Friday, July 08, 2005

The Haight: "A neighborhood of intellectuals"?

P.J. Corkery, Examiner columnist, on the new Haight-Ashbury:

This expression of revulsion with mainstream consumerism contains a branch of Urban Outfitters, a store that was refused permission when it sought to open a branch on Haight Street a year ago. Even in striving to be antithetical, the Haight is picky. You have to be authentic. Which is why so many old Haight-timers deplore the opening of the Gap at Masonic and Haight. Yet they did not oppose the opening of a new branch of Wells Fargo up at 1728 Haight---the very location that Urban Outfitters wanted (SF Examiner, July 6, 2005).

There's no mystery or hypocrisy here. There hasn't been a bank in the Haight for years, while Urban Outfitters is not only a chain, it's a clothing store. The neighborhood really needs a bank, not another clothing store. And all banks are by definition chains, not Mom and Pop, stand-alone operations. Corkery gets the Gap intersection wrong, too; it's on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, not Haight and Masonic.

But what's surprising about Corkery's take on the Haight is not the chain store issue but its demographics:

What's drawing people to the Haight now is a kind of intellectual ferment in the air. Blame the universities, blame the Green Party. The secret story of the Haight these days is that beneath the touristy front, and on top of the old hippie grime, it's becoming a neighborhood of intellectuals. Hard-working ones...Macrame is out on Masonic...but master's degrees are in. Haight-Ashbury is changing...

This scoop is so secret that Corkery apparently isn't ready to give us any evidence for it. Students are by definition intellectuals? And intellectual ferment in the Green Party? That notion can be quickly dispelled by a brief visit to the SF Green Party's website (, where you find intellectual heavy-weights like cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal (Surprise! Mumia thinks President Bush is "a darling of big corporate interests") and professional anti-American Noam Chomsky, who thinks the US is the source of all evil in the world, along with the Bicycle Coalition, and out-of-date articles opposing the garage in Golden Gate Park, etc. Ferment of sorts, perhaps, but a familiar, party line brew.

If there is any intellectual ferment in the Haight, its main source is Booksmith, the fine book store at 1644 Haight St.

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