by Etecia Brown
San Francisco is a place that many urbanites are proud to say they live because of its thriving cultural atmosphere. Many San Francisco natives would also go on to say that what might have been described as a slight urban sprawl has now become the epic gentrification of San Francisco's neighborhoods. Gentrification usually occurs in a metropolitan city where upper and upper-middle class people move into low-income neighborhoods. Communities who are in the midst of being gentrified suffer as a result of this influx of people and the members are displaced to the marginalized cities of society where housing is affordable. Often times when gentrification unfolds sociospatial factors come into place when referring to the semiotics of the neighborhood being gentrified such as old industrial buildings are converted to residences and shops. In addition, new businesses, catering to a more affluent base of consumers, move in, further increasing the appeal to more affluent migrants and decreasing the accessibility to the poor. During gentrification a cities cost of living will continue to rise making it economically homogenous. This is a reflection of a growing national trend: the decline of middle-income neighborhoods in metropolitan America. This decline marks the ushering of an unhealthy economic segregation. Many of the middle-class neighborhoods are disappearing because of the cost of living in San Francisco is skyrocketing and along with the disappearing of middle and lower income families is also the down-flux of predominantly Hispanic and African -American neighborhoods. In San Francisco and across the Bay Area, middle-class neighborhoods are disappearing as the skyrocketing cost of housing forces middle-income families to flee in search of affordability. The goal in gentrification is for the benefit of the city government and city elite, not the city’s majority (poor and disenfranchised); which is why it is important to analyze the social and political implications of gentrification in multicentered metropolitan regions such as San Francisco particularly in ethnic neighborhoods such as Bayview Hunter’s Point of San Francisco.
Over that past couple of decades San Francisco’s Bayview district has experienced a tremendous amount of change. Like many other neighborhoods in the United States, it has been going through a gentrification process in which redevelopment, increases in housing prices, and lack of rental units due to condominium bursts have left many low income residents to flee to suburban living which causes urban city neighborhoods to fall apart due to neglect from both remaining residents and the city. According to the 2010 United States Census, San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood has had the highest percentage among all San Francisco neighborhoods, making up 21.5% of the city's Black population. Today Blacks are no longer the predominant ethnic group in Bayview Hunter’s Point. The percentage of African-Americans in Bayview declined from 48% in 2000 to 33.7% in 2010. Contrastingly, in the Bayview the percentage of Asian and White ethnicity increased from 24% and 10%, to a high 30.7% and 12.1% according to census data. Gentrification occurs in neighborhoods where there is low-income because housing is affordable for the new influx of yuppies and “new-age hipsters”. San Francisco has had noticeable changes in neighborhood’s characters and trademarks due to the gentrification that has been occurring in a rapid timeframe. According to a Brookings Institute study comparing the income levels for families and neighborhoods in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2000 and found that gentrification has adverse health effects on the people who live, work, and play in the neighborhood that is being gentrified. Moreover, a CDC report described, “These special populations are at increased risk for the negative consequences of gentrification. Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, increasing evidence shows that these populations have an unequal share of residential exposure to hazardous substances such as lead paint. (National Center for Environmental Health, 2009)”. According to a report, “Dealing with Neighborhood Change: A Primer on Gentrification and Policy Choices”, since the late 1970s and through the early 2000s, the United States has experienced major burst of economic prosperity, the “dot-com boom” and “the housing bubble” exemplify notable periods of income growth for specific segments of the population. These burst have significantly altered the nature of the modern urban landscape it has led to a significant stratification of income distribution and this is directly linked to the influx of information arts and technology job market in multicentered metropolitan regions such as San Francisco. This influx has invariably altered the cultural diversity of major cities because the economic downturn of the nation has influenced cities to push for major redevelopment in order to bring about economic stimulus (Kennedy and Leonard, 2001). Gentrification is not something that happens in every neighborhood across the nation. There is a notable correlation between gentrification and race. “African-American residents are replaced by higher income white residents (Kennedy and Leonard, 2001).” The displacement of minorities and lower income people in urban cities contribute to the capitalist processes to aid the affluent by selectively investing in to some places rather than in others. According to Gottdiener and Hutchinson in “New Urban Sociology”, the American system for opportunity is dependent on where you live. If a person lives in an area that is susceptible to gentrification than that person is more likely to be disadvantaged in their opportunities for success.
