The changing social and economic landscape of “nuestra Misión” brought The Mission District much attention in recent years, as is reflected in the following headlines:
“Upscale culture and gang violence share a small space” (Los Angeles Times).
The significance of this attention is apparent in the recent SF Gate headline: “A mission for The Mission: preserve Latino legacy for future” (4/22/14). The headline almost says it all.
The SF Gate article informs readers of Supervisor David Campos’ proposal to designate the 24th Street commercial corridor (from Mission Street to Potrero Avenue) as a Latino Cultural Corridor District. Campos describes this action as a key strategy to protect the vitality of the corridor’s cultural, architectural and artistic history.
The designation would have a positive effect on future planning efforts by the city, informing zoning regulations and protections for the various businesses, community groups and murals that make The Mission what it is today.
The Land Use Committee will review the proposal in mid-May, and members of the public and the Calle 24 San Francisco Council will have the opportunity to present their concerns or ideas at this time. If passed by the committee, the proposal will be referred to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote and approval from Mayor Ed Lee.
Campos has worked closely on this initiative with the Calle 24 SF Council (formerly the Lower 24th Street Merchants’ and Residents’ Association. The council is composed of 24th Street merchants and residents as well as representatives from social service and cultural arts organizations. The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has allocated funds for neighborhood planning that will be spearheaded by the Calle 24 SF Council. The community planning process is meant to inform the creation and long-term sustainability of the Latino cultural district.
Critics will likely submit the usual list of complaints about the Mission District leaders’ abilities to put their own agendas aside to work in the best interest of the community. For this reason, prior to the commencement of formal planning, it would be wise for the Calle 24 SF Council to revisit lessons learned from past efforts to protect the cultural and economic vitality of the Mission District.
Rembembering Mission Coalition Organization
During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the city’s zeal for redevelopment threatened to displace working class and ethnically diverse residents from the Mission. In response, the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO), composed of Mission District organizations and residents, was formed. Reportedly, more than 80 organizations and 12,000 residents were involved in the MCO efforts at that time. The collective action of the MCO could not be ignored by city council and the proposed redevelopment did not go ahead.
While it operated, the MCO was one of the most effective community coalitions in U.S. history, forging a collective sense of community identity and self-determination that still shapes the vibe that characterizes the Mission District today. Unfortunately, community politics and power struggles in the early ‘70s led to the demise of the MCO. However, lessons about what lead to success and what lead to demise are both instructive.
As the Calle 24 SF Council begins its formal planning process for the Latino Cultural Corridor District, lessons from the past can be used to guide progress in the future. The council should aim to be inclusive of all members of the community, function in a way that promotes democratic ideals, and take action to avoid conflict related to power. Remember that the present will become the history from which others may learn.