Letters and Politics

The Tenderloin neighborhood: Resistance in the Heart of SF

As the face and character of cities across the nation changes through a wave of gentrification there is one neighborhood that has maintained it’s character and it’s low income residents right in the middle of San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities to live in. It’s called the Tenderloin, and we’ll talk about it with long-term housing rights activist Randy Shaw, author of the book The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco. Randy Shaw is also Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

About the book:

America once had many Tenderloin neighborhoods. Today, San Francisco’s Tenderloin is the last. Surrounded by Union Square s posh retailers to the north, upscale Hayes Valley to the west and the Twitter/Mid-Market tech scene and affluent SOMA to the south, San Francisco’s Tenderloin remains a primarily low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood in a city of vast wealth. How has it survived?

Randy Shaw answers this question in his long awaited new book. Shaw, who has worked in the Tenderloin for 35 years and published four prior books including The Activist’s Handbook, traces the mystery of the Tenderloin s survival from its post-quake rebuilding in 1907 through today. What he discovers challenges longstanding assumptions about urban neighborhoods. Not only does the Tenderloin show that residents can act to avoid the inevitability of urban gentrification, but also that low-income communities can enjoy the benefits of neighborhood improvements without these becoming a harbinger of displacement.

The Tenderloin is a must read for anyone concerned about the future of urban neighborhoods. It offers a new model and roadmap for neighborhood improvement that defies common assumptions about how big cities can maintain economic diversity in the 21st Century.

Named for a part of the city where bribes bought police the highest-grade beef, San Francisco’s Tenderloin is the last of many such neighborhoods once found across the United States. Shaw shows that for nearly a century the Tenderloin has fought against the establishment time and time again. And often won. Shaw shows how those outside the mainstream independent working women, gay men, screaming queens activist SRO hotel tenants and many others led these struggles. Once known for girls, gambling and graft, the Tenderloin was also fertile ground for the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Dashiell Hammett and other cultural icons. The Tenderloin is the untold story of a neighborhood that persisted against all odds. It is a must read for everyone concerned about the future of urban neighborhoods.

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