Saturday, July 26, 2014

San Francisco: An Animated Corpse

The New York Times is talking about how hipsters are taking over San Francisco, and how the art scene here is dead. I just smile and nod, since people have been saying a version of this for decades.

San Francisco was born in revolution and chaos: taken from the Ohlone by the Spanish, liberated into Mexico, planned and built by a Spanish-English coalition, ceded by Mexico to the United States. It’s been shaken by earthquakes, and economic and political upheaval, every twenty or so years.

I don’t think a silver bullet and wooden stake could kill this town of “the cops, the crooks, and the big rich.” 

Paddling on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park
Yes, it’s expensive to live here. It felt expensive when I first moved here in 1979, and lived in a roach-infested one bedroom flat on Post between Polk and Larkin for $400 a month. We lasted just a few months before we fled for a cheaper city.

And yes, an awful lot of tech employees have moved into the Mission and there’s been a kerfuffle of protest. Meanwhile, 4,000 additional people moved into my neighborhood just last year. We didn’t make the news, because OMI isn’t hip, hell, it’s just newly reclaimed from serious drug violence. Its petite charms are yet to be discovered by the press and the hipsters.

The view from my office in OMI
Quiet, child-rearing techsters are moving into the OMI as those originally forced to move here in the 1960s are selling off their inherited properties before the next housing bust. It’s a quiet, orderly changing of the guard, and I hope it happens just as slowly as it possibly can. My neighbors on either side are sweet, wise women who help keep their kids’ lives together in the face of still-rampant racism and underemployment.  Nobody hates us over here in OMI, not yet anyway. It’s not a badge of honor to be one step above drug-trade violence, but I’ll take what I can get.

You can see where the hipster stereotype is coming from. At a recent visit to a Mission coffee shop, I saw a lot of people in porkpie hats, completely absorbed in their digital devices, ignoring the world around them. So I think the hipsters, who are spending upwards of 70% of their income on rent, have a little more work to do if they want to belong instead of be reviled. I know it’s possible, because I see it in my OMI neighborhood every day.

San Francisco, the first beautiful thing I found after my mother’s death, has artists and writers who live and work here without angels, municipal, corporate, or private--it's not any more artistically dead here than when the Summer of Love morphed into the Winter of Dirty Sidewalks.  Whether it's Noir City, LitQuake, Outside Lands, or smaller salons and gatherings, we’re here, and we’re creating every day—directly, or indirectly by supporting city-wise initiatives like San Francisco Beautiful or 826 Valencia. Perhaps we could be less iconoclastic, and instead grow better skills of cooperation with each other but we’re not dead. Far from it, my friends. And, like the rollickingly open port city we've always been, we welcome you, whether or not you live within our 47 square miles.

Here’s a list of just some of the  local writers’ activities you might can check out:

What’s your favorite SF arts organization?


Michele Drier said...

Thanks for the defense of The City! I didn't read the NYT story, but my family hit the shores of the the bay in 1849, my grandmother and grandfather survived the earthquake (not yet married to each other) and lots of my family history went up in flames.
There are always ebbs and swells in the culture of The City. I have friends who live in the Upper Haight and boy, has that seen changes! And thanks for the mention of NorCal SinC! I'm the president of the Sacramento Chapter and the national on-line chapter, the Guppies.
Here's to a city that always changes but never loses it's cultural and literary heart.

Mysti Berry said...

Michele--the story of how the citizens (not the army or police) organized to feed and protect each other is a much overlooked, incredible story. Your grandparents must have been amazing people!!!!

I'm looking forward to visiting a Sac. chapter meeting as soon as it cools down up there :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Great article, Mysti! I've always adored San Francisco, and continue to. Never managed to actually *live* there, and as you know I love my Oakland, but there has never been, and never will be, another city like SF! Great post, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece, Misti! I've always wanted to live in the city. I love reading about neighborhoods there. Places you never get to really know beyond the touristy landmarks, or the typical areas one gets to passing through on the way to events or business appointments. Sigh...