Community Voices

Secret to Preserving Neighborhood Culture: Embracing It

In Changing Times, Community Must Use Art as Glue to Stay Together

Ingleside-Mural

I am a professional musician, and I play with several San Francisco-based bands including Edwards Crossing, Seemway, and a number of half-formed groups. Through searching Yelp reviews my band mates and I recently found a 12’ x 16’ music rehearsal studio in a converted warehouse.

Having a dedicated practice space was essential for us as we tried out different band dynamics, different sounds. We needed a home base, and the location of this studio was ideal, just a block away from the Civic Center BART station.

Not four months into outfitting the small room as a recording studio, we had envelopes taped to our doors. Every one was being evicted. Even the Rehearsal Studio Company, run by a seasoned professional couple, was losing access to the building after a decade. The warehouse’s fate was to become market-rate condos.

I’d been told this story before, but living it was a whole different thing.

A New Home

I moved to Ingleside in the Fall of 2012 from my foothill valley hometown of Nevada City, California. Back then Whole Foods was not yet open and a business on Ocean Ave had recently burnt down, surrounded by an uninviting wooden barricade.

My love of music and desire to be among different cultures, outlooks and lifestyles brought me to San Francisco State to study broadcasting. My first glimpse of the neighborhood— a foggy valley hidden behind Mount Davidson— was through a Craigslist post as I looked for a room for rent.

Most exciting for me was the vast array of transit options that could take me to the heart of the city and all around the bay.

The more my roommates and I explored the city, the more Ingleside became my home. The neighborhood lacked nothing— there was delicious food: pork buns, vermicelli, burritos. There were great little spots like Brooks Park where you can see the Pacific Ocean or host secret music festivals, there were people talking and laughing in cafes.

I loved the culture of the city (which in reality is never just one culture) but I was aware that it was endangered. How does one embrace culture without destroying it?

Even in our relatively unknown part of town, cranes move in to raise the 1920’s ceilings of our neighborhood. More and more people are coming in to the city, change is inevitable, and change is already happening, but at what rate and at what loss of culture? What is the identity of our neighborhood, and are we prepared to surrender it?

I see our neighborhood as a foothill valley town. We’ve got many cultures, many types of families, students, artist. There are produce markets, cafes, specialty stores catering to everyone from cyclists to comic book fans. I love living here. Residential and commercial buildings are mostly old and small, but that keeps them affordable, and uniquely beautiful. Our neighborhood is a healthy organ in San Francisco’s body.

Honoring a Neighborhood

How can we ensure that the cultures of our neighborhood are preserved? The answer seems very simple and straightforward to me. We need to show more of what we have.

We live in a creative city, and that does not mean that a historically residential or quiet neighborhood shouldn’t be as visibly creative as any other neighborhood. Murals in the Mission and Chinatown serve as celebration and warning. They communicate the spirit of the area to future residents, who may be moving into a shiny new building on a shopworn block, or passing through on an Uber journey. How else are newcomers going to learn about a neighborhood’s culture before it is mistakenly lost?

If we leave our business walls bare and our shops and spaces void of cultural gatherings, we allow our transplants their own canvas to paint or destroy. The choice won’t be ours anymore. It will be theirs alone. A healthy creative future can exist but it must be a compromise. Otherwise it will be a battle without any clear winners.

My suggestion is to embrace this opportunity to tell our own stories, to each other and to newcomers. We can show them that our little quiet neighborhood is full of many peoples, arts, and cultures and that’s the way we like it.

I challenge businesses and property owners of Ocean Ave and the side streets to paint murals on the sides of buildings. I challenge coffee shops and active businesses to host events presenting performers and their fans. I challenge the people of Ingleside to embrace the culture that has created our neighborhood and city alike.

If we don’t, the newest trends may supplant our culture. We must learn the hard lessons that other neighborhoods have learned in order to keep this place and this city distinctly ours.

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