Tenderloin Economic Development Project

Letter from the Executive Director - Fall 09

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IBM, New York City politics, and a new Tenderloin economy beginning on October 21st

Perhaps by now we've all seen the IBM "Smarter Planet" ad campaign.  "New York has smart crime fighting", so the ad goes.   Problem with traffic?  Software is the solution.  Global warming?  Dysfunctional health care system?  Better software is our answer. 

Wow.  Could IBM's algorithms revitalize the Tenderloin? 

The technological approach to solving civic problems brings to mind a recent book signing hosted by the Luggage Store Gallery (http://www.luggagestoregallery.org/).   In his excellent  book, City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics, Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale analyzes the evolution of New York City's urban social and economic policy from the 1960s through the neoconservative triumph of the Guiliani Administration.

There are two parts to Vitale's principal argument.  First, the economic and housing policies which emphasized and heavily subsidized the high-wage economy sectors (think Wall Street) resulted in a dramatic polarization of the city's population into relatively few, very wealthy beneficiaries and more - many more -  low-income individuals and families severely marginalized by the economic and housing shifts.  Second, the swelled ranks of the disenfranchised ultimately gave rise to public disorder, "quality of life" problems that eventually resulted in desperate urban liberals calling for more policing.

This is where better living through better software enters the picture.   The development and use of the famous CompStat crime-fighting computer program has been heralded a technological solution to a problem, Vitale might argue, created by destructive and inequitable economic/housing development policies.

Most striking in Vitale's account is the staggering number of low-skilled, livable wage jobs lost over the 1970s:  38 million.  In response our political leaders began their calls for retraining factory workers losing their jobs so they could compete in the new global economy (from machine tool operator to hedge fund analyst in three easy steps). 

The Tenderloin has yet to reap the benefits of the hedge fund economy, but now we're told we can look to IBM to lead us to the Promised Land.  While we're waiting for a new and improved CompStat to solve our problems by offering an even more efficient way to digitally track society's growing number of losers, let's get ready for a great event scheduled for October 21st, once again at the Luggage Store.

Rebuilding a vibrant Local Economy:  Arts & Culture Development meet Real Estate Development

On October 21st, at the intersection of four major city thoroughfares, across the street from two of the city's grand theater and music venues, at the mid-point between two heavily-used public transit stations (you get the idea - lots of people!), the Tenderloin Economic Development Project and Fair Market Properties will host a gathering of accomplished Bay Area art & culture organization representatives and begin a collaboration with property owners, CBOs, nonprofit finance agencies, government and foundation officers toward the goal of finding a home for them in the community.   

This is all in the interest of building a thriving local economy through investing in real assets:  shuttered grand movie houses, art venues, and idle human capital.  We know from experience and research that where the theater, music and dance organizations lead, the restaurants (Original Joe's?), cafes, filled taxi cabs and hotel rooms will follow.    All these activities create jobs and attract dollars spent in the neighborhood.  Each time the curtain goes up at the Golden Gate Theatre, a steady parade of theater patrons can be seen streaming down Taylor Street from Union Square and Nob Hill.  This traffic and the business it stimulates highlight the importance of mid-Market viability to the Tenderloin, and on October 21st we will begin working to attract the organizations that can help increase it.  (For a comprehensive and compelling report on the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations, visit: http://www.artsusa.org/.)

San Francisco is a hospitality industry town.  Given this reality we will compete for art & culture organizations that can help us benefit locally from the larger economy.  Compared to its neighbors - Van Ness with the symphony and opera, Yerba Buena with its great museums, Union Square with its mainstream theater - the Tenderloin and mid-Market area are in a unique position to expand on what's already the most diverse and eclectic range of art & culture venues and offerings in all of San Francisco.  Where else in the city can you see a Broadway show at a 2400 seat art-deco palace (Golden Gate Theatre) and then head to an off-Broadway show at a 50 seat black box space (EXIT Theatre) within two blocks of each other? 

This initiative will be challenging for any number of reasons, but the timing is right, the collaboration is the multi-talented, multi-resourceful, improvisational ensemble necessary to take it on, and with a focused, concerted, sustained effort we can succeed.

Here's to a new collaboration and the rebuilding of a great, local, arts-based economy - more business for the Tenderloin, less need for CompStat.  

Cheers!    

Elvin