Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gas Guzzling Gavin

A motley, multiethnic crew was setting up shop for a demonstration in front of San Francisco City Hall around 1PM on Monday the 15th.

The thinly attended event had lots of signage...

...in its attempt to protest government cuts in housing for people with AIDS.

They were also objecting to people with AIDS being evicted, which struck me as a bit narrow in focus.

Who cares if it's somebody with AIDS that is evicted by a greedy landlord? It's just as miserable being evicted when elderly with dementia, with bad diabetes, with serious depression, or a whole host of other maladies.

Across the street, another demonstration filled with cute young white people was just finishing. It was an amalgamation of the Sierra Club and a whole host of other environmental organizations, along with grandstanding local politicians, who were demonstrating for "Clean Energy."

Again, the focus struck me as ridiculously narrow, and strictly for show, since the supposedly enlightened and liberal San Francisco can't even close down a half-mile section of roadway in Golden Gate Park on a full rather than half-weekend basis.

Legislation by the Board of Supervisors, a timid six-month "trial period," with obscene concessions to Supervisor Alioto-Piers wielding her Disabled Placard, was vetoed by the supposedly liberal Mayor Gavin Newsom later the same day.

Two of the best thinkers and clear, popular economic writers of the 20th century just died within a week of each other a couple of weeks ago. John Kenneth Galbraith was a Canadian who moved to America in the 1930s, and Jacobs was a New Yorker who moved to Toronto in the 1970s (she had a draft-age son). I've read a half dozen books by Galbraith and they were all wonderful, but I'd never checked out Jacobs. However, the quotes from some of the best obituaries made me want to literally check her out at the library.

She came to fame as the woman who stopped the infamous Robert Moses from putting a freeway through Greenwich Village and then writing the seminal book decrying "urban redevelopment" in a book from the early 1960s called "The Death and Life of Great American Cities."

I've been reading her last book called "Dark Age Ahead," published in 2004, and though it's as chilling as the title implies, it's also brilliant and mind-bending. Here's a quote:
"One can drive today for miles through American suburbs and never glimpse a human being on foot in a public space, a human being outside a car or truck. I have experienced this in suburban Virginia, California, and Massachusetts, as well as suburban Toronto. This is a visible sign that much of North America has become bereft of communities. For communities to exist, people must encounter one another in person. These encounters must include more than best friends or colleagues at work. They must include diverse people who share the neighborhood, and often enough share its needs."...

"Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities. Highways and roads obliterate the places they are supposed to serve as, for example, highways feeding the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge wiped out most of the formerly large Bay Ridge community in Brooklyn...Other forces, acting in concert with automobile culture, have also been pervasive. Along came sterile housing tracts set in isolating culs-de-sac, and shopping centers whose only ties to localities were the dollars of local consumers. These, often enough, erased community hearts and landmarks, as if to make sure that marooned vestiges of what had been lost were also lost."


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Great to see your reflections on the need for coalition rather than one issue groups. We've known all this about the 'air-conditioned nightmare' for a long time. It is going to take more than one hit, to paraphrase Aldous Huxley, it is going to take more than science, religion, love, contemplation or action -- it is going to take everything to make an evolutionary leap. Let's jump!


Anonymous said...

I hear what you're both saying about the fractured state of issue campaigns, and I'd agree that the Clean Energy Now event was more fluff than substance, but I wouldn't say the campaign's focus is narrow. Community Choice Aggregation would be a trailblazing program to show what cities can do locally to combat climate crisis, not to mention taking a first step towards getting PG&E's grubby hands off our power.


janinsanfran said...

Jane Jacobs' wisdom changed my life in the early 70s -- gave me a framework to understand why I am a city person despite yearnings for wilderness.

David Waggoner said...

hi there Michael
nice seeing you at lunch today. i was motvated to check out your blog. most excellent. i love the diversity of topics.
david waggoner

Anonymous said...

hey sf mike, did you see cheney's daughter on david letterman?

Civic Center said...

Dear Anonymous h: genius.

Dear Anonymous j: I totally agree with you about the community choice aggregation issue being important and non-narrow, but in truth most of the same rich creeps who are keeping JFK open on Saturday for their museum are also the same rich creeps who own massive amounts of PG&E stock, so I don't see anything changing all that soon with the present power structure.

Dear Jan: You couldn't have a better guru than Ms. Jacobs.

Dear David: Nice to have you come by.

Dear P: I'd rather drink my own urine than watch Mary Cheney on David Letterman.