Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Things I Hate about San Francisco’s Gentrification: A Love Poem

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Below you’ll find, first, a lengthy first-person prologue exploring the loss and grief many of us are experiencing — at accelerated paces — as our communities, cities, and loved ones are stolen from us, sometimes through the inevitability of change and death, yet too frequently these days from systemic “unnatural” disasters. Then you’ll find the heart of this piece: a love poem for a city trampled by the forces of what’s called gentrification, interspersed with photos. For news, analysis, and organizing related to evictions, in particular, in San Francisco, see http://evictionfreesf.org/.

Prologue

For three weeks in August-September 2013, I returned to San Francisco for what was supposed to be an eight-week respite from caretaking my mom, whose rare form of cancer seemed to be relatively under control. My dad had died about three months earlier, on May 16, after nine months on “life” support, the ghastly outcome of a tiny mosquito bite that gave him a rare illness as well: severe West Nile, a by-product in large part of capitalist-generated climate catastrophe. The acceleration and proliferation of cancers and viruses is, in no small measure, another by-product of contemporary capitalism. We should then add in all the ways in which the medical-pharmaceutical complex, a phenomenally profitable growth industry today, manufactures all sorts of extra health woes once one is sick — so-called side effects. It also “extends life” by producing near-lifeless bodies to warehouse in prison-like institutions even as it pays low, precarious wages to “care worker” bodies to deal, quite literally, with shit.

I’d been caretaking both my parents since late August 2012, mostly in mid-Michigan, their longtime home, where second-generation downward mobility seems to have ground people into quiet acquiesce concerning their own social suffering. San Francisco was meant to be a break, with a stay in my beloved collective home at 16th and Mission streets. In March 2013 when I briefly visited San Francisco over the anarchist bookfair weekend, I’d felt such unexpected relief from the crushing weight of being responsible for my parents’ lives and deaths that I assumed spending more time in the Bay Area in late summer would offer the same sense of temporary lightness.

I hadn’t counted on state and capital to be quite so fierce, though.

On my first day back in August, I walked the length of Mission Street from 16th and 24th, and could hardly comprehend the transformations that had taken place since my last stroll just shy of six months earlier. I swung back on Valencia, then through SOMA and alongside Mission Creek into China Basin, past the AT&T stadium and along the bay-front walkways, over to the Ferry Building, and then along Market Street, winding my way back to 16th and Mission streets, all the while experiencing vertigo from the amount of changes. Giant metal cranes had settled into menacing perches all around the city, aiding and abetting so-called developers to rip the remaining heart from San Francisco. Shiny, anonymous, lavishly expensive new buildings — a mix of “work place live” structures — had mushroomed up everywhere, including around the blocks that house (for now) the scrappy 16th Street BART plaza.

My mind could not take in the ability of wealth and power to distort a city so quickly, so completely, in such a short period. This structural adjustment had been taking place in bits and pieces over time, for sure, but capitalist destruction/construction backed up by policy and police was now operating at a speed matching the source of its underwriter: the social media machinery. Within a short span this year, for instance, the financial hurricane called evictions — hard and soft, legal and illegal — was able to swiftly uproot most of San Francisco’s inhabitants, especially the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breath free” who had long called this city their home, and just as swiftly replaced them with an Autonomatronics-like, ultra-hip-rich populace — trendy pop-up humans to match the trend toward pop-up stores.

The next day after my arrival and long walk, I went to a meeting of Eviction-Free Summer, composed of San Franciscans valiantly embracing a solidarity model to openly contest their displacement. While I’m partial to Don Quixote efforts to fight the windmills of commodification, it was obvious that using direct action tactics to try to mutually aid two or three households at a time from being evicted in the face of the mass de/repopulation of this city was plainly too little, too late. But how could resistance have been “earlier,” given the warp speed of what gets called gentrification these days? And what would the strategic targets have been — targets that would be immediately recognizable to and garner sympathy from large numbers of impacted people, and potentially then coalesce them into a social movement? Sitting down at the front of the Google bus? Throwing a wrench in, say, the new bike lanes and glitter-sprinkled sidewalks, or the decorative kale outside offices and indigenous-vegetation-filled green spaces, that civic and corporate elites systemically used, among other pretty tools, to rearrange the urban landscape as a clubhouse for themselves? Occupations of social media spaces such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Gluten-free, vegan, locally sourced, organic bread riots?

After one too many poignant stories at the Eviction-Free Summer meeting, from people I knew would soon be without their homes, without their city — people who needed their homes because of AIDS or permanently paralyzed bodies, for example — I cried my way back to the one place that’s ever really felt like home to me, with the nagging knowledge that it, too, will likely soon be only a memory. A couple days later, I went to Eviction-Free Summer’s hastily called demonstration, which felt more like a wake, at the corner of Mission and 17th streets after the eviction of one of San Francisco’s last autonomous collective spaces, and felt angry (even though I knew they weren’t to blame) at all those anarchists who gave up without a fight and moved, a bit too gladly, to Oakland, the newest cutting-edge/edgy city for antiauthoritarians (for my longer tale of this demonstration, written at the time, see http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/change-isnt-the-problem-capitalism-is/). The might of perhaps the greatest wealth consolidation in history is cornering us all into a series of bad, worse, and far worse “choices.” I waved my powerless fist in the air with others, listened to multiple tales from English-as-a-second-language voices of their impending evictions from the Mission, and then couldn’t take it anymore, walking away from this act of witnessing with, yet again, tears in my eyes.

