We Lose Space, Installation by Megan Wilson and Gordon Winiemko, San Francisco Art Commission Grove Street Gallery (across from SF City Hall), San Francisco, CA, 2000, photo by Megan Wilson

New Feature on Stretcher:

Preface: When I began researching and writing The Gentrification of our Livelihoods in early March 2014 one of my primary interests was the impact that the collaboration between Intersection for the Arts and developer Forest City’s creative placemaking 5M Project is having on the existing communities that have invested in and called the South of Market home prior to the tech booms. Having worked with many community-based organizations within the SoMa community for the past 18 years, I’ve had deep concerns about the development’s impact for the neighborhood and its impact on the future of Intersection.

However, I would not have predicted the announcement that Intersection made on May 22nd to cut its arts, education, and community engagement programs and lay off its program staff would come as soon as it did. What began as a reflection on the shortcomings of creative placemaking as a tool for economic development and its implications on gentrification and community displacement has become a cautionary tale for arts and community organizations to question and better understand the potential outcomes of working with partners whose interests are rooted in financial profit.

Over the past two months I’ve spoken with many of the stakeholders involved with the 5M development, as well as the creative placemaking projects that are helping to shape the changes in the culture and landscape throughout San Francisco, these include: Deborah Cullinan, former Executive Director, Intersection for the Arts; Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America; Angelica Cabande, Executive Director, South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Jessica Van Tuyl, Executive Director, Oasis For Girls, April Veneracion Ang, Senior Aide to Supervisor Jane Kim, District 6 and former Executive Director of SOMCAN; Tom DeCaigney, Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Art Commission; Josh Kirschenbaum, Vice President for Strategic Direction, PolicyLink, and an anonymous source within Forest City Enterprises … Continue Reading

On December 13th the New York Times published the following Op-Ed / marketing piece by Allison Arieff, editor and content strategist for SPUR:

What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning by Allison Arieff

SAN FRANCISCO — The tech sector is, increasingly, embracing the language of urban planning — town hall, public square, civic hackathons, community engagement. So why are tech companies such bad urbanists?

Tech companies are scrambling to move into cities — Google will have a larger presence here. VISA and Akamai have ditched the suburbs to come here. Tech tenants now fill 22 percent of all occupied office space in San Francisco — and represented a whopping 61 percent of all office leasing in the city last year. But they might as well have stayed in their suburban corporate settings for all the interacting they do with the outside world. The oft-referred-to “serendipitous encounters” that supposedly drive the engine of innovation tend to happen only with others who work for the same company. Which is weird.   Read more ….

A FEW POINTS TO NOTE ABOUT THIS OP-ED:

1) The piece is an Op-Ed by the author Allison Arieff who works for SPUR, a pro-development, pro-gentrification organization;

2) Arieff devotes a good portion of her op-ed to highlight 5M Project: “a mixed-use project at San Francisco’s 5th and Mission that is determined to be a public asset as much as a private sector one. 5M shows that tech (and non-tech) companies can become an essential part of the urban fabric in a way that satisfies employees and their neighbors. The project houses tech companies (most recently, the mobile payment company, Square, which is moving down the street; their space will be taken over by Yahoo engineers) but also The San Francisco Chronicle. This is a much more outward-facing endeavor: With weekly food trucks at lunchtime, numerous public events hosted by their tenants, which include TechShop, HubSoma (a co-working space/tech incubator), and Intersection for the Arts (a gallery), 5M builds on the vitality of public space and the people who activate it.”

3) 5M Project is Forest City Enterprises, a $9-billion publicly traded corporation that often uses eminent domain to displace residents, including the infamous Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Check out one of the trailers for the film “Battle For Brooklyn” about the project here:

4) Alexa Arena, director of Forest City Enterprises / 5M Project in San Francisco is a Vice Chair on the Board at SPUR where the author of this op-ed, Allison Arieff works – so this article appears to really be part of 5M / Forest City Enterprises’ marketing campaign.

5) While Arieff makes some good, valid points regarding the tech sector’s colonization of public space, her op-ed lacks a deeper analysis of the overall impact on the greater community – those who are housing unstable and who are low- and middle- income and how projects such as 5M Project/ Forest City are actually a considerable part of the problem and the colonization of public space, helping to displace longtime residents – especially communities of color and immigrant populations and strongly contributing to the gentrification of San Francisco.

6) In addition to the South of Market neighborhood Forest City is also working to gentrify the Bayview / Hunter’s Point neighborhood through the same tactics that Afieff outlines here – by appearing to be a part of the community and investing in it, when in fact the ultimate goal is pure profit for the corporation’s stock holders.