The significance of a small tour of the Mission’s gentrification

Buzzfeed ran a video following around Kai, one of the main characters in the pick-up soccer game flap that took on a kind of remarkable life of it’s own last year. Have a look:

I liked the clip. I’m not sure it lives up to the headline Buzzfeed gave it, but I relate to Kai’s sentiments. I’m also a San Francisco native, originally from Bernal Heights, which is a Mission satellite neighborhood. I too pine, oddly, for the days when I fell asleep listening to Hells Angels revving motors and, more sweetly, the sounds of gospel music from the now-defunct church catty-corner from my mother’s house.

But this clip may not do much to convince the unsympathetic about why anyone should care about the kind of change that has now all but taken over San Francisco’s once-working-class and and economically mixed neighborhoods. Let’s not beat around the bush: here’s a sampling of an uncharitable reaction to Kai from another soccer-playing native San Franciscan who was never fully convinced by the whole brouhaha over the pick-up pitch argument.

  • He romanticizes the loud motorcycle bar, give me a break

  • “The wealth is directly related to people’s displacement from their homes” Weak argument. The real issue is the eviction laws (specifically Ellis Act), not wealth/gentrification.

  • He says: “20th & Mission, um…not alot has changed” Hmmm, dude’s already weakened his position

  • “Dia de los Muertos street art juxtaposed with luxury restaurant + luxury condos on top.” Weak again.

  • Turf soccer field: “Not until it got nice did the permits start coming” No shit, no insight here.

  • On Natives vs Tech worker soccer incident: “Instead of deciding to play with us they decided to play on half the field… so there’s still this segregation of people”. No, weak assessment again. When you play pick up soccer you can generally include everyone. Though it’s not all that fun to play with kids so gotta draw a line somewhere. But more so those tech workers came that night to have a team practice. It wasn’t the time to switch to pick up and include everyone in some utopian gesture. So the solution of playing separately but sharing the overall field was a good solution. Not, as we are lead to believe, evidence of class segregation. Its more accurate to say it was evidence of team play vs. pick-up.

  • He says: “If you know something is wrong, you can’t just accept it for what it is. And if there’s a law in place that shouldn’t be in place, change it.”  Finally we get to something good and useful. I support this.

  • Dude has to tighten up his argument and get to the crux if he wants to be a community leader. Otherwise he just ends up railing against vague malevolent forces of change. Don’t get caught on the wrong side of change. Change is going to happen. Don’t resist it, learn how to harness and direct it.

To which I say, Damn, some of those are pretty good points. Most of them are arguable, at the least. There’s really no need to rehash what the soccer pitch row did and didn’t represent — much time spent on that already here and here and here . But there’s one thing I think my friend missed in this reaction: the validity and value of Kai’s memories of the way things were. Here’s what I would say if someone made a video of me standing on my corners pointing at the new high-end businesses (I’m accepting invitations btw):

Some people talk about all the new restaurants and bars and expensive property like it’s just a net gain for the neighborhood. Like things were blighted, and now they’re better. But you have to understand that the Mission wasn’t blighted. That could have been true of somewhere else, but not here. There were a lot of great mom and pop businesses here, and they’ve been replaced by things that cater solely to a luxury market. I’m not saying you can stop that kind of change, but showing the changes can maybe help people relate to the sense of loss we feel — those of us who grew up around here — and think twice before assuming that fancier is better. 

My memories are not fantasies, though the new money seems to mock them. The worst thing about the soccer pitch fight wasn’t who got to play at what time and where. It was that painful moment, when someone off camera throws a “who gives a shit about the neighborhood” into the mix. In that moment, all the weight of “progress” and the power and privilege of new money came down like a giant eraser on the stories, passions, triumphs, and pain of a neighborhood that thought it existed.

Turns out, you don’t matter at all, the new millionaires seem to tell us. Oh, but we’ll hang on to some Dia de los Muertos tchotchkes. That stuff looks kinda cool.

Classic #frisco scene. #sf #bernalheights #415. Good lord San Francisco is pleasant.

A post shared by Eamon Kircher-Allen (@eamonka) on

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