My “break” quickly became the source of revealing my own brokenness, of adding further sorrow and loss to all the losses I was being battered by in mid-Michigan. Here, so clearly, was this new loss of a city I loved — a city that represented, for me and so many others, a place of radical experimentation, countercultures and subcultures, refuge, and queerness, but also a place that was home to misfits and immigrants, the poor and working class, the undocumented and outlaw, because it was affordable and “progressive.” It was able to be shaped by the social fabrics of strong Latino, black, Chinese, and Japanese communities, among others; it was able to be shaped by strong communities of anarchist and feminist spaces, to name two, and a long tradition of resistance and social movements to fight against all the ways in which poverty, displacement, and various forms of oppression also shaped this city. The land below San Francisco had certainly been stolen from peoples before — first inhabitants and first nations, followed by waves of those who weren’t wanted elsewhere, who were exploited as laborers, and/or were seen as undesirable and dangerous. Gentrification isn’t new; it’s gone by other names, like colonialism, and has erased other histories, harming, breaking, and killing a too-long list of other people. But it’s usually been a slower process, over years or decades, able to be battled (even if lost) and grieved (even if never replaceable).

Now, it seemed, capitalism had won out before people even knew what hit them, with far-too-much self-satisfaction on the now far-too-homogeneous face of this flattened, upscaled landscape — as if there had never been another San Francisco, and never will be. And San Francisco, in turn, now looked like too many other global cities, also abruptly expropriated and refashioned. If it weren’t for the hills in the distance, one could just as easily walk through parts of Manhattan, for instance, and be confused about which hyper-privatized metropolis one was viewing (for surely, most of us cannot partake in any substantive way in the fruits of these places, even their “public” amenities, so we become more voyeurs than participants or inhabitants, assuming we can afford to return after being pushed out).

Yes, what’s happening (or rather, has happened) to San Francisco isn’t so different from the sorrow of what’s happening to big cities on this continent, like Vancouver and Seattle, Montreal and Brooklyn, and even “livable” smaller cities like Madison, Wisconsin, not to mention metropoles around the globe. But there’s also a way in which we fail to see the particularities of how state and capital impacts different places and different people in different, often vastly disproportionate ways, and how we fail to spotlight the structural forces that determine and implement what comes to be known as gentrification. Those particularities are crucial to highlight, even if they seem like minor details against the gargantuan homogeneity that destroys them. They are holders of the differentiation in each of these and other places — their histories, struggles, memories, lives, accomplishments, pleasures and pains, festivals, foods, inventions and traditions, arts, and so on. They are markers of those things that make us recognize these cities and their inhabitants as distinct, unique, and loved — as ours, but also as others from whom this same land was stolen in the past. And thus, they hold the key to how to both make this centuries-long theft visible and fight its systemic logic now, in ways — I hope — that are honest to the dilemmas embedded in any solidarity and resistance aimed at developing communities of care instead.

Several years ago, a variety of organizers — indigenous, immigrant, anarchist, queer, feminist, people without homes, people with a variety of access needs, and others — came together under the banner “No Olympics on Stolen Native Lands” in the Unceded Coast Salish Territories (so-called Vancouver) to contest the historical and current thief of these specific lands — along with lives and cultures, bodies and minds — under the subterfuge of the winter Olympic games. Besides forging social bonds and trust, however fragile, among peoples divided by decades and centuries of loss, the week of demonstrations and direct actions was an effort to begin to understand what it might mean to move toward a future that recognized all the ways in which urban spaces have been stolen, from nationalist colonialism and industrial capitalism to settler colonialism and hipster capitalism. The convergence attempted to find a different route — dignified, ecological, holistic — and forge different social relations among people/groups often pitted against each other by the murderous hierarchies and exploitation foisted on them. It was also structured around the particular history/present of the Unceded Coast Salish Territories, and illuminated it via the targets and symbols chosen that week, precisely because the Olympics was again stealing lands and spaces from indigenous peoples in particular, all the while engaging in cultural appropriation/co-optation of various indigenous bands to try to hide the economic appropriation that was handing the city over to the rich — and nonindigenous — through the building frenzy to showcase the Olympics.

Many tales could be told here for each of the cities and spaces being lost at this historical moment, but let me share just one more. It comes from Brooklyn, the new “New York” (or is it the new “Oakland,” or is Oakland the new “Brooklyn”?), and Bed-Stuy in particular. A sixty-year-oldish black woman passed along this story during a panel on dreams/schemes to take land and housing in New York out of market relations, returning them to use value. The panel took place in a new anarchist(ic) social center in Bushwick, on lands stolen long ago from the Lenape peoples, across from the borough called Manhattan that, when first stolen by the Dutch from the Lenape, included upward of one-quarter African slaves among its initial “New World” population. Those slaves, once some of their stolen bodies were permitted some “freedom,” were given land for farming and burial, but that too was eventually stolen, as described so movingly in the recently created museum at the recently “discovered” African burial grounds  — “lost to history due to landfill and development,” as the official Web site notes — near Wall Street. But back to my retelling, likely poorly, of this Bed-Stuy woman’s story.

