Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"A neighborhood just like our Mid-Market"

A company called Yammer moved into offices on Market Street near Ninth. Recently they decided to "engage" our neighborhoods -- vaguely, South of Market, Civic Center and the Tenderloin. They called these neighborhoods "Mid-Market". They called their effort "Mid-Market Matters." As if we needed to be told so. They decided to "engage" us by serving soup to us, teaching computers to kids, and performing other smiling acts of charity for deserving objects of charity.

[Addendum 7/29/17: The blog post linked above is now off the company site. Here is an archived version. It used photos by downtown SRO chronicler Mark Ellinger without payment or communication to him. As he noted in a resulting Twitter exchange, his work is posted under a Creative Commons license, so they could do that. But in the course of stating an intention to uplift the neighborhood, they might have considered paying a local low-income artist for his work]

In the course of which, they made a charming suggestion, likely not meant for local consumption:
"No matter where you are, you probably have a neighborhood just like our Mid-Market. So we encourage you to follow our lead — get up, get out, and get involved in making your Mid-Market better for everyone!"
So, call me a Little Old Lady In Tennis Shoes if you like, but I just had to write them a letter:

[Update: Yammer's Jason Rodrigues had the good sportsmanship to let my comment appear on his company blog below the post that I've linked above. His response is here.]

Dear Yammer Community Engagement Folks:

Western downtown San Francisco is not “just like” anywhere else in this world. We know that our home “matters.” We don’t need Yammer to convince us of that. We are not some anomic impoverished rabble waiting for rich newcomers to save us. We are neighbors living in existing established neighborhoods that we value both for what they are and for what they can become.

We are varied people. Our respective backgrounds, incomes and identities diverge in ways that may surprise you. You can’t presume who we are from the statistical medians for our respective census tracts.

 You can’t win our friendship by ladling soup at us. An “engagement” program of one-way top-down charitable service is better than complete aloofness but it doesn’t necessarily “engage” your neighbors. Some may find it patronizing. Many won’t notice it.

On the other hand, if you ask around you’ll find local activists, historians and geezers who can help you adopt an informed, neighborly and respectful role as new arrivals in this established community. For example, you could contact Jim Meko of the SoMaLeadership Council. Jim doesn’t always speak for everyone — nobody could — but he’s an example of a local leadership figure who you won’t “engage” by ladling soup. Or take a history tour with ChrisCarlsson of www.shapingsf.org and FoundSF.org . Or get in touch with neighbors at the Langton and Howard community garden. Or introduce yourselves at the community-wise Green Arcade bookstore.

Since you’ve borrowed (or rather, I hope, rented) some of the above photos from photographer and writer Mark Ellinger of upfromthedeep.com you’ve sampled his huge knowledge about the Sixth Street area. His site is full of stories that aren’t “just like” anything nor anywhere else. That’s a start for you right there in seeing your new home as a place already worth liking.

Further about our neighborhood and, lately, yours:

- Market Street around Seventh has swallowtail butterflies in its sycamore trees.
- Species seen in Civic Center and South of Market include raccoons, finches, Anna’s hummingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, Cooper’s hawks, and the Ninth Street redtail hawk nest. “Bluoz” has been photographing hawks on the Federal Building.
- Filipino San Francisco has strong connections South of Market and in South Park.
- South of Market at the latitude of Howard and Folsom Streets is a legendary gay district — a fact that used to be well known, that has sunk from view surprisingly fast in business journalists’ accounts of our area. Pictures and stories about gay SoMa, often lively and some NSFW, are included at foundsf.org/index.php?title=Category:SOMA
- “Mid-Market” isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a developers’ label. That’s why it doesn’t have a foundsf index.
- FoundSF has a lot to say about the Tenderloin. So did Tenderloin Geographic Society. Unfortunately the creator of the Geographic Society site and column recently left town, citing economic pressures and creeping big-moneysoullessness. While soup is a fine thing, I don’t think soup would have helped her stay.
- The current effort to improve South of Market is not the first. All such efforts are eventually moderated and half-tamed by skeptical neighbors.
- If you are looking for a neighborly gesture to show us more respect than the soup thing, you could throw some support behind Jane Kim’s alternative to Scott Weiner’s CEQA legislation. That would express support for the integrity of our neighborhood.

- Walk slower around here. Get out of your Uber cars. Appreciate where you are before you decide what’s good for it.


  1. as a tl resident, i utterly and completely disagree with this post, particularly on the jane kim ceqa point. we need safer and cleaner streets, we need re-activated shops and re-animated public realm (and i don't mean people hanging around drunk or stoned), we need a deconcentration of poverty. i see this all the time people trying to preserve the status quo here by limiting change when what we should be doing is forcing other parts of san francisco to accept new low income housing so that our mix here is more balanced. soup is idiotic but the answer is definitely not to lock in the horrific dysfunction that we currently have, it just keeps people down and out.

  2. OK, David, so you and I may not agree about the CEQA issue, and it sounds like we might disagree on policing issues, but here's my bigger point --

    Here you are, a literate, thoughtful Tenderloin resident with definite goals, explaining them in public for the tech companies and me and everybody to hear.

    When the tech companies describe residents of the TL they don't describe you. When they describe residents of South of Market (or "Mid-Market", wherever that is), they don't describe me. They don't describe any real person.

    Instead, they imply that our local population is simply a hungry, communityless, contextless mass living below the level of civic existence. According to that Yammer post, sometimes even according to Twitter, typical neighbors here are at the very bottom of the hierarchy of needs -- so desperate for soup or shelter or sustenance that we're not able to put forward civic or aesthetic goals.

    This is not a fair portrayal of anyone at any income level. It doesn't sound like anyone I've ever known in this neighborhood, with or without money, with or without housing, living on pavements or in one room or in seven.

    It's just a thing colonizers do: from Junipero Serra to our current crop of SoMa newbies, colonizers have always pretended that the prior inhabitants are too wretched to form intentions of their own.

  3. Cities change. Trying to contribute to an area that has long been neglected by doing things that you deem "charity" is hardly a bad thing. I suppose that you think that anyone moving into a new neighborhood automatically has to maintain the status quo there, rather than contribute to a positive change - and yes, besides YOU, some people might find these efforts as positive changes and contributions. Maybe a little less grandstanding for your own personal agenda, and a little more meeting folks in the middle without the snark and rude tone towards people who are trying to do some good might help. The fact that you go on to insinuate that the new residents and companies moving into this area are "colonizers" is sort of beyond rude. If it were up to folks like you, the whole area in question would remain ridden with closed businesses and rampant drug abuse until YOUR version of paradise somehow happened magically, or until everyone moving into the neighborhood just fell in lockstep with whatever your ideal is. Just because you live here, doesn't mean your voice speaks for all - and I suggest that if you want that to be the case, you run for local office. If you're elected, then you know that people agree with you. Until then - I'm sorry, but it's just your opinion - because I haven't met a single person that lives in this area that would agree with anything you have said on either Yammer's blog post, or here in your own forum. Your intentions may be in the right place, but your delivery leaves something to be desired.

  4. If the anonymous commenter or other readers would like to get involved in the ongoing democratic shaping of our neighborhood in a neighborly and respectful way, Supervisor Jane Kim's April newsletter is full of good ideas.