Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gentrification and Political Street Art

Hey friends,
Today we worked with San Francisco Women Against Rape(SFWAR), an organization that provides resources for women who have experienced rape and sexual assault as well as promotes awareness in the greater population of San Francisco.  We were given the task of going into local businesses and asking if they would put posters up for SFWAR.  Miiko, Gunner, and I primarily were talking to Businesses on Valencia street which was mostly upscale hipster-y businesses and cafes.  The sidewalks were clean and freshly cemented, also there were these structures on the sidewalks called "parklets" (see picture below):
Initially I thought the parklets were nice and quirky cool.  They're a nice bit of natural (ish) space in the middle of the city and breaks things up a bit.  However, we had to cross a block to go to a parallel street Mission Street to get more posters.  The number of people experiencing homelessness increased and the quality of the sidewalks dramatically decreased.  The people on Mission street were less likely to speak english fluently and also less likely to want to put a poster up in their store.  They space they had for advertisement was already limited, they couldn't sacrifice any window space that wasn't already being used to promote the products they were selling.  
As we crossed back over to Valencia, Miiko, Gunner, and I noticed a very clear divide.  On the Valencia side of the line, the cement was fresh and clean, there were trees and plants every 10 feet,  and the apartment buildings looked more expensive.  But on the Mission side of the line, the cement was dirty, unkept, and barren.  There were no parklets on Mission street, there weren't even trees planted in the sidewalks.  

During our walk in the Mission, we discovered a lot of political street art.  This is a mural we saw that I felt was really telling of the experience of gentrification of The Mission District: 

We continued to put up posters in the Tenderloin (the neighborhood our Hostel is in) and downtown San Francisco. We were very successful directly in the Tenderloin, but as we got farther and farther into the Downtown area, the more corporate franchises we encountered and were unable to accept our posters.  
On the brightside however, in the middle of all the corporate downtown buildings and shopping centers, we ran into something called "Vets Alley."  It's an alleyway between Geary Street and O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin that is covered end to end with street art made by for and about US Veterans of the San Francisco area.  
Because I come from a military family and have personal connections to the veteran community, encountering Vets Alley was especially impactful for me:

I really enjoy the street art we are seeing here in San Francisco and I wish I had the time to see all of it, I think it's an important part of the community here.  The art serves as a window into the lives of the marginalized people of the area.

That's all for now.

Wishing you the best,

Hattie Hsu

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