When a neighborhood begins to be revitalized after being ignored by city redevelopers the focus for the city is how to sustain economic development for the city rather than how to create more affordable housing. Rapid growth in employment in San Francisco in the technology industry such as major social networking company, “Twitter”, calling San Francisco home, has contributed to the rise of property values and attracted private investment. In marginalized neighborhoods such as Bayview Hunter’s Point where there are many vacant warehouses, which used to employ thousands of people and now sit empty. This vacant land is an ideal site to for start-up’s and high-rise condominiums. People in this neighborhood have build strong networks because many of the neighborhood’s residence have lived there for generations and because of this networks they have created community organizations hoping to resist the casting out of the neighborhood’s natives and demand fair and equitable redevelopment that will benefit the neighborhoods current residents. According to San Francisco Redevelopment Agency the agency is going to work with the BVHP Plan to include numerous safeguards to insure community involvement and oversight throughout the implementation of the plan. This includes upholding laws such as no eminent domain, affordable housing needs to be 15% of the housing in the neighborhood, and establishing new jobs for the residents. “The sights and sounds of poverty and discrimination and the symbols of political struggle distinguish racial ghettos from other urban settlement spaces (Gottdiener, 2011)”. Bayview Hunter’s Point has suffered economically because of its loss in industry related jobs, high levels of environmental pollution, and being segregated in the outskirts of the city. This is an isolated area in the Southeast Corner of San Francisco and was home to many power plants and factories which boomed heavily during the turn of the 19th Century and Mid to late 20th Century and now is a grossly toxic superfund site and a great “cash cow” to a major corporation by the name of Lennar which hopes to build new commercial, luxury, and home real estate in hopes of drawing a particular demographic to the once heavily polluted area after it has gotten approval from the San Francisco government which will inevitably uproot toxic land and displace many of the neighborhood’s residents. Uneven and inequitable community development affects primarily lower income residents of San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Planning Department this redevelopment plan was first drafted in approximately 1970 and was revised in 1995 and in 200s began working to implement the visions for the neighborhood by voters. “Government regulations and real estate agents prevent African-Americans from moving outside of large city even if they can afford to do so. Most often this is the result of a kind of racism that is called “exclusionary zoning””. The Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood is virtually a dumping ground for San Francisco and the corporations who have private interest in the city. In an article by 21st Century Urban Solutions they discuss, “the Navy effectively coopted Bayview-Hunters Point to support the wartime demand for battleships, pushing out other industries and creating a economic dependence which still haunts Bayview-Hunters Point today.” This wartime boom was not sustainable and thus was one of the first of many economic busts of the neighborhood
In the book Unhealthy Places, author, Kevin Fitzpatrick, discusses “in the inner city, the circumstances of poverty and minority status are exacerbated by segregation; the spatial concentration of these two characteristics apparently intensifies the disadvantages of low-income and minority status.” Health risks are both spatially and socially structured because people from lower class and people of color are being marginalized by society. Invisible 5, an environmental and social justice group published an article describing that Bayview Hunter’s Point is “home to one Superfund site, a PG&E power plant, the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard site, a sewage treatment plant, 100 Brownfield sites, twenty-five underground petroleum storage tanks, and more than a third of the city's 1,263 hazardous waste generators. When operating, PG&E's Hunters Point Power Plant discharges almost 321 tons of pollution into the air each year, including PM10 particles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).” This primarily has a hazardous to their environmental health of the residents in San Francisco as well as their sociopsychological well-being. This has only recently since the influx of upper and upper middle class White people moving to the neighborhood has the city and Lennar began to actually start to try and resolve the problem of pollution in the area. This is why so many critics argue that Hunter’s Point is an extreme case of environmental racism. Invisible 5 goes on to report that:
The health of local residents has been heavily impacted by the ongoing environmental contamination of the area's air, water, and soil with toxic particulate matter, pesticide residual, petrochemicals, heavy metals, asbestos, and radioactive materials - more than 200 known toxic chemicals and materials according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Most impacted are the 12,000 residents who live east of Third Street, in proximity to heavy industry, power plants, and truck traffic. Of these households, approximately seventy percent are African American and fifteen percent are of Asian descent.