When she was a young girl, she used to walk through beautiful Bed-Stuy with her grandmother. They knew everyone, and everyone knew them, and the neighborhood was safe and clean. And mostly black. One day during their stroll, she tried to toss some garbage into one of the city-supplied trash containers on every corner, and realized they were suddenly all gone. The city has taken them all away, overnight. Neighbors soon organized to place their own garbage cans on each corner and then collect the trash weekly to mix in with their own trash at home for municipal pickup there. Soon, the city stopped emptying out the neighborly corner garbage bins. So neighbors organized again, this time to collect anyone’s trash right front of their own houses and again mix it in with their weekly city garbage pickup. The city then stopped collecting garbage from the neighborhood altogether, turning the neighborhood, for all intents and purposes, into a dumping ground. The message, of course, was: we see you as garbage. That incident, to paraphrase this woman’s tale, is how institutionalized racism mixes with structural transformation to first destroy communities — treating black people and their neighborhoods as dirty and worthless — and then later (as in now) sets about cleaning it up (public trash cans reappear and are emptied regularly, sidewalks and roads suddenly get fixed, bike paths and new street lighting are added, etc.), expropriating it, and reselling it to the highest bidder.

Most people, increasingly the majority of people, lose out in this process. Knowing the context and histories of these losses, though, not only honors them and perhaps permits us to learn from them but also might offer us better road maps to sharing, using, and enjoying land and housing, communities and cities, in ways that don’t replicate the same colonialist and capitalist logics that are “socialized” into our minds and bodies from birth.

Ah, but I stray from my own route, so let’s return to the streets of San Francisco.

To soothe the pain of this devastation, political and personal, I decided to play a perverse game with myself during my short and alas foreshortened August-September 2013 visit (I had to rush back to Michigan unexpectedly for what became the last three weeks of my mom’s life; she died well and in her room, thanks to the care and dignity of hospice, on October 3). One has to walk toward and through grief; it doesn’t merely go away on its own accord. So I continued to wander far and wide at random through San Francisco, but tried to pinpoint some of the specificity of the changes wrought (and for that matter, bought) by capitalism. Whenever I chanced on something that seemed to capture the high-tech-funded landgrab of San Francisco, I boiled it down to the 140 words or less of a tweet.

I rarely make use of Twitter, but in my sluggish depression, those 140 words or less were about all I could muster, and at first it felt like the equivalent of an angry outburst — nearly pointless and likely unconvincing, but damned cathartic. I started off by numbering the tweets, with the notion of creating a top-ten list, then top-twenty or two-dozen list, then. . . . And then it struck me: Twitter the form was perfect as a means to mourn the loss of this city to Twitter the corporation and its now-billionaire compatriots, the new ruling class that’s shaping and benefiting from the compulsion of contemporary capitalism. Twitter encapsulates the specific neo-enclosure taking place in San Francisco: at once seemingly opening up space for all and yet thoroughly closing off possibilities for most of humanity — materially, politically, ecologically, and even linguistically.

What better poetic form to use, ironically of course (because irony, too, became almost a structural component in this new stage of displacement), for attempting to grasp all that I hate about San Francisco’s gentrification, and make my little game ever more perverse? If I was going to bury my dead, killed off by this system, why not use the master’s tools as one last painful stab into my own already-bludgeoned heart?

Tweets, after all, are the new poetry for our age — an age in which the superpowerful global few are reducing the whole of the world and thus selling off the future, to the point where everyone and everything is threatened with mass destruction. They appear to do the poetic work of offering up emotional responses to the range of experiences, from joy and love to tragedy and suffering, that make us human. Yet by ultimately reducing our communication and dialogue to near-meaninglessness in that always-constrained 140 words or less, tweets reduce us and our humanity too. The tradition of rebellious poetry — on paper and the streets — that tagged San Francisco as a place of experimentation with communal and qualitative social relations is now being buffed over by “revolutionary” app developers and “creative” capitalists drunk on kimbucha and their own power to “change the world,” with near-meaninglessness attached to their aspiration.

By imposing the 140×140 cage of this form on myself, at best I was attempting to see if I could be precise about this thing called gentrification and what we’re up against; at worst, I was acknowledging and maybe exposing the damage done to us all, myself included, simply due to the mere fact of “living” in this social-media-mediated society. What words do we have left for all that’s been take away from us, ranging from our ability to remember how to speak with each other in meaning-filled words all the way down the line to our very future? Or is there a way to make each and every word count, and for us to really reflect on, listen to, hear, comprehend, dialogue about, and then collectively contest the twenty-first-century’s terrain of pleasure for a miniscule elite and pain for everyone else, and strive instead for ubiquitous, egalitarian social goodness?

So my new goal was to “pen” a Tweeter poem, with broad brushstrokes of irony:

* 140 lines of 140 words or less

* the lines were actually posts, with each one typed on my smartphone with one finger during my various dérives through San Francisco

* none of the lines were created in any coherent order, or with any coherent order in mind; they are chronological, following the order in which I stumbled across something that seemed tweet worthy — or tweet possible

* all of the lines were the result of letting myself be drawn, willingly or not, into the shiny-nouveau-riche landscape of San Francisco or city news of the day, fleetingly here now and gone tomorrow from our memory banks and Tweeter feeds

* once written, each line was instantaneously whisked into the public cybersphere as a post to instantaneously appear on my Twitter and Facebook pages, all the while knowing that Instagram is where it’s now “at” (or was, when I was creating my 140×140 poem), but I’m not good — yet — at thinking in squares

* I did, however, use my smartphone’s camera, and so have sprinkled various photos throughout my 140×140 poem below, partially to add to the fractured, disorienting, ADD quality of navigating the world today, electronic and “real,” thereby making it almost impossible for us to find solid ground from which to act

Grieving what’s lost is part and parcel of the practice of loving. If death and dying, grief, and grieving, have been taken from us, hidden from view as commodity forms, it is not only because they are now immensely profitable. It is also because they are the stuff of life, illuminating the meaning within life for its own sake, lives and communities worth living in, including and especially the meaning of forms of love that haven’t been privatized, commodified, and enclosed. Love and loving as commons. And that entails the bold, rebellious practice of stealing back and making visible not only life and love but also, concurrently and as part of our everyday lives, death and grief.

