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"Race, Space and Contestation: Gentrification in San Francisco's Latina/o Mission District, 1998-2002

  • Author(s): Casique, Francisco Diaz
  • Advisor(s): Hilden, Patricia P
  • et al.
Abstract

From 1995 to 2005, the San Francisco Bay Area underwent quick and rapid changes as the forces of the "New Economy," particularly those connected to internet related businesses, pushed the region's economic engine at warp speed. San Francisco power brokers recognized the economic power of these new internet related firms and worked to lure and retain this new economic force to and within the city. By 1998, their efforts, along with other forces, created an uneven spatial distribution of internet related firms in San Francisco's eastern quadrant, a historically working-class area of the city. The encroachment of these internet related firms into eastern quadrant neighborhoods like the Mission District, a working-class and predominantly Latina/o area of the city, also brought gentrification.

Between 1998 and 2002, the time focus of this dissertation, the upward trend that the "New Economy" had been experiencing since 1995, hit its peak before falling back to earth. During this same time, the pressures of gentrification that had been impacting Mission District residents since 1995 also hit its peak. Commercial, manufacturing and light-industrial space was being converted apace into office space, live-work lofts, and luxury condominiums. Residential evictions in the Mission District easily outpaced those in other parts of the city during this four year stretch as local real estate firms jumped into speculative real estate deals. The displacement of local industries and people combined contributed to significant residential and commercial shifts in the Mission District.

In 1998, Mission District activists and residents formally began an anti-displacement movement. This movement, which found its most potent expression in the working-class Latina/o Mission District before radiating out to other San Francisco neighborhoods, demonstrates the need to understand better the importance of space and place for social movement actors. The Mission District's claim for spatial and social justice also highlights three key themes for social movement scholarship: collective consumption, cultural identity, and political self- management. In the Mission District these three dimensions showed themselves through a geographic struggle over the protection of livable space, the culturally and racially relevant form of protest within a place based identity formation, and efforts to gain greater community control over city planning processes and decision-making procedures. As much as this dissertation examines a social movement, it also expands on the cultural forms of spatialized and geographically scaled protest activity. The latter two are brought to bear through the resistive efforts of a grassroots led community movement that struggled to create, challenge, and reproduce cultural meanings of place that are absolutely inscribed in our socio-spatial landscape.

The close focus of this dissertation on a single community movement within one neighborhood in San Francisco highlights larger issues of concern. How normalized processes such as privatization, and gentrification play out across major urban centers of late capitalist society reveals an intense struggle by those displaced as well as those profiting from the changes. While gentrification may be most visible at the local scale, it would be a mistake to not also understand its connecting threads to larger regional and global forces. As such, viewing gentrification through a multi-scaled lens allows one to view the nuanced impacts of larger global neoliberal tendencies and logics in actually existing places (Brenner & Theodore, 2002).

These larger tendencies and logics have made the outcomes of contemporary gentrification - further displacement, dislocation and general marginalization of the urban working-class - a durable part of a larger socio-spatial landscape that for so many produces the interruption and/or destruction of everyday life. This project is situated in larger theoretical issues of organized abandonment, "landscape," mobility/immobility, and the racialized/spatialized outcomes of short-sighted spatial fixes to crises. This project also demonstrates how these unevenly developed landscapes carry the necessary elements for the creation of spatial justice, and the features necessary for "geographies of justice", features that extend beyond the local scale, having fluid interplay at varying scales.

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