Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tangles

Garrapata State Park: poison oak, prickly pear, flowers. I’ll spare you the possible platitudes about life.
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Commodified marginality on Cannery Row

People in the tourist part of Monterey look at the expensive bronze statuary of the Cannery Row Monument without laughing. Apparently all the time, every day.

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The same mentality that took Steinbeck’s jolliest depiction of marginality and further sentimentalized it as a draw for tourists also sponsored this pole full of prohibition signs a very few blocks away:

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People are like oysters. We don’t deal with the abrasive bits — we cushion them in soft glowy stuff.

A little farther along, people on the pier were cooing and joking and barking back at a raft of sea lions. A few of the smaller sea lions were emaciated. Those pictures are too sad to show here.

Changes

This site has been quiet for a while because I’ve been working flat-out as editor of California Planning and Development Report, a subscription newsletter on California land use issues. I’ll be going to contributor status at CP&DR shortly, which should leave time for other projects. Also possibly for more posts over here. For the moment I’m posting more actively on Twitter at @mbridegam and on Facebook.

Our old neighbor the pizza ace, and the “sharing economy”

A long time ago, in an apartment building far, far away, we had a neighbor who was a former pizza delivery ace.

She got pretty good at it. The pizza company had regional contests for fast delivery. The winners got big bonuses — brass rings worth jumping pretty high for. So she took crazy risks getting the pizza out to the customers fast fast fast. If I remember the story right, she did win one of those bonuses. Something like $500 back when a hundred dollars was worth something, in a town where some people worked for $6.50 an hour.

One day, driving fast on her way with a pizza, she spun out. Empty road, no other drivers, no pedestrians, just herself, unhurt. Herself coming to a stop at a funny angle in the middle of the road. Sitting still in the car in the middle of that road suddenly thinking hard about what is worth how much in this life.

She was grateful she’d been alone when it happened.

After that she kept delivering but stopped taking the crazy risks.

She got into other work when she could. When we met her she had left the pizza game behind. She was working with horses.

So I guess you could say, and our old neighbor might, that the lesson is not to forget your own conscience and safety in striving for a prize. 

Another lesson, maybe, is that it’s wrong to offer employment rewards that pit people against their own decency, common sense and longer-term interests.

This all comes to mind in light of some thoughts about the “sharing economy”. The way it creates incentives for people to jump at the next available paid task or other “sharing” opportunity. The way it forces the jumpers to absorb, as a private problem, whatever the costs of those jumps may be.

That’s not good for people, not good for the public.

A healthy economy doesn’t run on brass rings.

In which I write up the NEMA for Failed Architecture

I have a guest post on Failed Architecture about the uproariously tin-eared marketing campaign for San Francisco’s NEMA apartment complex.

Here it is. Editors Mark Minkjan and René Boer did a lovely job. Especially René’s choice of the opening image. Very Sirens of Titan.

In case you’re wondering, the people crossing the street outside in Santa and Christmas-tree costumes were part of last week’s Santacon pub crawl.

Will San Francisco accept “upscale” residential hotels?

The smart commenters on Socketsite, a local San Francisco real estate blog, are having a two-day conversation that may document a key moment in U.S. housing history. I’ve put up a Storify about it here, including counterpoint from an anti-gentrification conversation that some of us had about it on Twitter.

[Note: The Storify page is showing 404 errors on first click of the link. If you reload it ought to show up, or if not try this link to my Storify profile and backtrack.]

All this started early yesterday afternoon with the news that a developer proposed to build a new “upscale” residential hotel. For some time now, San Francisco developers have been putting up small units for frugal single professionals. But until now it has been under the heading of “micro-apartments“.

The first few Socketsite commenters responded with confusion and distaste, thinking of hotels as places where poor people live. But they’re not dumb. As of last night, and continuing today, the conversation has turned toward seeing middle-class hotel life as a business opportunity.

Residential hotels, known as “SROs” for “single-room occupancy”, have been stigmatized in San Francisco for two or three generations as places where only the poorest people would live. That was never entirely true but the assumption may have helped protect the rent-controlled tenancies of some actual low-income people. Because of anti-SRO snobbery, they arguably faced less competition for their housing.

Some of this attitude persists. Socketsite commenter Kyle has written this morning:

“There is no such thing as an “upscale” SRO. What kind of “upscale” people live in a room without a kitchen? This will very quickly become a place of filth and crime. I would rather live next to a homeless shelter than a seven story SRO.”

Apparently he’s never heard of the Waldorf-Astoria.

On the Storify page I’ve included some links to historical context for what, from here, seems to be a genuine turning point in American commercial attitudes.

[Added later: As one of the SocketSite commenters noted, some middle-class residential hotels operate under the label “extended stay”.

Meanwhile, a string of “mini-suites” in Seattle has moved another notch upward — but no more — in the level of stability suggested by its promotion page: “Short-term leases (even month-to-month) are available.”]