So here is the gift of my love poem — straight from a heart that isn’t sure it can weather much more loss, but knows it likely will have to — for all that’s been lost in San Francisco, “thanks” to forces that I hate.

Note: Like any good anarchist, I broke the rules when those rules didn’t make sense. In this case, while I tweeted 140 characters or less for each of these 140 reasons why I hate San Francisco’s gentrification, that meant leaving the period off the end of about a half-dozen reflections. In the interest of consistency and good grammar, I’ve added periods to all the sentences in my poem, thereby making some of them 141 characters. So I figured I could also squeeze in a rule-breaking reason #141 — parenthetically, though, for those who want to ignore it in favor of the “purity” of the 140×140 poetic form.

Things I Hate about San Francisco’s Gentrification: A Love Poem

1. You can now get poutine in the Mission, or, nothing becomes special to or about specific places.

2. So much new housing, from eco-sleek-hip-pricey condos to cart-cardboard “tiny homes” on streets.

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3. Rehab of 24th St BART plaza, another infrastructure link in displacing, is dubbed “improvement.”

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4. A guy starts a friendly chat w/me in a cafe, only to ask my view of his new hi-tech product design.

5. I don’t run into tons of people I know, because no one can afford to live here anymore.

6. A lot more folks are talking to themselves, electronically (if rich) & into the air (if poor).

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7. Cranes of the animal kind appear to have been replaced by cranes of the metal kind.

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8. Small-batch is beautiful — and expensive.

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9. Startups are the new upstarts.

10. The narcissism of the e-nouveau riche prefers huge glass windows, not mirrors.

11. The palette for street art is one’s entrepreneurial body.

12. Plaques commemorating working-class history make great additions to new upscale constructions.

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13. People begin despising buses because of Google (et al.) instead of Google (et al.).

14. The nostalgia it generates for the “kinder, gentler” gentrification of the dot-com days.

15. For many, collective living becomes a painful necessity not a political or pleasurable choice.

16. There seems to be a direct relation between the rise of “artisanal” food and a neo-feudalism.

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17. The public parks are increasingly enclosed by playgrounds built for the rich kids.

18. Eviction as first-world structural adjustment program & lucrative business model.

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19. Mutual aid is about savvy evictors freely sharing their newfound expertise with each other.

20. It’s the avant-garde of gentrification-to-come elsewhere.

21. Someone hugged & kissed a friend good-bye on the street, then said, “Make lots of money today.”

22. Cardboard is more often the stuff of homelessness (for signs or shelter) than protests.

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23. Direct action doesn’t seem to get the goods (“We are losing”).

24. $8.95 burritos are replacing $5 ones; creme brûlée trucks are replacing taco trucks.

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25. Unemployment is down ’cause the unemployed have to leave town to find work or cheap(er) homes.

26. It’s both hyperbole and lived reality that Steve Jobs started a revolution.

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27. The industry around supplying dogs with all the creature comforts, including gyms.

28. Beneath the paving stones installed with glitter & Mexican art motifs, lost & stolen cultures.

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29. A Bay Area health clinic defines “low income” as someone making $88,000 or less.

30. Twitter’s new headquarters seems less an office & more an anchor to flip another neighborhood.

31. Yoga at the airport.

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32. Bikes’ use value is transformed into bikes as accessories for a lean, green, costly lifestyle.

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33. Social media as city planner & developer, arbiter of cool, news, social reality, insta-life.

34. The number of square blocks of “they’ll never be able to clean up that area” gets less & less.

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35. The self is both the means & product of production.

36. The enormous slogans on sleek high-rise housing construction projects, like “Life above All.”

37. Longtime huge, grungy, $ thrift shops kicked out for ever-changing tiny, cutesy, $$$$ vintage.

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38. The re-marketization of Market Street.

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39. The dizzying, disorienting, ever-accelerating speed of it.

40. Creation of sweatshops for high-tech workers from low-wage countries for nearly no wages here.

41. “Soft evictions,” ejecting the vulnerable under the radar of statistics so they don’t count.

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42. “Public” parklets (but don’t sit or lie unless you buy).

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43. One could nearly eat off the floors of the fancy auto repair shops filled with minis.

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44. The back alleys are the new front doorsteps for the wealthy.

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45. It isn’t chic to wear radical T-shirts, even if only for the ironic effect.

46. The city is so ecological one could almost forget about Fukushima’s radiation & climate change.

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47. The boss must have gluten-free bread, but also single-origin espresso with hint of roses.

48. The de-Mexicification, as a friend put it, of architecture & public space.

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49. The Eastern-tinged wellness infrastructure for selfie-actualization.

50. Poor & working-class people’s grub, like grits, is grist for boutiquey new & newer restaurants.

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51. The yawning gap between min-wage service workers & those hot commodities called baristas.

52. The museum-like quality of bohemia & the counterculture.

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53. Accessible City College ed under attack; wide-open embrace for exclusive app conferences.

54. Vacant storefronts whose windows were used for edgy art are now storefronts.

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55. White guys carrying around skateboards that look like they’ve never been used.

56. It’s a punishable crime under municipal law not to recycle & compost.

57. Shit suddenly gets fixed up, like roads, bridges & sidewalks.

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58. The steepest hill is barely a dramatic enough metaphor for the gap between the rich & poor.

59. Anything proudly declaring itself “local” looks suspiciously like it dropped from Mars.

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60. What the abundance of scaffolding & plywood w/Post No Bills & bldg permit signs on them bodes.

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61. That there is now a “tech class,” and it has lots & lots of power.

62. Gay-friendly heteronormativity replacing queer mecca.

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63. City ban on plastic checkout bags ushers in fee for “bio” checkout bags “with a conscience.”

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64. Diversity-friendly white supremacy replacing people of color, especially black people.

65. Pop-ups.

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66. People are desirous of seeing the world through Google glasses.

67. Don’t like going to the office? Lease a creative space!

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68. Some rich parents are now so extra rich they can afford the time to stroll their own babies.

69. Tinier & tinier & higher-tech surveillance cameras in more & more places, including on bodies.

70. Critical Mass looks like a showroom for the latest, greatest, costliest in bikes & components.

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71. The “Live! Work! Play!” (& be happy!) revamp of what’s meant by a company town.

72. The use of the word “flexible” as means to mask the reality of “precarity.”

73. The fetishization with trying to stay forever young, as via, say, fountains of kimbucha.

74. That new words are created to describe the new people created by the new city, like “glasshole.”

75. The beauty (& price list) makeover for barber shops.

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76. The only “trickle down” is the further displacement that gets increasingly shifted to Oakland.

77. That SF is likened to NYC & Oakland to Brooklyn, mostly because all are becoming unaffordable.

78. Lusty Lady, the world’s only unionized worker-owned peep show co-op, gets screwed by eviction.

79. Adding value by making visible & aestheticizing sites of production.

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80. Wealthy corps ask caterers to dress in their own clothes while serving so as to feign equality.

81. The beauty of unadorned expanses of wood is adornment for expensive urban interior design.

82. Whiskey not PBR, or says an SF distiller, “[Certain] people are drinking less, but better.”

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83. The “foreign” language I randomly overhear most often on the streets is British English.

84. The class divide between stores that still use cash registers & those that use tablets instead.

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85. Using an entire city to beta test the privatization of abundant excess for a few.

86. Tech workers who bemoan loss of quinoa as subsistence crop in Bolivia & ignore hunger here.

87. Property developers/owners as part vanguard, part schoolyard bully.

88. Murals look more sanctioned & sanitized.

89. Transformation of cafes from social centers & political hotbeds to centers of cyber industry.

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90. Farm markets with nary a farmworker in eyesight.

91. Shift from festival waterfronts, problematic as they were, to fitness waterfronts.

92. It pays to be progressive.

93. The masses only seem to rise up over professional sports team victories.

94. The conspicuous consumption of minimalism.

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95. That it instills a perverse eagerness to visit the social media giants’ campuses/headquarters.

96. Life imitates memes.

97. The history that is now shaping this place sounds too conspiracy-theory-like to be believed.

98. The big social media companies’ private inter-social-media sites house today’s old boys’ club.

99. Updates are instantly outdated, fulfilling Levi’s current ads, “The future is leaving.”

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100. Full-on, sanctimonious implementation of LSD-induced, hippie dream of cybernetics utopia.

101. Primitive accumulation by turning ex-offices bldgs into “physical social space” offices.

102. Glimpses of institutional mechanisms to make Chinatown too costly for Chinese to live there.

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103. The blurred (erased?) line between tools & toys.

104. The glow on the street at nite of thousands of tiny, twinkling electronics like e-cigarettes.

105. As the “dual power” of private transit works its magic, BART becomes a scraggly underdog.

106. Tourists seem even more well-heeled & annoying than in the recent past.

107. Smugness among too many East Bay anticapitalists about not coming over to SF much anymore.

108. City & capital seem to triumphantly believe they need fewer (visible) cops & security guards.

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109. Less evidence of generalized antagonism toward police, not to mention state & capital.

110. “Support ‘heart’ local business” signs gracing the latest interloper niche-shops on the block.

111. Use of “romantic” things of the past, like typewriters & books, as product display material.

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112. The neocapitalists are lean, serene, and smile a bit too much.

113. Capitalism here has brought most of Starhawk’s vision from “The Fifth Sacred Thing” to life.

114. Absurdly profitable pastiche of high & low eco-tech (& blind eye to its unsustainability).

115. Experiment in forging a whole city into a golden-gated community sans gates.

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116. Publicly funded posters at bus stops turning social movement history into kaleiodoscopic mush.

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117. That one can still see the contours of a refreshed capitalism from the heights of Twin Peaks.

118. Openness as the newest enclosure.

119. Organized religion, perhaps predictably, collaborates on evictions.

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120. Folks are busily seeking tech to capture ever-smarter data, the better to social control us.

