This is an exciting time. National, state, and city fiscal woes notwithstanding,
the Tenderloin has reason to be optimistic. After years of one-size-fits-all monolithic thinking about the needs of
the neighborhood we will have new leadership in the form of a new District Supervisor. Here's a vote for new leadership
that will advocate on behalf of equitable development for the Tenderloin.
I first heard the term "equitable
development" several years ago while working with Miguel Garcia, at the time a pioneering Ford Foundation community development
program officer. The folks at PolicyLink have a nice summary of the concept:
Equitable development is an approach to creating healthy, vibrant, communities
of opportunity. Four principles undergird equitable development:
- Integrate strategies
that focus on people with those focused on improving places;
- Reduce local and regional disparities;
investments that are catalytic, coordinated, and result in a triple bottom line; and
- Ensure meaningful community
participation, leadership, and ownership in change efforts.
Tenderloin toward a more equitable, healthy and balanced place will be a key and difficult challenge for the next district
supervisor. If you spend time in the Tenderloin you'll frequently hear residents and CBO employees talk of a "Containment
Zone." This refers to the belief many in the neighborhood share that the city uses the Tenderloin to shoulder the
burden of all its poverty-related challenges, resulting in a very high concentration of extremely low or no-income/supportive
and special-needs housing, crisis intervention social services, public inebriation and open-air drug trafficking.
On the plus side, there are outstanding Tenderloin housing and social service organizations and individuals working on
some of these issues. That said, what do you do when the needs of at-risk, vulnerable populations are in conflict with
each other? Generic and simplistic notions of "Justice" and "Empowerment" and "Progressive"
get complicated when we look at these conflicts, especially when we obligate our marginalized citizens to sort it out for
themselves on one block, or in one neighborhood. (Eighty-three percent of San Francisco's supportive housing
is located in the Tenderloin and Mission. Progressive? Or Tea Party-esque?) Whose justice and empowerment
are you talking about? Opposing, seemingly intractable needs call the question: Can you be progressive, conservative,
liberal, moderate, when you need to be? And in the face of attacks from whichever ideological camp you're challenging
on a given issue?
One good place to start would be to stop the policies and practices that result in these inequities.
To do that we must examine and own up to the role we play in perpetuating status quo inequities that afflict Tenderloin residents.
It's more complicated than simply pointing the finger at city hall or Sacramento.
look forward to a new Board Supervisor who will stand up for the Tenderloin. Still, the next time we complain about
city agencies and dogmatic political leaders abusing us we should remember what Martin Luther King said:
A man can't
ride your back unless it's bent.