The last time I visited San Francisco, I remember driving under the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, taking in the view at the bottom of “the crookedest street in the world” and getting salty whiffs at Fisherman’s Wharf — all requisite hotspots every tourist must visit in order to say they’ve been to the city.
Yet some would argue that tourists’ impressions of San Francisco are robbed of a vital cultural element. The quaintly named Uptown Tenderloin — the squalid, poor, drug-ridden quarter of the city — has earned a soft spot with some San Franciscans for its unique culture, so much so that community and civic leaders are now pushing to revitalize the Tenderloin to make it another tourist stop.
But what would attract tourists to the area? It’s a red light district rife with high crime. Needless to say, the common perception of the Tenderloin is not a pleasant one, with many San Franciscans avoiding the area unless necessary.
Its grittiness certainly gives the Tenderloin character — it was recently deemed a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Eradicating it would erase a rich facet of the city’s history: Like an endangered culture, many of the Tenderloin’s famous billiard halls, theaters and speakeasies that were once full of life are now gone.
In some ways, the Tenderloin shares its historic-but-high-crime character with USC’s University Park. Long before we stepped foot on the campus, Downtown Los Angeles was a district that boasted diverse architecture with a rich agricultural and cultural history. Today, there are remnants of this history, and University Park faces a similar fate as the Tenderloin. USC’s Master Plan will transform much of what we know as University Park by 2030, though hopefully for the better. The plan seeks to form strategic partnerships with the community in order to improve the quality of life in terms of safety and aesthetics.
The difference between University Park and the Tenderloin, however, is that a plan to transform the Tenderloin into a tourist attraction entails a kind of revitalization that attracts tourists — but apparently without benefit to its 30,000 residents.
There are plans to create a museum and walking tours of “the world’s largest collection of historic single-room occupancy hotels,” which would be a “real plus” to tourists, who usually aren’t exposed to such subcultures, according to Randy Shaw, a proponent of the revitilization. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom supports the proposal, issuing a grant to rebrand the Tenderloin with a positive identity in hopes of drawing tourist dollars to the area.
But turning it into another stop for tourists in San Francisco, which reaped $8 billion in tourist revenue last year, seems like a step in the wrong direction. Revitalizing the district in order to mitigate the crippling poverty problems or clean up the illicit drug scene is one thing; revitalizing it for the sake of tourism is entirely different.
In the end, the Tenderloin may lose what has allowed it to thrive as a rich community of historic significance.
In our case, the Master Plan seems to echo USC’s mission, to encourage “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Obviously, it takes the students as its first priority. However, to do so with a disregard for its societal impact, much like what Shaw’s Tenderloin idea proposes, would be irresponsible.
Hopefully, our Master Plan respects the surrounding community enough to maintain beneficial partnerships with it and not lose sight of its well-being.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “World Rapport” runs Fridays.