Has the soul of San Francisco changed for good? These historians weigh in.

Read through our slideshow above for a look at the many San Francisco neighborhoods that have been affected by gentrification or population displacement since the city was founded.

With San Francisco’s rents up 10 percent in just a year, more than doubling the cost of living, and housing tough to find, a real estate agent told The Chronicle, “When we get a new listing of an apartment dwelling, it’s almost always leased by the same day.”

That was in 1968 – the same year minorities were being driven from San Francisco neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” The same year, a neighborhood was becoming infamous for its blight, crime and flagrant drug use (back then it was the Haight).

This isn’t to minimize the disturbing problems San Francisco faces now. But any recent coverage of how the city is losing its “soul” – The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub recently pointed out it’s been done many times before – can’t be done without remembering other changes in its past.

Several local historians and academics we talked to pointed out that if you don’t like San Francisco’s changes right now, just wait a while. It’s bound to change again, as it always has.

“From World War II forward I’ve lived through all this stuff, and I’ve seen a lot of silliness,” said historian John Freeman, 78 and a lifelong San Franciscan who bought a house in the Richmond in the 1960s when buying in the city was less desirable. “Now we’re in a whole new ballgame. We’re choked, and the infrastructure can’t keep up.

“I’m not predicting it’s going to implode, but it’s gonna change. That’s the name of the game. This whole town is a series of changes. I don’t get nostalgic for that kind of stuff. … I don’t want to get into this whole thing, that the ice cream used to be better and you walked down the street and saw your friends.”

Each San Francisco neighborhood contains layers of history involving people coming in and out. Take the Rincon Hill/South Park areas – originally a wooded oasis, then the city’s first exclusive community for the super rich, and then a “slum.” That’s before the 1900s even started.

“You can take the Gold Rush and the Silver Age and say this is comparable,” said San Francisco native Charles Fracchia, the founder and president emeritus of the San Francisco Historical Society. “There are different details. You take a look at old photos of a city growing, contracting, and growing again.”

Not that San Francisco’s problems of extreme inequality during the most recent tech boom are exactly the same as those in the past. The headlines today are alarming: The three most expensive counties to rent in are all in the Bay Area. San Francisco has the world’s highest density of billionaires. And all this while the city’s homelessness rose 30 percent since 2017.

Meanwhile, the loss of San Francisco’s African American community, which benefited from blue-collar jobs added in the post-World War II boom, has been devastating enough to inspire a movie this year. Once-diverse neighborhoods such as the Mission have gotten increasingly white and tech-employed.

Rachel Brahinsky, an associate professor in Urban and Public Affairs at the University of San Francisco, responded to the anti-tech backlash in 2014 with an article headlined, “The Death of the City? Reports of San Francisco’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.” But she says the most recent spate of bad news and critical reporting has been enough to make her reconsider, to a degree.

“It’s a question I’ve been asking myself because of all those articles,” Brahinsky said. “How much of this is the media hype of the moment and how much is measuring something that has dramatically accelerated? I think it’s somewhere in between.

“What’s been one of the most sobering shifts since I wrote that article is the dramatic rise in homelessness and the obvious fact that so many people living on the streets are becoming homeless before our eyes. That’s devastating to me. These articles have been focused on how the culture has been hollowing out, and I think you can certainly see that.

“But you also see this powerful resilience of a culture. I’m not ready to call it a death of the city just yet. There are so many examples of communities that are building still and not just disappearing.”

Brahinsky said it’s not a coincidence that the same crisis of displacement has also led to creation of things like the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District in recent years. This included the preservation of Filipino businesses and the Gran Oriente Hotel as a place for affordable housing. At the same time, the Undiscovered SF Creative Night Market is entering its third year.

Another neighborhood to persevere even now is Chinatown, which as Freeman said, “was created to segregate the Chinese” and has survived several waves of gentrification. Even as neighboring “Manilatown” was erased after a violent night of evictions and protests in 1977.

P.E. Moskowitz, who researched San Francisco while writing “How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood,” is less optimistic about San Francisco’s future.

“It’s a little late” for San Francisco, said Moskowitz, a native of New York’s West Village who was himself priced out. “I can’t imagine the activist movement coming out of a $3,000 apartment. To have activism, everything that makes cities great, you have to have affordability.”

We looked back to some of San Francisco’s earliest days to recount similar times that its neighborhoods have changed either due to gentrification or population displacement – the latter includes “urban renewal,” which was an official city policy that fundamentally disrupted the African American and Japanese communities in the 1960s and ’70s.

Swipe through the slideshow at the top of this article to find them. These are by no means all the examples – we exclude San Francisco’s earliest gold rush, which happened to be the Gold Rush.

Greg Keraghosian is an SFGATE homepage editor. Contact: greg.keraghosian@sfgate.com

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/gentrification-urban-renewal-bay-area-neighborhood-14271268.php.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *