November 23, 2010

Redevelopment vs. Preservation in SF

Writing SoMa history | San Francisco Examiner

Interesting snapshot of the investment that may/will unfold with the arrival of HSR and the Transbay Terminal. Proponents of HSR argue that areas adjacent to planned stations will receive this attention up and down the state-long route, and with it come concerns about preserving the character of the existing space. Preservation is a tricky beast to tame, and a glance at the comments will tell you why:

Planning tends to do a really mixed-up choc-a-bloc pastiche when they get into this micr0 management mode. It the Mission they arbitrarily took whole blocks that had been mixed use, and locked them down under "industrial preservation." Now many of those buildings sit empty because the "industry" has long since moved out and there is no flexibility to re-purpose the buildings.

Meanwhile individual neighbors are jammed up against industrial space that is neglected.

Sixth Street Lodging District?!?!? Are you f-ing kidding me? Let's make sure we preserve the homeless and criminals that do with it and that live in these "historical" buildings. Better yet, in order to preserve the true character of the neighborhood, let's dress all the homeless like 1930 bums and call is Skid Row again. We can sell tickets!
Preservation can be a powerful tool to prevent slash and burn redevelopment that makes every place look like noplace, and whether these commenters are right or wrong, it can also hamstring economic growth, and result in arbitrarily preserved eyesores. It is also selectively wielded, and though Examiner reporter Kamala Kelkar doesn't come right out and say it, bias is implied. SoMa and the Mission have been targeted for preservation against overzealous developers, while (the last historically black neighborhood left) Hunters Point was not. Nor, in decades past, was the Fillmore area, known as "The Harlem of the West."

I've given my snapshot of California Redevelopment Laws in an earlier post, and it is safe to say that the system favors the monied and powerful in their quest to remain monied and powerful. It accomplishes this by creating powerful incentives to replace underperforming/poor areas with uses that generate more impressive revenues: luxury condos and big box regional retail being perhaps the foremost. Preservation needs a place at the table, as I think it's usually best to regard redevelopment skeptically until proven otherwise.

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