Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Improving" Divisadero

Whether those of us who live near the Divisadero Street corridor like it or not---and I don't like it---the city is about to make all kinds of "improvements" to that street:

Starting Monday, city crews will break ground on a major facelift of Divisadero Street between Geary Boulevard and Waller Street that is expected to last until early 2011. For those familiar with the corridor’s cracked streets and crime-ridden past, the planned improvements border on the unbelievable. Potholes will be filled, sidewalks will feature new public furniture and art and street medians will be tree-lined and landscaped in a way that will drastically enhance the beauty and feeling of safety in the neighborhood, said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

Unfortunately, there's nothing "unbelievable" at all about the facelift, which will start on Monday and dig up Diviz until 2011. Like a lot of streets in the city, Divisadero has long needed repaving, but the rest of the so-called improvements are cookie cutter junk: street "furniture," like the tacky-looking wrought-iron benches on the medians on Octavia Blvd that look like they were bought on sale at Home Depot; ditto for the new light standards, and please spare us the city's idea of public art. These vulgar, meddlesome city projects seem like more of a jobs program than real improvements to the targeted neighborhoods. See the awful Octavia Blvd. for the end result.

The Examiner interviews Michael Richardson, the owner of the barbecue joint at Divisadero and Grove:

Richardson said he’s looking forward to the change, but hopes it doesn’t come at the expense of the small businesses that have come to characterize the area’s artistic and diverse population. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “The neighborhood is already changing and all, you can see that. But [my restaurant] has a parking lot, so it’s a little bit easier for us [to survive construction] than other businesses.” The improvements could make Divisadero Street look more like nearby Octavia Street[sic], which has already undergone a drastic aesthetic change that helped attract pricey boutiques and a flood of foot traffic to the Hayes Valley neighborhood, Richardson said.

Now, that's a scary idea: the new Divisadero Street brought to you by the folks who brought us Octavia Blvd: five blocks of a no-man's-land, with freeway traffic, crappy street furniture, faux-antique lighting fixtures, and scraggly trees planted in the median. Whenever I visit Hayes Valley, there's a whole new batch of botiques replacing all those that went belly-up in the previous six months. There are very few businesses located on Octavia itself, which isn't surprising; it would be like doing business on a freeway (at least 45,000 cars a day, according to DPT).

As usual Supervisor Mirkarimi adds his ignorance and stupidity to the story:

But Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes the Western Addition neighborhood, cautions against assertions that improvements on Divisadero Street are going to change the area’s creative and diverse makeup. “We have worked hard to keep the mom-and-pop businesses in demand ... while tackling the crime problem,” he said. Mirkarimi said he sees improvements along the corridor enhancing the good that is already there, including the relatively new quarterly art walks, the Independent music venue and student-filled cafes. The neighborhood is already a “comeback-kid story,” he said.

The idea that our neighborhood is some out-of-the-mud-grows-the-lotus story is simply bullshit. I moved back to the city in 1995, and the Divisadero corridor has changed little in the last 15 years. There are more coffee houses, and different small businesses occupy some of the street's storefronts, but it's always been a more or less economically blighted area, mainly because people from outside the neighborhood can't park, unlike, for example, the Ninth and Irving area, which prospers in large part because of the parking in that neighborhood.

Several city agencies are involved in the construction effort, and measures will be taken to mitigate negative impacts, Falvey said. Construction will no doubt reduce parking options and impact traffic, but “local access to businesses and properties will be maintained at all times,” she said. The project is part of Public Works’ Great Streets Program, which aims to achieve similar improvements to major neighborhood streets across The City. Four such projects are under way, with another four still in the planning stages, Falvey said.

The reality: Divisadero will be dug up/fucked up for more than a year, which will surely be a death knell for a number of the marginal small businesses on the street. "Parking options" are already severely limited in the area, and the traffic on Diviz has always been heavy, which means that all this construction will gridlock the area for months in a completely misguided attempt to turn an interesting neighborhood into something like Noe Valley.

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