August 27 2014

San Francisco’s Mission District: The Controversial Gentrification

A walk through the heart of San Francisco’s historic Mission District is typically charged with the activity of crowded sidewalk fruit markets, lively music, and the smells from taquerías and pupusas. While this energy is still present, it is steadily being muted by the invasion of San Francisco’s love and woe: the “techie.” They have elevated the city’s economy and placed San Francisco on the map as a technology epicenter, but some feel this “tech-boom” has diluted the vibrant diversity which makes San Francisco’s the city that it is.

Mission District Graffiti alley, San Francisco, California.

With tech powerhouses such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook making their homes in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, the cost of living in the city has skyrocketed to some of the highest in the United States. A rapid wave of gentrification has swept the city. Gentrification is generally seen as the process of revitalizing an urban setting by means of renovation and shifting the area’s demographics. The gentrification of the Mission District is slightly more ruthless.

The Mission, along with the rest of the city, is affected by the waves of gentrification prompted by the tech revolution. Individuals, families, and businesses are feeling the reverberations and are being forced out of the city they have called home for so long. Established residents see the changes as a type of gentrification homicide weeding out the less than “ideal” residents to make way for the techie community.

After decades of living in rent controlled apartments, residents are getting forced out of their homes right and left in order to make room for tech workers who can pay double. A small, one bedroom apartment for which an established resident may have paid $900 a month is now rented out for $1,800-$2,300 a month. In the Mission, there is an increased number of renters receiving notes on their doors ordering them to vacate their apartment within the year so that they can be turned into condominiums.

Mission sidewalk fruit market, San Francisco, California.

The Mission charm is attracting tech workers as a nightly campground and hangout who then get whisked away daily by Google buses to Silicon Valley. These free buses for tech workers are stirring up controversy and anger. The buses have been famous for illegally taking up space at public transit stops, but they have also become a visual reminder of the dimming pulse of the beloved Mission District. This unwanted gentrification in the Mission is seen by some as a declaration that with money comes entitlement.

Numerous protests about the buses have surfaced in the Bay Area with protesters blocking the buses while holding signs saying, “San Francisco, Not for Sale”, “Eviction-Free San Francisco,” and “Get Off the Bus; Join Us”.  Alarming graffiti and anonymous tags have also surfaced in the Mission threatening the new “hipster” and “yuppie” occupants to leave.

The primarily Latino population of the Mission District is gradually diminishing. Sounds of traditional Latino music, warm tortillas, and the commonly heard Spanish tongue are slowly diminishing. These senses are fading into the sounds of alternative music and the smell of coffee shops littered with laptops, thick-rimmed glasses, and skinny jeans.

Mission furniture store closing after 30 years, San Francisco, California.

It is difficult to say whether or not the invasion of the perceived techie virus will drain the life out of everything that makes San Francisco what it is: a city melting pot of artists, musicians, architects, old and new age hippies, and the working class, each bound together in their own tight-knit communities. A fairly fixed population of over 800,000 with no wiggle room for expansion due to a compact land mass and urban density presents a complex problem for the city: how to accommodate current residents along with the rapid influx of newcomers.

How will the technology boom change San Francisco’s image? Is there hope for the city to preserve its heart and assist those who have called it home for so long? Or is it time to reflect and evolve? What communities in your city have faced gentrification?

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

Lauren Golightly

Lauren Golightly is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a degree in Architecture and Art History. Her studies in art history are based in architectural history, theory and criticism, and focus on modern and contemporary influences. A background and love for the built environment, through its ability to create connection and impact based on purpose, site, and experiential view, provides her with an alternative perspective on design and our urban backdrop. After graduating, working as a teacher and doing architectural photography, she traveled abroad to live in the small Spanish town of Mérida. During this time of travel, to study the art and architecture of European regions, she sharpened her critical eye and found inspiration for her time with The Grid. She will be focusing on topics regarding San Francisco’s transformation as a complex city fabric through the housing crisis, sustainability in design, transportation, and the tides of gentrification implemented by community and designers.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 at 9:55 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, Lauren Golightly, Social/Demographics, Technology, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “San Francisco’s Mission District: The Controversial Gentrification”

  1. Pseudo3D Says:

    The city needs to evolve, and neighborhoods cannot stay the same forever. There was a time when Haight-Ashbury wasn’t a hippie Shangri-La and The Castro a working-class Irish neighborhood.

    That said, part of what makes gentrification hurt in San Francisco is rules dictating higher-rise development and anti-sprawl rules, which has greatly increased cost of living more than it normally would be.

  2. Lauren Golightly Says:

    Yes I agree, cities and neighborhoods cannot stay the same forever. It is built into a city’s life to evolve and shift demographics. Life finds a way, but the grounds of gentrification, especially in the mission district, is full of loop holes in rent regulations. The city is beginning to take more initiative through new laws, rent regulation, and creating more “affordable” housing for its overflowing population, but it will be interesting to see how the Bay Area and its people evolve together.

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