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Op-Ed: Only Half of San Francisco is Changing

Using a mid 20th-century painting as his point of reference, Benjamin Schneider points out that the vast, disruptive changes we often associate with San Francisco are only affecting the city's eastern side.
August 22, 2019, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Jorg Hackemann

Urban change isn't equally distributed in San Francisco, Benjamin Schneider writes. "The city that so fascinates out-of-town journalists, tourists, well-compensated newcomers, and, apparently, news consumers around the world is actually only half of San Francisco. The other half [...] continues to be characterized by a suburban landscape and a suburban way of life that has remained basically unchanged for half a century or more."

Schneider argues that the vast changes taking place in neighborhoods like the Mission, SoMa, and Hayes Valley are partly attributable to an "utter lack of change across the west side." He goes on, "Due to outdated zoning laws and an inordinate amount of political power, the wealthiest, least dense neighborhoods have all too successfully shielded themselves from desperately needed new housing and homeless services, leaving a handful of east-side neighborhoods to bear these burdens for the entire city."

"This dynamic—of enormous change in low-income, often non-white neighborhoods close to downtown and virtually no change at all in upper- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods a bit farther out—is in force throughout the Bay Area, California, and major cities across the country."

Schneider concludes that we need a new way to talk about urban change, one that acknowledges the complicity of "rich people militantly preserving their way of life and physical surroundings" when problems like homelessness and displacement affect other parts of the city.

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Published on Friday, August 2, 2019 in San Francisco Chronicle
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