Monday, May 18, 2009
So, as some of you may know, I’m moving up north to pursue my higher education. And as one would certainly imagine, it is an arduous, complicated process that involves a lot of traveling and time spent visiting the respective city and campus. And as reflected in previous blog posts, my preferred city of choice is, to no surprise, San Francisco. So, that said, yesterday I visited The City to fulfill some educational duties, but also to get a better feel and understanding for the neighborhood I’ll be calling home, the Lower Haight.
From the very moment I laid my sights upon this neighborhood, I knew it was for me; I felt the kind of connection and bonding with and for the neighborhood, one felt as if I’d been there many, many times before. With its excellent, pedestrian-dominated strips, characterized by independent retail and cafés and rows packed wall to wall with stunning Victorian housing, I felt as if this was a neighborhood match made in Heaven. From my initial descent into this neighborhood, I was swept off my feet. The neighborhood’s authentic eclecticism seemed to be non-stop, bustling if you will. Everything seemed right – as if it was a prefabricated neighborhood, built to my most personal desire, liking and requirements. Most importantly, was that this wasn’t some elite yuppie enclave, instead, it was populated by and fooling nobody, geared towards my kin; easy-going, open-minded, free-spirited creative youngsters. Oh, and the culinary options? To put it simply…out of this world. Let’s just say that San Francisco is one of THE cities to eat in.
Of course, being the amateur urban explorer and anthropologist I am, I unsurprisingly spread my wings, and visited other locales. These locales included: The Castro District, SF’s ground zero for gay culture; I walked the hilly, urban terrain of the nearby charming Noe Valley; and lastly, visited SF’s burgeoning, gentrifying Mexican neighborhood; The Mission. And to no surprise, being the urbanite and associated urban enthusiast I am, I can say I definitely got a kick out of all the neighborhoods.
While Lower Haight is still my coveted darling neighborhood and urban entity, The Mission is a close second. Every time I walk there, it’s as if I’m arrested; captivated by its charm. It is, without doubt, one of the finer neighborhoods anywhere – using urbanity and aesthetics as a criterion. IMO, its undeniable position as the heart and soul of San Francisco’s Mexican neighborhood, is of great benefit to the street life and culture there, pretty much permeating into every aspect and regard of life. As with just about any Mexican neighborhood, the ubiquitous street sellers were out in full force, hawking all sorts of greasy, no-nonsense, yet guilty (!) culinary wares. Indeed a stellar neighborhood, my only concern/gripe was that, as in all SF nabes, gentrification is inevitable, and unfortunately has already made significant inroads. The ensuing cultural homogeneity and upscale hegemony/order will (and already has been), effectively eradicate the unique, defining life and culture out of the place. I’m assuming that the reason why the local Mexican population lacked its typical vibrancy and spirit, and instead seemed muted, passive, and even a tad bit subdued, is a direct result of the gentrification. Compared to Westlake or Pico-Union, it seemed neutered, lol. Entailed in this process is possible displacement, redevelopment, loss of community, and in other cities, deportation (illegal to deport people in SF). All of this makes me wonder, does it ever strike these forces that there are normal people in this city who DON'T (or want to) live a lifestyle revolving around trendy Thai/Tapa restaurants, uber posh lofts, gastropubs and lounges or silly cupcake shops etc ? Maybe not.
The Castro district too was interesting. No doubt, of the utmost importance to San Franciscans and Gays in general. At the nabe’s entrance, billowing in the relentless Peninsula sun, illustrating its position as the nexus of gay culture, in California, and probably the nation as a whole, was the world’s largest rainbow flag. I interpreted this as a welcome sign or gate guarding of sorts to the neighborhood. Its main strip, Castro St was a confection of “proud” bars, cafes, and other shops hawking gay paraphernalia. Of course, the flagship barrio and mecca of gay culture, will, without doubt, have its fair share of characters, LOL. I’m talking people walking around totally nude, and showing no shame. It’s almost as if people in The Castro went out of their way to adhere and conform to traditional gay stereotypes. Some of the characters were truly over the top, but most fell within the realm of the stereotypical gay; the ultra-buffed out, masculine bear types with flowing beards; the clean-shaven effeminate queen types with perfect gay mannerisms; the activists out in full drag, masks, clown suits, etc, etc. In addition to all of the blatant, lewd promiscuity that comes with popularized, over-dramatized gay culture was a sizable, probably majority, population of heterosexuals. I don’t know if there were tourists or transplants/newcomers, but I’ve noticed a trend nationwide where heterosexual couples flock into gay ghettos, coveting their bohemian-esque vibe; restaurant scene, shopping options, relative safety and cleanliness, etc.
Nearby Noe Valley was cool, too. Put on the map due to spillover from The Castro, it now has been thoroughly sanitized, and sadly, is a bit on the tame side - though, that can be attributed to its demographics, and not the place itself. Strolling along 24th street en route to the Mission, I bore witness to the character of the neighborhoods along it; The Castro, Noe Valley, Mission Dolores, and finally, Da Mission. It was definitely interesting to observe the changes and contrast the differences of the respective neighborhoods. A general trend of sorts I noticed along this wonderful vehicle through the neighborhoods was, that the further east one pushes, the grittier and rougher it gets – I don’t know if it is out of sheer coincidence, but that is also where the character picks up.
At any rate, San Francisco, must be on track to be the first city, and is showing promise to fully gentrify – and thoroughly sandblast away any “unwanted” or “undesirable” elements, allowing it to adhere to a uniformly upscale, white (and white-washed Asian cronies) hegemony. A boutique city, if you will. Indeed a harrowing and unfortunate reality.