The test of the Tenderloin - Page 2

Can a low-income neighborhood become more livable — without gentrification?

Lack of development in the neighborhood has left the Tenderloin one of the city's best-preserved historic areas

If Shaw is correct, it will indeed be a first. Many cities have attempted to transform low income areas with arts districts — and the end result has typically been the displacement of the poorer residents. Coalition on Homelessness director Jennifer Friedenbach described the process: "Gentrification follows a very specific path. First come police sweeps, then the arts, then the displacement. That's the path that we're seeing. Hopefully we'll be able to avoid the displacement part," she says.

It'd be great if the Tenderloin took the road less traveled — but will it?

Shaw's best-case scenario seems unlikely, according to Chester Hartman, a renowned urban planning scholar and author of the numerous studies of San Francisco history and the activist handbook Displacement: How to Fight It (National Housing Law Project 1982). Hartman doubts the Tenderloin will remain a housing option for the city's poor, given its central location and market trends. "The question is, what proportion will move and what will stay?" he said in a phone interview.

Earlier this summer, the National Endowment of the Arts awarded the SF Arts Commission $250,000 toward an arts-based "revitalization of the mid-Market neighborhood." The area, which is adjacent to the Tenderloin, is considered by many to be the more outwardly visible face of the TL. In truth, the two neighborhoods share many of the same issues and public characteristics, including high density living and prominent issues with drugs.

Amy Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom's director of neighborhood business development, said the Newsom administration is using the money "to implement arts programming that would have an immediate impact on the street. These activities would then build momentum for the longer-term projects." At this point, plans for that "immediate impact" have started with the installation of lights on Market Street between Sixth and Eighth streets. Two other projects are also in effect: a city-sponsored weekly arts market on United Nations Plaza and an al fresco public concert series.

It's hard to distinguish these moves from a general trend toward rebranding the image of the Tenderloin. These streets have already seen Newsom announce a historic preservation initiative that put $15,000 worth of commemorative plaques on buildings; it was also announced they would be added to the National Register of Historic Places, a move that allows property owners deep tax cuts for building renovations.

Cohen said her office has spent time trying to attract a supermarket (something the neighborhood, although flush with corner stores, currently lacks), but efforts seem to be faltering. "Grocery store operators and other retailers perceive that the area is unsafe and have expressed concerns about the safety of their employees and customers," Cohen said. "The arts strategy makes sense because it builds on the assets that are there. Cultivating the performing and visual arts uses that are already succeeding will ultimately enhance the neighborhood's ability to attract restaurants, retail, and needed services like grocery stores."

These days, many of the small businesses in the area have window signs hyping "Uptown Tenderloin: Walk, Dine, Enjoy" over graphics of jazzy, people-free high-rises. Looking skyward, one observes the recent deployment of tidy street banners funded by the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District that pay homage to the number of untouched historic buildings in the neighborhood. The banners read "409 historic buildings in 33 blocks. Yeah, we're proud."

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