LanAhn has been living in San Francisco for twenty years. During this time she lived in the Tenderloin, Potrero Hill, and the Mission District. She now lives in the Twin Peaks neighborhood. She thinks that San Francisco has changed significantly over the years.
“I lived in the dot-com period and it became ‘dot-gone’ and so with that, a lot of artists—from musicians, to painters, and graffiti artists—essentially had to leave San Francisco because of the rising rents. But the beauty of that however, was that like many others, I moved to Oakland and found a lot of the underground grassroots arts there. It was a bittersweet move. Then I moved back to San Francisco after a few years and that’s when the rents went back down because the 70,000 people that came here left. So there was a huge cultural change. A lot of music venues closed, which is extremely disappointing for me because I do photography for live bands. And so having culture at your fingertips just disappear is a huge loss to San Francisco. In that respect, I’ve seen San Francisco change. Also there’s been a lot more development, a lot more techies in the area. I think the spirit is here—the feeling of freshness and hope—but also there are times of feeling jaded when you see that so many people are leaving because they can’t afford to live here.”
When I met LanAhn she was working for Hunter’s Point Family but has since found employment working for a Human Resources Department in the Civic Center area. Prior to working in the Civic Center, LanAhn lived in the Tenderloin and frequented the area in the past.
“I lived in the Tenderloin four times throughout the twenty years. And there are a lot of music arts venues around the area. There’s the public library that I would go to every once in a while. It’s an area that I would walk through to get to BART. Also there were times for jury duty I needed to come. I would say I wasn’t a regular specifically in the Civic Center Commons area but I passed through a great amount of times for those reasons.”
While Potrero Hill is LanAhn’s favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, she appreciates Civic Center’s vibe.
“Potrero Hill is more secluded and private and it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle as it does here, which, by the same token, I like that about the Civic Center. It’s so diverse. Here you see all walks of life. I always see people that I’m running into that I’ve known. San Francisco is very small and you’re more than likely to bump into someone you know. I like seeing diversity because that’s what San Francisco represents to me. San Francisco has all different age groups, races, gender identification, and different socioeconomic classes. You have tourists, you have homeless, displaced individuals ‘cause they’re all part of our community here, and locals and employees of the area. I like being surrounded by that.”
When LanAhn lived in the Tenderloin, she didn’t feel as safe being in the Civic Center as she does now.
“Specifically in this area it made me feel unsafe. And we’re talking about twenty to ten to five years ago and that’s because it wasn’t as lit up as it was now. I’ve been robbed a few times while I was out and I was assaulted. So it made me frightened to come out at night. During the day it was like PTSD, where I still feel it even though it was daylight. I always felt unsafe. Even going in BART at times, PTSD recurred. It didn’t prevent me from going, but it made me feel anxious and uneasy. So I didn’t feel particularly excited to come to the Civic Center area for many years. But now I feel a lot safer with the colors, the efforts made by the community to make it a safer place. We have the pop-up playground over there…I always see a lot of kids and parents in front of City Hall.”
“City Hall celebrates so many occasions like when Prince died, the Warriors, the Giants, so when City Hall lights up, that’s really exciting to me. And of course Gay Pride and different events, gatherings, concerts are always exciting to me, so those are positive reasons to be here. The Asian Art Museum is super cool. The library is a place for anybody to come. I like that about the Civic Center.”
LanAhn thinks the public spaces in the Civic Center could be improved to attract visitors and invite people to want to spend time in the area.
“I would say pop-ups that sold alcohol. Live music, music in general even from speakers. Benches. Chairs and tables. A space to play football or toss a hackey sack, some sort of physical activities for adults. Maybe even movie night, have a big screen by the Civic Center. Continue the sports-related events like more of the Warriors games on the big screen or the Giants, the Niners. Any sports-related event on a big screen or just movies in general. Like old classics because it really brings people together. It’s a real positive way to bring people together, in fact, I know that because when one of the final games of the Warriors wasn’t happening here, there were a lot of disappointed people that would have stayed in that context. And continued art, interactive art. More food trucks that are affordable. Also, I love seeing weddings and people getting married and taking photos, that’s really cool. Maybe there could be some sort of project around that.”
“I think one thing that could really be improved is romanticism here. Music and lighting. That’s something that would make me want to come with my partner.”
“I know that there’ve been lanterns and really fun and creative things that have been done outside of City Hall. Like when you think of France and Italy and the different places like that, you just think of this feeling of wanting to meet there. Even the sound of water. I know we have a water fountain over there but unfortunately a lot of people don’t feel safe hanging out around there either. I would just say continue on the level of art and music. I really like the historic landmarks that we have, certainly. San Francisco is pretty unique but maybe more color. Some people wouldn’t like me saying that though, they don’t like change in buildings.”
While LanAhn has many ideas for activating the public spaces, she is very adamant about avoiding certain changes.
“One thing I want to say for sure is I would not like to see corporate banners and billboards and anything blasting ‘corporate.’ That would ruin it completely for me. Any developers that came through and had a huge sign that boast their name would really, really irritate me because it’s saturated already throughout our world with billboards and corporations taking over.”
“As long as we maintain our art scene with taste, I’ll be cool with this area. I think there’s a lot of positivity coming out moving forward with the art installations.”
“And the people like you that I meet behind the scenes working towards community and the planning behind it. That always makes me smile; it gives me hope that the bureaucrats aren’t going to run us. One thing I do want to mention is cleanliness is really, really important. And the City, all the organizations involved have deep care and have done an excellent job, but the importance is to maintain that and for people to become aware that there are people working really hard to keep it clean. So continue putting the money there in the budget; it takes a lot of work and effort.”
When LanAhn worked as a steward for Hunter’s Point Family, one of her favorite things about the job was meeting new people and then seeing their familiar faces around Civic Center.
“I really like meeting the local employees of different companies and organizations and agencies the more time I have spent here. It’s super cool because they work here and they spend a lot of time here either walking through or looking around. One of the reasons why I like meeting them is I’m more than likely going to see them again.”