Hollow City: Gentrification and the Eviction of Urban Culture

Overview

California’s Bay Area is home to nearly a third of the venture capital and internet businesses in the United States, generating a boom economy and a massive influx of well-paid workers that has transformed the face of San Francisco. Once the great anomaly among American cities, San Francisco is today only the most dramatically affected among the many urban centers experiencing cultural impoverishment as a result of new forms and distributions of wealth.

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Overview

California’s Bay Area is home to nearly a third of the venture capital and internet businesses in the United States, generating a boom economy and a massive influx of well-paid workers that has transformed the face of San Francisco. Once the great anomaly among American cities, San Francisco is today only the most dramatically affected among the many urban centers experiencing cultural impoverishment as a result of new forms and distributions of wealth.

A collaboration between writer-hiostorian Rebecca Solnit and photographer Susan Schwartzenberg, Hollow City surveys San Francisco’s transformation—skyrocketing residential and commercial rents that are driving out artists, activists, nonprofit organizations and the poor; the homogenization of the city’s architecture, industries and population; the decay of its public life; and the erasure of its sites of civic memory.

Written as a tour of the city’s distinctive characters and locales, Solnit’s text grounds the current evictions in earlier histories of urban renewal and the economic geography of artists, from Haussmann’s impact on the Paris of Baudelaire, to the relationship between the Beats and San Francisco’s African-American community during ‘negro removal’ of the 1950s. She investigates the ways wealth is now clear-cutting the cultural richness of American urban life, erasing space for idealism, dissent, memory and vulnerable populations.

Schwartzenberg’s photo-essays document the profusion of construction and demolition projects in the city, the imperial spaces of dot-com businesses, the proliferation of retail chains, and the rapid disappearance of areas in which artists can live and create. They feature works by more than a dozen San Francisco artists.

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Editorial Reviews

Martha Rosler
Hollow City, with its writing as lucid as a clear-flowing stream and its persuasive array of images in decisively brilliant design, lays out just how the 80s and 90s put the real life of the city under siege.”
Marshall Berman
“So many of the people who kept American cities alive and creative through dark decades, when capital abandoned the city, have become victims of capital's recent triumphant return to the city. This beautifully composed and crafted book tells their story. It is a compelling vision of our emerging global culture of displaced persons.”
Guillermo Gomez-Pena
“One day, we all woke up and San Francisco had become a bohemian entertainment park, without bohemians. Those were the golden days of virtual capitalism. Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartzenberg help us to understand why this happened. Their book is necessary to understanding our new place in a brand new scary world.”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy J. Peters
“A place for artists, activists, and working folks: that's what made San Francisco the great city it is. Or was. The city we love is disappearing almost overnight and turning into just another sector of corporate monoculture. This is a terrific book, a passionate collaboration of word and image that surveys the rich urban culture we are losing.”
From the Publisher
Hollow City, with its writing as lucid as a clear-flowing stream and its persuasive array of images in decisively brilliant design, lays out just how the 80s and 90s put the real life of the city under siege.”—Martha Rosler

“So many of the people who kept American cities alive and creative through dark decades, when capital abandoned the city, have become victims of capital’s recent triumphant return to the city. This beautifully composed and crafted book tells their story. It is a compelling vision of our emerging global culture of displaced persons.”—Marshall Berman

“One day, we all woke up and San Francisco had become a bohemian entertainment park, without bohemians. Those were the golden days of virtual capitalism. Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartzenberg help us to understand why this happened. Their book is necessary to understanding our new place in a brand new scary world.”—Guillermo Gomez-Pena

“A place for artists, activists, and working folks: that’s what made San Francisco the great city it is. Or was. The city we love is disappearing almost overnight and turning into just another sector of corporate monoculture. This is a terrific book, a passionate collaboration of word and image that surveys the rich urban culture we are losing.”—Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy J. Peters

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"San Francisco has been for most of its 150-year existence both a refuge and an anomaly. Soon it will be neither. Gentrification is transforming the city by driving out the poor... [and] those who have chosen to give their lives over to unlucrative pursuits such as art, activism, social experimentation, and social service." So begins this impassioned cry to save the soul of Baghdad by the Bay (and any American cities under siege by ill-planned overdevelopment). A San Francisco resident who lives in a rent-controlled apartment, Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking) presents a lively mix of research, personal anecdotes, photos and art to show how the industrious development of high-end condos, hotel/office space and dot-com businesses over the past decade has increased the city's economic base at the expense of many of its long-term residents, not to mention its character. Between 1996 and 1997, rental prices went up 37%; last year, some neighborhoods faced a 20% increase within six months. Evictions happen at the rate of five per day, and "70% of those evicted leave the city," leading to the attrition not only of the poor but of the middle class, as well as independent and small businesses. Charting the history of the vibrant San Francisco arts and activist scenes--from the early days of literary bohemia in the 1870s to the 1950s beatniks to the famed political theater of the San Francisco Mime Troupe--Solnit methodically shows how difficult it will be for them to remain viable under the city's new managers. Passionate, potent and to the point, Solnit's polemic embodies American political and social writing at its best. Readers who share her outlook will find it richly satisfying. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Solnit (Wanderlust, Secret Exhibition) here evaluates the current gentrification of San Francisco as an example of a crisis in American cities in general. "The fin above the water. Below is the rest of the shark: a new American economy in which most of us will be poorer, a few will be far richer, and everything will be faster, more homogenous and more controlled or controllable." The author looks at the "Hausmannization" of Paris and its impact on "Bohemians" (i.e., artists and activists) before considering misguided past developments that have resulted in San Francisco's slow loss of its artistic, political, social, and spiritual integrity. This concise, well-written exploration offers no easy answers; the lines between "us" and "them" are constantly changing and blurry at best. Despite inconsistent captions and credits, the historic and contemporary photographs and drawings, sensitively curated by photographer Schwartzenberg, add immeasurably to the rich texture of this sobering thesis. Recommended for urban studies collections and San Francisco-area libraries.--James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859847947
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 1/17/2001
  • Series: Haymarket Series
  • Pages: 184
  • Product dimensions: 7.96 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca Solnit is author of, among other books, Wanderlust, A Book of Migrations, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, the NBCC award-winning River of Shadows and A Paradise Built In Hell. A contributing editor to Harper’s, she writes regularly for the London Review of Books and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in San Francisco.

Urban archaeologist and artist Susan Schwartzenberg is the author of Market Street, a visual study of San Francisco’s main artery, as well as photo-essays in several books, including Reclaiming San Francisco.

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Table of Contents

Wrecking-Ball Overture 1
San Francisco, Capital of the Twenty-First Century 12
Tools for Managing Loyalty 38
The Shopping Cart and the Lexus 42
Three Photographers and the Transformation of Yerba Buena 64
A Real Estate History of the Avant-Garde 74
The Last Barricades 110
Skid Marks on the Social Contract 118
Amnesia Is a Club 136
San Francisco in Chains 148
Delivered Vacant 152
Notes 173
Acknowledgements 181
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