121. Calm spots to sit by the bay waters are disturbed by monetized spectacles like America’s Cup.

122. Expensively yet understatedly attired, multitasking joggers appear to have won the rat race.

123. The painted-lady Victorian homes are a gaudy theme park for an era of clearer exploitation.

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124. Distinct neighborhoods increasingly look indistinguishable.

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125. Already-anachronistic anarchist bookstore can’t find enough volunteers to even be open much.

126. The private accumulation generated from ensuring a lack of privacy or trying to protect it.

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127. Junky “Made in China” dollar stores are reanimated as crisp-clean-cool Japanese $1.50.

128. Veneer of reharmonizing urban/rural via, say, inedible edible landscaping & barnboard facades.

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129. The ultra-concentration of power & privilege facilitated by “democratic” technologies.

130. Systematic erasure of history, so that there’s only the now, which is also already the future.

131. One sees few peace signs, even fewer circle-As & where oh where have all the unicorns gone?

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132. Social prestige (& price tag) of trendy tiny stuff, from cars to itty-bitty grapes.

133. The big footprint of hardware/software innovations allowing for a lightweight lifestyle.

134. Much of the populace looks like lookalike “beautiful,” “perfect-looking” 3-D versions of ads.

135. Hubris of social contract & social engineering (under)written & directed by high technologies.

136. Intentionally not-well-kept-secret secret spaces for with-it elites to meet, greet & consume.

photo-22

137. In contrast to the film “Freaks,” the monstrous, greedy “normal” people deform the deviates.

138. Ex-mom-&-pop shop signage is repurposed, w/no regard for meaning, to mark new “no logo” biz.

photo-52

139. The bay is packed w/luxury boats, the loot of a piracy where the few rich rob the many poor.

140. The comforts of this remade city are, like the LED art install on the Bay Bridge, mesmerizing.

(141. Capitalism.)

photo-70

* * *

Dedicated with unending love to Station 40 and my parents.

* * *

If you’ve run across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com. Share, enjoy, and repost — as long as it’s free as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photos by Cindy Milstein, San Francisco, August-September 2013)

14 comments on “Things I Hate about San Francisco’s Gentrification: A Love Poem

  1. bayareaintifada
    November 22, 2013

    Reblogged this on bayareaintifada.

  2. pitipua
    November 25, 2013

    Loved this, Loved this, Loved this. I can relate in so many ways, mourning in very similar ways. Thank you.

  3. pennyprudence
    November 25, 2013

    I am confused about some of these. It reads as if the wealthy have convinced you that certain, basic things ought to be the domain of the wealthy, rather than of everyone. For example:

    3. Rehab of 24th St BART plaza, another infrastructure link in displacing, is dubbed “improvement.”

    Please describe how BART improvements, paid for by our taxes and ridership payments, are a link in displacement vs. an actual improvement. Why should we not improve public transit? So it can become increasingly worse and uncared for, making private transit options even more attractive? I rely on BART as I can’t afford to own and keep a car here. Should I be punished for that by public transit infrastructure falling into disrepair?

    7. Cranes of the animal kind appear to have been replaced by cranes of the metal kind.

    Cranes build housing. Building housing is one thing that can, eventually, keep housing costs down by increasing supply. Why are the means to part of a solution surprising or problematic?

    13. People begin despising buses because of Google (et al.) instead of Google (et al.).

    The buses are more convenient than stopping one’s use of Google’s free products, like Gmail, Drive, free wifi and inexpensive smartphones. Changing those behaviors would require too much effort, so we Tweet about the shuttles from our Android phones instead.

    17. The public parks are increasingly enclosed by playgrounds built for the rich kids.

    Please give me an example of a public park that is literally enclosed by a playground. Are you aware that the park improvements you’ve been seeing were funded by two parks bonds, passed by a vote of SF residents in both 2008 and 2012? They are not just adding playgrounds, but rebuilding WPA era rec buildings, making facilities ADA accessible, and much more. The Parks and Rec newsletter tracks and reports on these projects well.

    Also, I hear complaints that “SF is too expensive and unfriendly to families,” which hurts diversity, but then we complain about the playgrounds for said families. Which is it?

    43. One could nearly eat off the floors of the fancy auto repair shops filled with minis.

    My father works as a skilled machinist in a tool and die shop. He’d love for his shop to be this clean. A clean facility is safer (less stuff to slip on; oil is slick) and healthier for workers. Just because a business provides a “blue collar” service does not mean it need be filthy. That’s a pretty insulting assumption, actually; that a shop should be dirty because what, the blue collar folks can’t keep it clean? Because it’s more salt of the earth when it’s dirty? You’re from MI: go visit a Ford or GM assembly line and you’ll see the same level of cleanliness, but you won’t at my dad’s non-unionized shop. And it sucks.

    56. It’s a punishable crime under municipal law not to recycle & compost.

    And it largely affects the very landlords and building managers who have the money to do it, if you’ve read the law, especially since the early 2000s. No one is going to divert things from a landfill just because “it’s the right thing to do.” What’s the alternative? Send it back to the landfill and hope people will change their minds and do it anyway? It’s working.

    57. Shit suddenly gets fixed up, like roads, bridges & sidewalks.

    Again: If the rich have you convinced that decent roads, bridges and sidewalks are the domain of the wealthy, they’ve won. I grew up in Detroit, with horrible roads and sidewalks. You can keep them.

    62. Gay-friendly heteronormativity replacing queer mecca.
    Yeah, my gay friends are so bummed they can finally get married.

