We need to make sure development isn't just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents
Any serious vision for change must incorporate race and class dynamics. Consider the economic evisceration of much of the city's African American population, which has plummeted from 13.4 percent of the population in 1970 to just 6.5 percent today (more than 22,000 African Americans left the city between 1990 and 2008). The gutting of communities of color is intrinsically intertwined with issues of job and wage loss and soaring housing costs. This is particularly acute in the geographic and political dislocation of African Americans in San Francisco. Add to this picture intense overcrowding and poverty in Chinatown and in Latino and immigrant communities, and you get a set of inequities that are morally unacceptable and socially untenable.
Like other major American cities, San Francisco faces a crucial historical moment. Global warming and fast-dwindling oil supplies require a transformative shift in how we conceive (and implement) economic development far beyond the city's current piecemeal approach to "green procurement." The Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2007, concluded that a full 86 percent of San Francisco's energy use comes from fossil fuels, primarily petroleum and natural gas, and a small amount of coal. Given the world's fading oil supplies and mounting climate chaos, this is simply unsustainable.
The specter of a looming energy and environmental crisis, combined with economic instability marked by persistently high unemployment, rising income inequality, systemically entrenched homelessness, consumer debt, and the deepening crisis of cutbacks to critically needed human services and affordable housing call for a radical shift in how society — and San Francisco's economy — are run.
Transforming San Francisco into a truly sustainable city will mean dramatic shifts in what (and how) we produce and consume, and aggressive city policies that promote local renewable energy. Our economy — how our food, housing, transportation and other essential goods are made — will have to be rebuilt for a world without oil.
These and other limits mean we must redefine growth and profit—fast. Work and sustainability must become fully intertwined, and we must think creatively about how jobs can produce social and community value, instead of profits concentrated at the top.
Creating truly sustainable and equitable cities for the 21st century will also mean dramatic shifts in how we produce and consume. There is no better place to begin than here in San Francisco, long an incubator in progressive thinking and genuine grassroots action and innovation. In an earlier Community Congress in 1975, residents and groups from across San Francisco united in a movement of ideas and organizing that led to district supervisorial elections and successful campaigns to stem the tide of downtown corporate development, helping to democratize politics and economics in San Francisco.
The 2010 Community Congress is aimed at reinvigorating local movements for lasting change, both on the policy level and in the relationship between people and their government. We hope to inspire a spirited and creative shift in the city's culture and politics — with concrete, politically actionable policies to democratize planning and development and a more sweeping transformation of our expectations — toward a far richer and deeper engagement of people and communities in their own governance.
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