that mimicked what one might pull out of a dumpster, parked her Mercedes in front of Delfina restaurant, turned up rap music and began dancing ecstatically atop her seat. She shouted things about “black and white together” and held up a special issue of National Geographic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it there. There are bike lanes everywhere, including through the freeway exchanges.  I made full use of them.

Unlike LA, the bike is king!  Befitting royalty, cars yield to you.  Entire auto lanes have been displaced, to use the word of the day, in favor of pedal pushing.  This is Market Street. Can you imagine LA City Council saying yes to this on Wilshire Blvd.? I can imagine it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.   SF may be an unpleasant city for driving, but there is a tradeoff. It is much, much quieter, even the commercial districts, when cars move at slower speeds.  As I had no job to which to commute I was free to ignore the annoyance of others, and live with entitlement for a few days.

You can also let your dog run off leash at the beach, from the Marina to Pacifica. As fate would have it I ran into Danny Glover, one of the last black men in SF (the other being Willie Brown) twice, jogging by himself on Sunset Beach.

It’s when you try to leave San Francisco fully reveals itself.   This was me, 3pm, wasting 40 minutes trying to get on the Bay Bridge.  Once you get through Oakland, you think…

Only when you get to Castro Valley do you realize your commute is not opening up, it’s just starting.   Eight miles ahead of you, the Silicon Valley traffic from the 680 is funneling into the 580. You are one hour from Livermore.

After Livermore, clear sailing, right? No more on-ramps. Nothing but windmills and cows until Tracy.  Wrong. Five miles an hour over the pass.  Three hours from the city, limping into the Central Valley, one tired lion among many, extending to the horizon.

Here is San Francisco, you realize, not Valencia Street. The place you left is a theme park for the wealthy and for tourists. San Franciscans, to broaden the definition…live out here.

Define fragility: one roofing nail in the road.

More fragility: Millennium Tower, eighteen inches out of plumb already.  The foundation piles do not extend to bedrock.  They are held up by friction and they have begun to torque, twisting out of equilibrium.

Displacement.

Are we going to look back on this era of millionaires bicycling to dinner and retail workers driving home to Stockton as a harbinger of the future or an obvious signpost of folly?

In Dogpatch

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Family drama summoned me back to Northern California this week.  Driving through the Dubai on the Pacific that is now San Francisco, I wondered: are there any remnants of old, industrial SF anywhere, which are still….sort of,  functionally industrial? Then I remembered this neighborhood across the freeway from Potrero Hill,  down by the waterfront, which I used to drive through on the way to Giant games at Candlestick, and made a detour.  Fittingly, it not only now has a name, and a trolley stop, but a historical designation.

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Dogpatch used to be a neighborhood of shipyards and loading docks and warehouses with simple, inelegant (by Victorian standards) clapboard houses for the families who worked there, often built by the owners themselves.  Because it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire intact, it has some of the oldest housing stock in the city.

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They are put to different uses today. The love labor of John Swan, shipbuilder, now hosts something called Uncanny Communications. As well as something called theLab:

Aren't you curious?
Aren’t you curious?
One needn't wander far for gourmet truffles
In Dogpatch one needn’t wander far for gourmet truffles
Hither now, all ye laptop-toting, Italian treats
Hither now, all ye who tote laptops, Italian treats await

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But what of all the old ship and ironworks? Within the carcass of those buildings, someone, somewhere, must be doing something with their hands down there.

Well, there's this...
Well, there’s this…
And this.  Work, in this case, is deployed as a signifier of some sort
And this. Work, in this case, deployed here as a signifier rather than a verb

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Most of the original buildings simply no longer exist,  however, having been razed and replaced by live/work condominia. Work which perhaps involves frequent trips to Piccino. I type in envy.

Live/works spaces with glass tile garage entrances
Live/work spaces…with glass tile garage entrances.
The ersatz crackhead ethos of Third Street is just not the same
The erstwhile crackhead ethos of Third Street is just not the same
Development is ubiquitous
Development is ubiquitous
Not without detractors
And not without detractors

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I kept walking.  Between two gravel yards servicing the many big crane projects in the nearby China Basin/Mission Bay area, a narrow street descended down toward the waterfront.   I followed it around a corner and came upon a cluster of brick buildings which once belonged to the old Union Iron Works. They were cordoned off with chain link and barbed wire.

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Venturing beyond, I came to this vast warehouse, open and unlocked.  I wandered in, thinking perhaps I had found what I was looking for.

A great cathedral-like space, the size of an airplane hangar. Empty.
A great cathedral-like space, the size of an airplane hangar. Empty.
Form as function. Utilitarian beauty.
Form as function. Utilitarian grace.

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I followed the conduits down from the ceiling to this service panel. Here I reached the end of the journey.  But where was I?   According to Google, the former Plate Shop of Bethlehem Steel. But why was it empty? No one was writing code here, or designing hemp shoes of making fair trade cacao-based desserts.

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On my way out, I found the answer to the riddle.  The last industrial space in Dogpatch is, fittingly, a food truck rodeo.

Sunday afternoon in Dolores Park

Rusticating with laptops, cannabis and whiskey
Rusticating with laptops and whiskey

Enjoy your afternoon while you can, my lovelies. Lurking just around the corner, a grammatically challenged assault on the privileged awaits:

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I don’t know what to make of this.  Is this an announcement or a call to action?  According to Zillow, the cheapest house for sale on this block is $1.3 million.   Is this who the pamphleteers are appealing to?  Are million dollar homeowners at issue, or is it their failure to become landlords?  Are Google employees being asked to cyber-protest their bosses, or to forgo homeownership themselves? Who is writing here? Mere rent in San Francisco now requires a close to six figure income.  One feels as though one is being asked to litigate a dispute between the upper-middle class and the uber-wealthy in a state in which most of us are neither.  Maybe a walk up Sepulveda Blvd would offer perspective.