San Francisco: Now, more like everyplace else
(Page 2 of 2)
The city's reputation has fed on itself, making it a magnet for nonconformists of almost every stripe. But aiding all that was relatively low housing costs, at least until recently.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Dave Snyder's story is typical. The Washington transplant came to San Francisco in 1989, lured like thousands of others by the city's reputation for progressive politics and social tolerance.
"I could rent a place for $285 per month and so was able to devote my time to starting up the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition," he says.
That organization has gone on to be a leader in the national movement to make streets friendlier to bicyclists, thanks in part to the fact that Mr. Snyder could afford to support himself in San Francisco with part-time work and full-time devotion to nonprofit social activism.
"No way I could do that today," says Snyder, whose organization is threatened with eviction in six months because of a planned 300 percent hike in rent.
The same phenomenon of low rents, attractive geography, and the city's counterculture mystique has drawn a high number of artists, musicians, and writers - and the nonprofit groups and organizations that support them.
Debra Walker, a painter, a member of the city's Building Inspection Commission, and antigrowth activist, relocated here in 1981 and remembers the lure vividly. "I felt I could just breathe in and feel creatively energized. It's a kind of creative ecosystem that really doesn't exist anywhere else in terms of the number of nonprofit galleries, nonprofit dance companies, performance groups, and arts organizations."
That range of organizations makes up a historic, and now threatened, part of the city's fabric, say a number of analysts.
"The perception is pretty clear that the soul of San Francisco is in jeopardy," says Richard Deleon, author of "Left Coast City," and a political scientist at San Francisco State University. "Not just the physical attributes of the city - its historic architecture and so on - but also the preservation of the avant-garde, nonconformist traditions of the people of San Francisco."
Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a longtime resident of San Francisco, says the city is losing the spirit that has made it a "frontier for free poetic life."
True, a revitalized waterfront, a new baseball park, and glittering entertainment complexes will only add to the city's traditional attractions like cable cars, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet for many, that is just a veneer.
"People come here to rub up against the edge, and we're getting gentrified into something you can find in any city in the country," says Krissy Kefer, artistic director of the Dance Mission.
Mayor Willie Brown and his former mayoral opponent, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, have come up with dueling plans offering various forms of financial help to nonprofits. And then there are the two growth-control ballot measures. But some say an answer must go deeper.
"The solution to the problem is really difficult, but I think will only be found by empowering the people to take control of the planning process," says Snyder.
That kind of cry for greater "people power" still has resonance and muscle here. But the clear perception is that the city's balance of power has shifted to developers and commercial interests, and that "people power" here is in danger.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society