Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Ultimate Gated City: What Happened to Black SF ?

The "Golden Gates" to the City of San Francisco (by Shanty Minister)

Having lived in California's Bay Area when I was a student at UC Berkeley, I always knew (as an outsider) that the so-called progressive culture in a city known as the home to hippies, was anything but welcoming to different cultures. Afterall, the larger context is still that of an America where issues surrounding race affect all aspects of daily life.

My experience with San Francisco (SF) included the observation that a substantial portion of San Francisco's poorer citizens seemed concentrated in high rise public housing complexes, and not so much diffused --nor concentrated, in other neighborhoods (as is the case in other major cities). I didn't see much economic diversity within the SF city limits as it related to African American neighborhoods (in the plural being the key distinction)-- not like one experiences in other urban centers, like Chicago, New York, LA, or smaller cities in the south, northeast and southeast. There was an obvious socio-economic segregation in San Francisco -- often by race. In a pseudo politically correct Bay Area, no one (in polite society) dared call it segregation. But that is what it appeared to be, most noticeably shaped by race.

There was always an uneasiness for me about San Francisco. The fact that a major international City like San Francisco rolled up its welcome mat around midnight, always seemed to me a not-so unintentional way of controlling who came in and out of the City. [See info on SunDown or sunset towns.]  In the early 1980s, public transportation shut down (more or less) between San Francisco and just about all of its surrounding communities. For people without a car and cab fare, it amounted to a curfew. One had to be out of [SF] town by a certain time, lest you be stranded, literally, on the streets of San Francisco.

Even when accessing San Francisco by car, it always struck me as odd one had to pay a toll to get past the "gates".
I always viewed this as the price of admission to the city and all its implied connotations. It's not like one can easily walk into San Francisco. (Yes, I know it's surrounded by water, and all that implies regarding access.)  For a City whose major industry is tourism, why wouldn't access into the City be encouraged, as a means to encourage new visitors and as a means to stimulate economic vitality? If one lived in or were visiting Oakland or Berkeley, there was no easy way to walk across the City limits from parts outside of SF. Surely, this was by design.

The limited schedule for BART [Bay Area Rapid Transportation] did not provide 24-hour access. San Francisco was no city, it was a sunset town.  San Francisco was a sunset town for those who had not yet achieved '80s yuppie-dum
, and to those without trust funds. As a native Chicagoan (and frequent visitor to a 24-hour New York city), there was something very un-democratic about this. This was San Francisco in 1987. But these were only gut feelings of mine. I never bothered to actually check the actual census demographics. My mistake. I left the Bay Area in 1987, in part, because I knew San Francisco did not welcome all people after dark, and I resented it as an urbanite and as a city planner.

Fast forward to August 2006, when I came across an article published in "San Francisco Magazine", written by Jaimal Yogis.

An excerpt from "What Happened to [B]lack San Francisco?"

"... Census figures show that from 1990 to 2000, while San Francisco’s overall population increased more than 7 percent, the number of people who listed their race as African American fell from 76,343 to 58,791, a decline of 23 percent, more than any major city in the country has experienced. The black population has been decreasing steadily since its peak of 96,078 in 1970; since then, the percentage of San Franciscans who are African American has dropped from 13 percent to 8 percent. Local residents swear that Bayview–Hunters Point was about 80 percent African American in 1970. Now, the percentage has dropped to 45, which means there is no majority African American neighborhood in San Francisco at all.

Partly it’s the city’s extraordinary real estate market, which is pushing nonwealthy families of all races out of San Francisco. In a city with little room to expand, median home prices hovering around $800,000, and an affordable housing quota that lags 5,000 units behind official state and local targets, it is only natural that residents who can never expect to afford a home—or those for whom the only way to make any real money is to sell a home they bought cheaply years ago—are leaving. San Francisco has also become a city where manufacturing jobs have steadily been replaced by professional jobs requiring high levels of education, which low-income African Americans are less likely to have. The resulting stats are disturbing. The median household income for blacks in San Francisco is about $30,000; for whites, it’s $63,000. But the streets of Bayview–Hunters Point teem with alternative theories. This is ethnic cleansing, some people say. ..."

You can check out the rest of Yogis' 2006 article here.

[Update 2013:  Even today, as an architect that works in the Affordable Housing sector, the new & remodeled housing I see happening in San Francisco where there are communities of non-white dwellers, are most often tax payer supported dense, high-rise developments -- often clustered in specific neighborhoods.  The housing that I am seeing built are not scattered-site developments, but the high-rise, dense, segregated prototypes that were a failure in the 1950s and '70s.  Only, these new 2012/2013 developments target senior Asian and latino persons.  African Americans aren't even being considered as a potential demographic for this latest crop of housing in SF.  BTW, I am also seeing low-income persons being clustered in mid-rise developments by race in the Seattle area too.  - Shanty Minister]

©copyright 2006, 2013, SM ShantyWorld,  All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

regarding race, i am as concerned as you are...but just for context, even tokyo (where i live) does not run its subway system all night round. if a party starts at 9pm, i gots to be out the door by 11:00 or i can't make it home by subway (and the taxi ride is 100 bucks!). and this is one of the best subway systems in one of the densest cities in the world. if tokyo, with 33 million people, can't afford to run the subways after midnight why would SF, with its car-based culture, be expected to do so?

i think you are confusing the issue.

btw, only the wealthy live well in the city centre of tokyo too. that is a world-wide problem, and an old one.

Shanty Minister said...

I think it is YOU who has a limited view, and in particular a lack experience as a person of color living in the USA. Asians--esp. if you are not American born, can not possibly begin to understand what it means to have grown up in the USA as an African American between 1960 and now. Comparing the American AA situation to any other community or nation (with perhaps the only exception being Black So. Africans) The culture and racial situations in the US can not readily be interchanged with other industrial societies. They just aren't the same.

Your Tokyo example is irrelevant. Apples and oranges.

Non AAs always make this mistake when trying to tell AAs what their life experience (in the USA) has been.
As for Tokyo not having a 24-Hr subway, I suspect it is one of will (and perhaps culture) not one of economics that prevents it. Societies ALWAYs find the will (and usually the money) to do what is important to them. Also, the USA has a distinctly dif culture regarding FREEDOM for personal choice that is at the heart of how Americans choose and prefer to live their lives. Shutting down (and out) people via transportation (for example) is contradictory to what it has meant to be uniquely "American".
Anyone who is not American, might not feel the nuance in the differentiation.