Living in San Francisco for close to thirty years, I am seeing more and more of steel grey painted over the houses of the city, slate grey, gentrifier grey.
There’s a “safeness” to the grey, signaling privilege and aspiration, and the taste-making of design magazines. The “safeness” and the sameness extends to the carefully measured horizontal wood fencing, the tasteful art deco metal address numbers, and the front doors painted yellow or red, often the only color in the building. These designer choices are historically specific: at other times the signifiers have been the white or pastels of the Avenues and Daly City, or the hippie early gentrification “painted ladies” of the 1970s, standing against urban renewal and the disinvested houses of the inner city.
Today, I am facing an eviction from my home of 23 years. If successful in her eviction, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the first things that Tatiana Omran, the evictor, does, is repaint our home some artisanal shade of gentrifier grey.
What opposes the gentrifier grey?
In this urban fabric of San Francisco, with a majority of houses built in the 1910s to 1920s, how do these homes evolve beyond the greywashing of developers, or the romantic re-creation of a never-past San Francisco “charm” that invisibilizes the conditions of a gentrifying working-class city, of evictions and displacement, of the thunderous arrival of the techno-riche and the greatest income and wealth inequality in the nation?
In opposition to the gentrification grey, I think of the altars in the neighborhood – remembering police murders and gang killings and family taken by COVID. I think of laundry hanging in the backyard or on the roof, visible from the street. I think of the exuberant potted plants on the balconies I used to pass by at the old Valencia Gardens public housing – before it was torn down; or the wild garden someone has grown behind the Potrero projects – also slated to be torn down soon. I think of places like Cell Space on Bryant or the old quonset hut gallery on 20th & South Van Ness or Balazo on Mission Street or Galería de la Raza on 24th Street – all gone. I think of illegal in-laws behind unmarked side-doors, or the lowrider body shop in the garage that’s always open.
I think of the chickens one hears in Fruitvale, of barbecues set up in the sidewalk, of the public “living rooms” of couches set up on parking lots in far East Oakland, of blue spirit bottles hanging from the branches of trees in the South, or the Casitas in New York’s Loisada, boricuas and punk rockers fighting off the developers (most gone now too). I think of tags and pieces (low art and high art?), from the walls of Balmy Alley and Clarion Street to the apartheid wall in Palestine.
These are all those things that are the counter to the grey-painted buildings, the resistance made present in the space of the city. These are all expressions of our agency, in the face of poverty or police brutality or landlord despotism, acts of reclamation and survival, in the face of a system shaped by profit over people.
For people of all colors – and against gentrification grey!