Jane Jacobs, the Tenderloin and the Fight for Neighborhood Preservation.

by on October 12, 2021

Tenderloin Hotel Fight Echoed Jacobs’ West Village Win

The late Jane Jacobs is an urban legend. She achieved that status after writing about her successful campaign to save New York City’s West Village from the wrecking ball. Jacobs had the perfect villain in Robert Moses and an unpopular target in plans to build a freeway through a middle-class neighborhood. Jacobs transformed this struggle into an iconic victory for neighborhood preservation.

The 1980’s struggle by San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood to stop highrise luxury hotels reflects this neighborhood preservation legacy. Cadillac Hotel owner Kathy Looper and I will put that fight in the context of Jacobs’ own struggle at a free zoom event for the Tenderloin Museum on Wednesday, October 13 at 1:00 PM PST.

You can get all the information and the zoom link here.

The Tenderloin vs West Village

The Tenderloin’s struggle is rarely connected to the neighborhood preservation campaigns that Jacobs made emblematic. One reason is that events occurring in New York City often becoming nationalized while California events remain local. It’s also the case that Jacobs’ West Village became a model for progressive urbanism, as many communities sought to replicate her support for mixed-use neighborhoods that provided “eyes on the street.”  In contrast, the Tenderloin’s problems since the early 1980’s has not encouraged others to hold up the neighborhood as a model

But the Tenderloin’s achievement was uniquely remarkable in that it was entirely waged by very low-income residents to preserve their very low-income, multi-racial neighborhood. While Jacobs’ West Village won its fight, Moses succeeded in destroying many of New York City’s low-income neighborhoods as thousands of low-cost housing units were replaced by freeways.

That the Tenderloin remains a primarily low-income neighborhood to this day, while Jacobs’ West Village has long been completely gentrified, should cause us to think more deeply about the respective power of their historic victories.

Our discussion tomorrow will raise precisely such issues. Our goal is to get people thinking about what “neighborhood preservation” really means both for the Tenderloin and other communities.

Kathy Looper and I were both involved in the historic Tenderloin hotel fight. It began in 1980 and did not really end until the neighborhood rezoning of 1985. I wrote about the struggle in the opening chapter of The Activist’s Handbook and later in The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

Thanks to the Center for the Living City,  which was founded in collaboration with Jane Jacobs in 2005, for helping make this event happen. Join us!

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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