I read a somewhat related story somewhere recently - I'm pretty sure either the NYT or the WaPo - about how young professionals - and the artiste types who serve them their coffee and wine - moving into formerly blighted areas don't want to proceed with gentrification too fast, how they think it's kind of edgy to have a little higher-than-average crime rate, so as to retain an element of grittiness to the neighborhood.This story in the SF Weekly deals with a commercial property in the Haight-Ashbury district which became a local bone of contention after some redevelopment work. The address on Steiner St. was, for many years, the home of a locally owned coffee shop called “Bean There.” (Très adorable, n’est-ce pas?) It was popular with the locals, but following some earthquake mitigation work by the owner of the property, the lease to the coffee shop owner was not renewed. There’s some debate over why that took place, but that’s not really the story here.What came next was an ongoing fight to see what business would replace Been There. A profitable looking bid came in for a different coffee shop operated by Blue Bottle Coffee. As the linked article explains, having another coffee shop there wasn’t going to be acceptable if it wasn’t the right kind of coffee shop, if you know what I mean. Local community activists leapt into action without delay.But behind the scenes, a battle against corporate coffee moguls was being waged…The process hands a fair amount of power to nearby residents, who are allowed to petition to the Planning Commission for or against a formula retail business moving in.With this bit of power, Lower Haight got fired up. Neighbors United, a group formed by former District 5 supervisor candidate Dean Preston and his deputy campaign manager Jen Snyder, worked closely with the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association (LoHMNA) and local resident Hal Fischer to flyer the neighborhood and alert residents about the plan. On Thursday people flooded the Planning Commission meeting, voicing an overwhelming distaste for the chain coffee shop’s attempt to move into Bean There’s old spot.And in the end, they won. The Planning Commission voted 2-4 in favor of the opposition. A final motion to officially block Blue Bottle will be held at a future meeting.The locals apparently have the power to petition the planning commission and stop any development which doesn’t fit in with the “flavor” (oh… pardon me. I’m sure that’s probably flavour) of the Lower Haight neighborhood. They are also on the lookout to prevent “gentrification” and they certainly don’t want one of those big, international chain operations moving in and diluting the local culture. So they shut down Blue Bottle’s bid. The people rejoiced over this great victory.“This is a huge victory for preserving the character of our neighborhood,” said Fischer, who led a petition drive that gathered more than 1,300 signatures.Congratulations, community organizers! You kept out that big, nasty, soulless international chain store. Except for one thing. Blue Bottle is a boutique coffee outfit which was formed pretty much next door in Oakland. Their mission statement tells you all about their horrible corporate philosophy. It was started by, “a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic.” He created the brand specifically to rebel against major chains like Starbucks and bring people freshly ground coffee made from (and this is the important bit) “responsibly sourced beans.”And how big is this massive international chain which the locals were too exclusive to have in their neighborhood? They have a total of 34 stores. But that’s more than the eleven which the local ordinance allows before you are considered a major international player, however. So Blue Bottle’s bid was shut down. And what did this “victory” deliver for the sensitive, socially woke residents instead? The property sits empty, as it has for over a year with the exception of a brief, failed attempt to open up a hair salon there. So the neighborhood used to have a coffee shop where people could gather for a cup of joe and mingle. Now they have an empty eyesore which is generating zero profit or tax revenue.
I started thinking about how manufactured all of this is a few years ago when various locales started sporting bumper stickers that said "Keep [insert name of city] weird." Yes, indeed, that really affirms the organic process by which unconventional people have clustered together in a given area.
This is why I studiously avoid fair-trade foodstuffs, why the recycling tote my city has provided me sits unused in my garage, and why I sure as hell won't put one of those "Love More" signs in my yard.
It's nothing but the basic ground-level liberal certainty that one cares more than one's fellow citizens, dressed up in blue and pink hair and nose rings.
In fact, I got a kick out of a conversation I had with a jazz violinist recently. She and I have played together many times over the years, but not too much recently. So we were driving to a gig and catching up. She's, shall we say, a seasoned veteran, a bit older than me. She was talking about gigging with students of the university music school from which all local jazz musicians cull players for gigs, and how she is sure there is a connection between their persnickety vegan diets and health preoccupations and the soulless nature of their playing. We talked about how the great players of jazz's golden age really did come out of gritty environments - and ate lots of fried chicken and washed it down with whiskey.
I wonder if postmodern urban dwellers like those in the Lower Haight will ever come to see the irony of the way they're killing cultural vibrancy with their neurotic and narcissistic attempts to preserve cultural vibrancy.
I'm not holding my breath.