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The Making and Unmaking of Southeast San Francisco


The Making and Unmaking of Southeast San Francisco

This project historicizes the recent convergence of private and public development interests in Southeast San Francisco, a place that was once dismissed as too risky for investment. Emphasizing the importance of race and gender in this history, I ask how an unexpected story of urban change shifts our sense of possibility for San Francisco and, more broadly, for the future of the American city.

Historically, the Southeast was the place where San Francisco cloistered industries and people that were unwelcome by the mainstream. After years of industrial concentration, the area became home to a naval shipyard that played a central role in World War II, and that drew in thousands of African American families to live and work. The residential character of today's Southeast was further shaped by waves of urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s and by the activism of African American women in the 1970s. Development plans that emerged in the late 1990s revealed that the poor, industrially polluted, and violence-ridden Southeast would be pivotal in formulating San Francisco's 21st Century growth patterns.

Today, the city is moving forward with a massive redevelopment plan for the Southeast under a partnership between the Redevelopment Agency and the Lennar Corporation, one of America's largest private homebuilders and a key player in the mortgage crisis. Lennar's Southeast is a largely poor yet racially diverse place, with a recent influx of Chinese-American and Latino families. Nested amid San Francisco's extreme real estate-driven wealth, the Southeast has a long history of alliances defined by political patronage.

In sum, through three case studies that reveal interlinked histories, this dissertation unpacks the ways that the politics of urban development and racial exclusion shape places, even in apparently progressive regions like the San Francisco Bay Area. This work extends and contributes to conversations about the role of government in urban growth, the co-production of urban space and racial hierarchies, and the ways that race-class politics are shifting in the newly multi-ethnic context of the American city.

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