Asthma is one of the most serious environmental health challenges facing residents of Bayview Hunters Point. Additionally, health surveys show that in Bayview Hunters Point rates of cervical and breast cancer were found to be double the rate found in other parts of the Bay Area. Hospitalization rates for congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, and emphysema were found to be more than three times the statewide average. Bayview Hunters Point and the bordering neighborhood of Potrero Hill, account for more than half of all infant mortality in the San Francisco area.
As a neighborhood’s average income increases property value racial diversity reduces property value. Many times because of lack of self-pride people in Bayview Hunter’s Point and neighborhood’s like it, are made to feel inferior because white people who see the place as “free” land waiting to be discovered are pushing them out of their neighborhood. Gentrification is going on at the time in this neighborhood, which creates anger and fear. Policy Director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research association Sarah Karlinsky, advocates that suburban sprawl is just as bad for democracy and equity for the nation as urban sprawl, “When you have concentrations of poverty, people growing up there have less access to other life opportunities. The same is true at the other end, as well. ... We don't want San Francisco to become Carmel, just a city of the wealthiest. Then we're not a real city any more, we're a boutique.” This city official is speaking of the rapidly declining diversity of San Francisco and how it dramatically diminishes the city’s charm and character. Ethnic enclaves attract people of color seeking refuge in a neighborhood that is filled with people who look like them and whom they can culturally identify with. Although Bayview Hunter’s point still had more black residents in the neighborhood that any other neighborhood in the city it is important to note that the small Black family owned businesses are slowly but surely becoming high-priced boutiques and bohemian eateries. The Bayview neighborhood is no longer home to “close-knit” Black family ties and a somewhat high level of social organization, as seen in the pre late -60’s, because many residents have moved to suburbs in search for a safer environment after the “crack boom” demoralized the neighborhoods residents in the 80’s. The rising housing prices and commercial real estate prices resulting from gentrification created a push and pull effect which led residents out of the Bayview and into places like Oakland or further up north into the suburbs to places like Pittsburg or Antioch. Bayview Hunter’s Point will continue to change, as areas around it such as the Mission District are being hard hit and gentrified by the young Anglo professionals seeking to open businesses and raise a small nuclear family. Displacement is a serious concern for residents living in Bayview Hunter’s Point where according to an American Community Survey that collected data about San Francisco’s neighborhood profiles, %49 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are renter occupied. As described in Unhealthy Places by Kevin Fitzpatrick, place is a key component in a person’s identity. This directly correlates with why people living in areas with high risks and hazard have their identity begins to deteriorate because of the collection of harsh situations and circumstances that occur as a result of living in that neighborhood. In order for gentrification to not negatively impact residents of these newly “rediscovered” urban ghettos to be able to live amongst these yuppies there needs to be an implementation of job training programs, free health care clinics, affordable grocery stores and recreation centers and education. This way there can still be facilities in place to serve those who are not upper middle- income. It can be resolved that Bayview Hunter’s Point community is a good example of the processes of gentrification is a complex problem that impacts many native residents of communities across the nation.
The goal in this research project was to understand how gentrification impacts the residents of predominantly Hispanic or African-American neighborhoods of San Francisco. Gentrification shows how people are invariably impacted by place and space and how the government and private interest groups can harshly affect a community of people. Gentrification can also bring communities together in order to promote positivity such as demanding cleaner sidewalks. Governments can also help to reduce the harmful risks of gentrification by implementing policy that helps to regulate the process. Displacement is a major concern for the lower middle and low income African-Americans of the community. I researched the views of residents, government organizations, non profits and the outcome basically all led to Bayview being a neglected toxic waste site for many years and plans to develop has been in the works but it was not until they found a way to rid the community of the African Americans who live their did city officials begin to launch their plan.
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