I just came across this paper written during my first year of graduate school and thought it deserved to be out in the world. It’s a little rough around the edges but continues to feel relevant to San Francisco politics.
The landscapes of urban locations are constantly shifting. Within San Francisco, a city that is spatially small and therefore relatively condensed, these changes are easy to observe. In walking through San Francisco, people find themselves quickly crossing the boundaries of one neighborhood into the next. These boundaries, although physically invisible, are present through the visible shift in an economic class, racial or cultural identities, tourist destinations or business districts. These parts of San Francisco or any major metropolis are an obvious aspect of city living, yet the arrangement of urban neighborhoods and representations thereof offer a rich and provocative site for investigation and analysis. It is through the representations of these urban neighborhoods and their residents that it becomes visible how particular neighborhoods are imagined and therefore understood by the public. This interrogation allows us to further understand the effect that these representations have on the physical landscape of urban neighborhoods. In this paper I will examine the representations of two urban landscapes, San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point and post-Katrina New Orleans. I will consider how under-valued spaces and marginalized communities are represented in mainstream media outlets. I will question who benefits from these representations and how they benefit. I will do so through an analysis of the formation of neighborhoods and spaces of belonging.
Neighborhoods are defined through physical space and geographical location. Yet, the boundaries that serve to demarcate neighborhoods are imaginary and mark more than just spatial organization, they define who belongs and who doesn’t belong within certain spaces. Thus, creating sociological borders that produce meanings and significations beyond physical spatiality. According to Fran Tonkiss in her book Space, the City and Social Theory, the making of borders creates “zones of inclusion” and “draws lines of social division and exclusion.” These lines of division are often understood in terms of social and cultural diversity, creating a spatial separation of ethnic and racial identities. The borders that exist between neighborhoods serve both to separate and connect various communities and landscapes. By recognizing the neighborhood in which one belongs one also recognizes the spaces in which one does not belong. Further, the imaginary boundaries of neighborhoods facilitates an ability to recognize those who do not belong within one’s own neighborhood. This recognition occurs through both the separation and connection inherent within this process. In acknowledging the separation between neighborhoods, one also acknowledges the potential of their connection. The separation is therefore always “shadowed by the idea…the danger of their connection.”