A few weeks ago the local paper noted that some outdoor chess tables in the mid-market area got rolled up by the police. The outcry that followed is nothing that compares to the current debate about residential tenants in two commercial buildings that don’t comply with zoning or residential housing standards.
While these might seem like un-related issues, the root cause is the same: the mid-market area of San Francisco is transforming, and the new arrivals will be making a lot of changes. And by changes, let’s be clear: The San Francisco that was isn’t the San Francisco that is about to be. As I’ve written before, we are town that was once a beacon for outcasts and outlaws but is now a beacon for overachievers.
Mid Market Area photos, October 2013, click any for a larger version/slideshow:
While I was taking pictures, I ran across the Odd Fellows building at the southeast corner of 7th and Market. The building (originally built for a fraternal organization dedicated to friendship, love, and truth founded in NYC by three boat builders, a comedian, and a vocalist) is an excellent metaphor for the changes happening in the neighborhood itself.
The mid-market area has never fit neatly into any category – it is too far west to be a part of the civic center corridor that is bisected by Van Ness Ave, not quite far enough east or north to be the tenderloin (and downtown, beyond that), and too far north to be mistaken for it’s formerly industrial southern neighbor, SOMA – and so for decades, the people that called the neighborhood home also defied easy categorization. For better or for worse, that’s changing.
Twitter is moving in as a neighborhood anchor tenant, the trinity plaza apartment complex is being completely redeveloped (the old buildings are now gone, some of the new buildings have been completed, some remain to be constructed), the fountain where the homeless once bathed has been shutdown and fenced off, chess tables that might or might not have been a front for other activities have been removed, neighborhood rents are on the rise, and when I was there on a Thursday at lunch time, there were more police in the plaza than food trucks serving lunch.
Just as the Odd Fellows building has lost it’s old ground-floor tenants to a formula-retail chain CVS, so is the mid-market area losing it’s old tenants in exchange for new – and very different – tenants. Like it or not, I think it is a good example of the changes we will continue to encounter along the way to the next version of San Francisco.
What will that San Francisco look like? Who will be able to afford it? How will it balance its history of activism and civic engagement with opportunities for growth and change?
Here’s the harsh reality for the mid-market area: office workers don’t want to hop over passed out homeless drunks and panhandlers while walking to and from their office jobs. It doesn’t matter if the office job is writing code for Twitter or making powerpoint presentations for Chevron, workers have a (perfectly reasonable, IMHO) desire to be able to walk to and from their offices without being assaulted, panhandled, puked or watching anyone take a piss. I mean, really.
When a bunch of workers move into a formerly vacant office building, lots of things happen beyond just the building; everything is connected. Employees want a building in a clean and safe neighborhood. So cops start enforcing laws they haven’t enforced in a long while. Then the smaller buildings see an increase in value because of the big tenant and the neighborhood improvements, like less panhandling. So more firms suddenly start showing interest in opening up offices in the neighborhood. Which causes more demand for new restaurants, gyms, bars and so on and so forth. It’s an almost self-powered feedback loop.
Who Moves Next?
How does the mid-market transformation play out? Who gets to stay, who ends up leaving? It’s a neighborhood in flux, and definitely a neighborhood worth keeping an eye on. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.