    63. City ban on plastic checkout bags ushers in fee for “bio” checkout bags “with a conscience.”
    So plastic piling up in an island in the ocean is better?

    90. Farm markets with nary a farmworker in eyesight.
    Have you ever had a conversation with any of these people? The farmers and ranchers I know (and yes, I know many and work on their ranchers with their sheep in Vacaville and Auburn for example) can’t always manage to leave their flocks every single day to staff every single city farmers market to sell some lamb. They sure are glad people are willing to help sell their stuff so they can be home with their animals. What do you suggest?

    • cbmilstein
      November 27, 2013

      I agree with you so much: “everything for everyone, and what’s more for free!” — as various contemporary movements have proclaimed. But here’s just one of many articles underscoring that under capitalism, that’s impossible, and all too often, any sort of “cleanup” or “improvement” is all about protecting and consolidating wealth

      From the article “Astroturfing a Sea Change at 16th and Mission”:
      http://uptownalmanac.com/2013/11/astroturfing-sea-change-16th-and-mission

      “On the surface, it’s hard to argue with the changes happening at the [16th Street BART] plaza–cleaner sidewalks, less violence, less public drunkenness, less smell. But the unfortunate truth is these changes are largely coming on the backs of the poor, from the homeless to the hundreds of SRO residents who use the plaza as a common space to escape their prison cell-like living conditions.”

  4. cbmilstein
    November 25, 2013

    While hundreds of people have read this first-person political picture-poem-essay, only six (so far) have sent in comments. As you can see, I’ve only approved two of those comments.

    I welcome any and all remarks having to do the content of this piece — tell me your own stories of loss due to gentrification, send kind and/or constructively critical thoughts, respond to the views of those who’ve commented on my piece, and/or offer your own perspective(s) on what capitalism does to our cities, spaces, and selves. It would be great to have a lively dialogue here as well as a cyberzine of how gentrification functions to structurally, systemically “develop” neighborhoods and city centers for the rich and powerful, driving out nearly everyone else.

    I don’t welcome comments that are in various ways mostly about trashing me as a person, which is why I didn’t approve the four other responses I’ve received to date. While I don’t expect everyone to like me, and I’m not particularly offended by the personalistic comments I got, it wears on my spirit that at least via the electronic world, a few individuals (too many) are much more comfortable gratuitously lashing out at others rather than engaging in good-spirited debate about the dilemmas that none of us — none of us! — have the answers to.

    On empathetic days, which are most days for me, I know that this “bully behavior” emerges from the pain and damage of this world, such as having to express our innermost feelings not to caring communities but instead to Facebook. (This societal damage seems sadly apparent, given that two-thirds of the respondents so far have focused on name-calling or character defamation of me, and not my writing and especially its actual content.) Hence my choice of writing a Twitter poem, to share my own feelings of isolation, loss, and being damaged by and within this hierarchical, unfree society, thereby sharing my vulnerability and, I trust, humility as well as humanness with you. I dare those who are so quick write nasty comments on this and other blogs/Web sites — thus silencing way too many others — to, conversely, dig deep and share themselves as well as how that shapes their politics and organizing. We’d all be a lot better off if we grappled together, collectively and transparently, with all those hurts, losses, separations, lies, thefts, and murders going under various “isms” in caring ways, so as to begin, even if slowly, to practice those new social relationships and ethics we claim to hold.

    So share your thoughts on gentrification. What the hell is it, and what’s it doing to those places you’ve loved and perhaps lost? What are we losing? And what kinds of strategies or practices might be some sort of counterweight or counterplace?
    <3

  5. chefnurse
    November 26, 2013

    Gentrification is great if you are annoyed by the homeless using your alley as a toilet. Wait, the last three times I was in Hayes Valley, I saw a homeless person urinating in the street.
    Gentrification is supposed to make things better. I would ask you what you would rather see happen to SF? Would you rather it go the way of Detroit? No one wants poor people to vacate and have to move to Stockton to escape.
    It will wax and wane. That is SF.
    I was born and raised in the East Bay. These days I utilize the City as a playground to walk and look and see things and drink coffee as I gaze upon the fog.
    I will often walk 6 miles. SF still has its character, gentrification makes you work harder to find what you love.

    In reality, I am about to finish school and enter a career where I will make decent money. My sights for purchasing a home are in Oakland. Sadly, I will only be able to afford a $400K house max. Is it so wrong to buy a house in a neighborhood that is struggling. I want to take a dilapidated home and fix it up. This is gentrification. Am I wrong for wanting to do this? My ambitions would be to continue to live in the Bay.

    I think that people who fix up old beat up houses in lower income neighborhoods are heroes, not villains. Of course I am not referring to razing a block to develop high end condos.

  6. Daen de Leon
    November 26, 2013

    I’m with you on nearly all of these, but I would ask you to take pause and think a little about #83. There are two things that bother me about it.

    The first is a selection effect; there are, iof course, a multitude of nationalities in this fine city from all the far-flung corners of this wondrous earth. Some are, indeed, from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, while others are from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. In a certain light, at a certain time of day, they can all sound quite similar. I’m English myself, but have been mistaken for Australia or South African (once!). It’s also much more noticeable when someone talks your language in a different way — I’d contend that you don’t pay as much attention to the Danish couple (or the Russian friends, or the Czech brother and sister) passing by and chatting, because it simply doesn’t register — and if it did, you’d be hard-pressed to say where they were from or what language they were speaking.

