Several young men and boys took a stand for the neighborhood in Mission San Francisco.
I’m going to show you this video and then we are going to have a conversation about it.
Not because I want to. But because we need to. This video from Mission San Francisco is indicative of so much, including the erosion of play, cultural exchange, and true community. It is partially an example of entitlement bred by wealth and the quest for status. It is also an example of poor decisions made by government agency officials under pressure to create “revenue streams” for municipalities.
Watch it for yourself first. Please watch the whole thing, twice if you have to.
Now let’s talk
We are losing Neighborhood play
God, I have watched this happen in so many communities, and I am willing to bet that anyone over 30 knows what I am talking about. Those over 50 know even better.
We have seen the consistent erosion of community based play in lieu of organized, pay for play systems. When I was growing up, when many of you were growing up – kids would leave the house of their own volition, figure out who they wanted to invite to play, and go traipsing through the neighborhood collecting a growing play posse.
I have such fond memories of biking over to Barrett’s house. After moving to my mom’s old neighborhood, I vividly remember the following scenario repeating: Going to Grandma’s for some lemonade, then getting “The Dude” and Deshawn, Rob, Lamont, Bruh, Max and playing some football/basketball. So that I would have some “pads”, my grandma sewed together some cut up milk cartons and pillows. I loved my pads. Alternative scenario: The fellaz showing up at my house and finding that I couldn’t come out because I was doing yard work. LOL Dad aka Furious Styles…
Now, we have travel leagues, “official” jerseys, expensive equipment, registration fees. Am I saying that free play and collecting friends in the neighborhood never happens and has completely ceased? No. I am saying it is disappearing in favor of “pay to play” models. Play is becoming an industry instead of something that just happens between friends.
This is especially true once kids pass through middle childhood. Older kids, for many reasons, are losing the chance to play actively of their own volition in groups they pick. They are running out of non-electronic and non-organized things to do.
Gentrification is ruining neighborhood culture
This is a sensitive subject, but it shouldn’t be because it is an obvious problem. So much about this video was reminiscent of what I have seen in so many neighborhoods that are in the process of being
bettered, gentrified culturally destroyed. Money moves into a long standing neighborhood, and the money most often has nothing to do with, is completely disconnected with, fails to benefit the people who have made a life there. It fails to benefit those who built the culture. They are often displaced.
Further, there is typically a standardized homogenization of the neighborhood…here come Starbucks and Target to serve the new neighbors. Then the new neighbors complain about stuff like music and kids playing that have been there for decades. There is also a homogenization of income and well…you know.
Luckily Mission has retained a great deal of its original culture (my sister lives in the Bay Area and one of my wife’s best friends lives in Mission San Francisco). We had a great time there last summer. I spent the day in Mission working at a pizza place and then hanging out in the neighborhood with my wife looking at body art shops and the wonderful art in the community. I hope they don’t come through with a pencil and eraser per usual. It only gets “better” if it is still itself at the end. Otherwise, it isn’t better–it’s gone. This stuff–play, community, culture, history–all go hand in hand. They can’t be separated.
In the video, just look at the example of the attitude often displayed when someone “moves in” from the outside. The guy at the end, after talking to a guy that has been there 20 years and has invited him several times to stay and play the way they play in that neighborhood says:
“…awkward and weird, like we’re part of the community and we just want to play…”
First, sir – you are not part of the community. If you were, you would have known this about this park, and would have questioned any “app” that allows you to “reserve” the field. This is a sense of entitlement bred by ignorance.
Before you give me some false equivalence like “those guys that were already playing were entitled too.” No. Miss me with that. There is a difference between being actually entitled to something (the public space in an area you have grown up in all your life), and “feeling” entitled to something because you “paid for it”. To boot, they showed zero “entitlement” because they invited these new guys to play. Also, miss me with the “we are trying to better neighborhoods to rid ourselves of crime”–because that is not the goal. The goal is money and convenience for those who have money. What is happening is that crime is being moved and concentrated and we are losing mixed income neighborhoods, which are important for interaction, mobility and perspective.
Poor municipal decisions abound
Having worked in management in local government, I think I know what happened. In Fairfax County, when the economic crisis hit, we were suddenly under all kinds of pressure to create “new revenue streams” and “monetize” recreation.
So, a private foundation came to the city and showed them a way to recoup some of their costs. They jumped on it. By all appearances, they did this without consulting the community, the people who had been using the park for years, some of them their whole lives. I have seen that happen to. I have seen parks suddenly become restricted, and suddenly replaced with chain stores.
I saw that phenomenon occur in Culmore (Falls Church), VA. A field kids had been playing soccer on for years was suddenly replaced with a Rite Aid. BTW, there were several other drug store just down the street–but the fields are disappearing and becoming restricted. I used to live in that neighborhood.I went back to the neighborhood a couple of years ago (there is video of this on my You Tube channel) to play with the kids and we were relegated to a parking lot and a room above a church. I guess they didn’t need that field in the neighborhood after all….
Too often, as a system (including businesses, families, and government) our focus is on “how can we make money”, instead of “how can we live better together”. The latter statement can include the tools of a healthy system of exchange–but isn’t limited to that. The former statement, “how can we make money” is limited to commerce. And therein lies the extreme difficulty and the main destroyer of play/community.
So let’s pause and rethink. This isn’t about one soccer field in Mission San Francisco, but about a much more global issue. Let’s ask what we are doing to our communities before we ask how we can make money. As individuals that are part of a greater collective whether we like it or not, let’s ask why we are moving to an area and how we are going to invest in perpetuating the beautiful things about a place before we just rent an apartment, buy a house, or build a development. Because our neighborhoods are disappearing and being replaced by factories. Money factories.
Please check out Move Theory and OurFUNction Community.
Need ideas on social reform from the street up? Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.Feature photo: veritatem/Flcikr