Those of you who know the musical “RENT” are familiar with Jonathan Larson’s depiction of Alphabet City, a grungy neighborhood in downtown Manhattan full of squatters, artists, and crack cocaine. Not too long ago when the musical was first performed, in 1994, this was an accurate picture. Today Alphabet City looks more like the bourgeois high-brow on the forehead of allegedly affordable Brooklyn. And Brooklyn is quickly becoming the overpriced hipster counterpart to Queens.
When I was in elementary school, San Francisco’s Mission District was an immigrant neighborhood with great taquerias and moderate gang activity. By the time I reached high school, the Mission had transformed into a hipster Mecca, full of fixed-gear bikes, flannel shirts, and facial hair. The taquerias are still there, but now they compete with artisanal espresso stands and politically correct boutique grocery stores. By some stroke of genius or dumb luck, the taquerias have survived by integrating themselves into the hipster scene. Probably with the aid of unbeatable pico de gallo.
How does a refuge from the overpriced city become the overpriced hubbub of the city itself? Writer William Deresiewicz suggests in an article in The American Scholar that the population responsible for gentrifying a neighborhood lives parasitically on the lifeblood of unseen immigrant populations. He describes his experience watching the gentrification of Williamsburg, “We circle back, a couple of generations later, to a city we no longer recognize. We float on the swell, sustained upon an unregarded sea of immigrant energy.”
The crucial part of Deresiewicz’s point is that the energy sustaining places like Mission Dolores is unnoticed. I’m all for the new eco-friendly playground that replaced the pee-stained benches of Dolores Park, but I’m worried that the foundations of the neighborhood are becoming irrelevant to the public. It’s not the relatively new favorites like Bi-Rite Creamery or Box Dog Bikes that give the Mission its magic. It’s the tiny taquerias with neon pink signs, the Mariachi singers in white cowboy hats drifting from bar to bar on a rainy night.
Amused? Confused? Outraged? Share your thoughts with Renée at email@example.com.