    The second, more seriously, deals with another kind of bias. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a good thing to focus on a particular country to point the finger at. Are Brits more or less complicit in the over-gentrification of San Francisco? I know five other English people here. One is an unemployed artist who makes ends meet by doing Task Rabbit jobs; another is an ex-editor of Mondo 2000 who now works in a translation job for FedEx international shipping; the third is training as a human rights lawyer; the fourth works (like me) for a genetic testing company as a scientist (he lives in Burlingame, anyway). I live in the Outer Sunset, sharing an in-law with two other people. Is it fair to blame me and my friends, even by association, for what’s happening to SF? I have to say “no”.

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  8. oliveirarochapedro
    December 9, 2013

    It’s been a long time since I read/saw anything nearly as eloquent, expressive and precise as this. And a much longer time if I’m talking about stuff not made by people who have been dead for at least 30 years.

  9. oliveirarochapedro
    December 9, 2013

    Oh, and if you read any Portuguese, I’d point you to a few reports of how something just as horrifying as that is happening to Rio de Janeiro — with the meaningful difference that here FIFA- and Olympic Authority-backed capital is pushing an unmediated jump from shanty-town to yuppie, but at the same time isolating unrecoverable miserable areas in militarized urban zones whose opperative logic the US Consulate has compared to the counter-insurgence employed in Afghanistan (as seen in http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/09/09RIODEJANEIRO329.html). Down here, the terrifyingly ubiquitous big-money aestheticisation of reality is combined with sheer exterminism.

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  11. Karen
    February 28, 2014

    Reading this helped alleviate some of my sense of isolation living here in SF for some 30 years on a limited income. Thank you Cindy.
    I have lived in a rent controlled studio for many years thankfully but still live in fear of displacement. I would love to have my own small modest home to “fix up” yes, but out of love and care for it, not to speculate. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever have that opportunity. I also am dealing with the grief of watching my parents’ death and decline which makes witnessing the demise of this city’s heart and soul all the more painful. It also makes me feel angry and I wonder sometimes why the city of St. Francis isn’t renamed the city of Ayn Rand!

    • cbmilstein
      March 1, 2014

      Karen, I so appreciate you sharing your story and thoughts. I’m continually reminded these days in San Francisco how crucial it is to grief collectively about all the loss that’s going on — and resist it collectively, too — to help break the isolation you expressed and hopefully keep you (and so many others) in the city.
      Sending light and sustenance to you during this extra hard time!

  12. Duff
    June 13, 2014

    June 9, 2014

    Cindy,
    Thanks for your article on gentrification in San Francisco. A shame.

    I last visited S.F. in the ‘90s. I recall a lunch I had in a Mexican restaurant in the Mission district. The meal was cheap and dinner-sized. I wonder if that place still exists.

    I want to share a similar anecdote. As you know, New York City is being changed constantly by capital, specifically by real estate interests.

    At the moment, I work in the Upper West Side. Sometimes I bring my own food to work. I also often buy breakfast or lunch from a mom & pop deli. The place has baked muffins in the morning, eggs, coffee always on. For lunch they serve cheap yet filling food. And construction workers and painters, etc. (Mexican, Russian) line up for: two or three meat choices, rice, potatoes, pasta, vegetable sometimes with Latin-style sauces, fish on Friday, also sandwiches.

    The five or so bodega workers are Hispanic. I let them know I’m trying to learn Spanish; they’ve been open to me trying it with them. The employees are friendly, easygoing. The cashier is a woman. She knows my coffee preference (“poquito leche” = “little bit of milk”).

    The place is nothing fancy, almost non-descript to see. It is useful. There are drink coolers, middle shelves of packaged food, deli counter, and the usual array of small goods behind the cashier: batteries, aspirin, bandages, etc. The atmosphere is friendly with bantering among employees, with delivery drivers, customers.

    A few days ago I heard the unwelcome news they’re closing at the end of June. The landlord is raising the rent and the store can’t afford it.

    There are still a very few other cheap delis around there that aren’t chains or aren’t overpriced but overpriced places seem to be proliferating. This place has been my main choice for about a year.

    I started talking with the workers about the closing. They said it’s a done deal. Most of them have an “oh well” attitude, at least in public. A few of them have worked there a long time. It has been there since 1970. I spoke with the eldest fellow who looks like a manager, wearing a neat shirt, white apron and glasses down his nose. I asked if something like a petition drive to save the place would even work (even as I knew such was unlikely). He said the real estate people told him that they “don’t negotiate”. He’s bitter, having worked there most of his adult life.

    It saddens but also irks me that this useful, down-to-earth place must disappear! What will appear in its place? A fancy gelato parlor? A tea-tasting boutique? An “eatery”? Will the Starbucks next door expand into it? It also may sit empty for a few years.

    And it continues everywhere.

    The other day I stopped into a neighborhood mom & pop liquor shop to buy a bottle of wine as a birthday present. The shelves contained bottles here and there but were also about half bare. I thought they might be waiting on new deliveries, or just getting less stock maybe to prepare for a new paint job. Two older men were working. It was quiet. I wasn’t really thinking; I didn’t see it. Only later did I realize what the emptying shelves likely mean.

    Sorry, this is only a relay of disappointment with no solutions offered.
    -Duff

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2014 by in About, Culture of Capitalism, Dispatches from Life, Essays.
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