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Reconceptualizing the Community Media Project Through Space and Scale: A Case Study of Public Access Television in San Francisco, CA.


In 2009, the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), a non-profit with over forty years of experience training independent producers and freelance media workers in the Bay Area, assumed management over public access television after state cable franchising rules eliminated 80% of the access TV budget. They proposed to combine expertise with new technology to expand public access beyond TV into a new transmedia community center. Among other changes, BAVC closed a million dollar access facility on San

Francisco's main thoroughfare, Market St., and moved operations to Mariposa and Bryant—a neighborhood aggressively gentrified during the late 1990s. Many community producers believed BAVC's transformations would ruin the access community they had struggled to maintain for over forty years. As BAVC assumed management, many in the community simply quit. In this dissertation I look at why the access community rejected BAVC's transformation by posing questions about the role of space, place, and scale, from critical and human geography, in community media projects.

As our new media ecology expands access for community media making, some say that access to cable TV is no longer significant. However, to understand the significance of new technologies for community media today, I consider the significance of space, scale, and infrastructure to questions of access. In particular, I demonstrate how a complex relationship between San Francisco's cable franchise, telecommunications policy, urban redevelopment, community video and television production practices, and the communities involved, co-construct spaces that enable and constrain the ability of actors to create stable, coherent places and practices that allow them broader access to decision-making arenas. To maneuver through these complex relationships, I rely on a connection between spatial relationships and scalar relationships—that the construction of space is also a construction of scale. Here scale articulates an intersection of social conflict between competing federal, state, and municipal authority, global and local/commercial and non-profit production practices, between the neighborhood and the city, and the individual and broader community. These intersections are found in the material spaces and practices of public access television and highlight the importance of space, scale, and infrastructure to the future of community media.

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