Steve was sitting at a table reading a book between the Off the Grid food trucks at UN Plaza with the busy Farmer’s Market in the background. He’s been living in the Tenderloin since 1983. He walks through the Civic Center frequently but often only stops for the Farmer’s Market or when an event is taking place.
“I walk through Civic Center because I walk the City a lot. I walk through it quite often, I’m in the neighborhood. Just doing some reading and kinda want to people watch, do a little grocery shopping, then just sit here for a while to read. Unless there’s an event or something going on, I just walk through.”
Steve prefers going to South Park because he feels it provides more amenities and reasons to stay and hang out.
“Lately I’ve been going to South Park. I just rediscovered it because they redesigned the park and reopened it and so just walking the City, I discovered it. It’s a very pleasant space and very well designed. It’s a space that’s attractive for working people down there I noticed, and also families. And there’s a playground there, I see kids playing. And there’s also cafes. There’s a nice cafe there. People will pick up a coffee or a lunch and sit in the park and talk business or take their kids or generally hang out. And one thing they do have that this space doesn’t have is it has a lot of places just for people to sit so you see people sitting and reading or lying down and sunning themselves or kids playing. There’s a range of benches. There’s a lot of cement structures and different ways of sitting and relaxing. They had quite a few benches, and places that had shade, and places where there wasn’t shade, and places where you could lay down if you wanted to and read, or they had big cement ledges and things at different levels that were interesting.”
Steve visits the Farmer’s Market every week to do his grocery shopping and he feels there aren’t enough opportunities for people to sit and enjoy the plaza.
“One thing I noticed today, I come to use the Farmer’s Market but I just wanted to sit down for a while and read and other than these tables and chairs that they set out, I didn’t see a good place where you could just sit and read and watch people and enjoy the weather. It’s more conducive to just walking through rather than spending a lot of time.”
Steve says he would hang out in UN Plaza more if the plaza’s design allowed him to do so.
“It almost seems like there’s really no place for somebody that just wanted to sit for a while and read. And this [tables and chairs for Off the Grid food trucks] is the only place they could really sit and have a view of people and enjoy the space. You know, other places are kinda like behind the tents or by the fountain over there, it’s not very conducive of being a pleasant public space to spend time. It’d be nice if it was friendlier for people to hang out. It strikes me more as a passageway or a place to walk through to get to BART or to get to some other transit way. Friendlier in the sense of ‘inviting,’ inviting to spend time. This isn’t really inviting to spend any time in. I’d probably do my shopping and feel like I had to leave if they didn’t have these few random chairs and stuff. There’s no real place to sit that’s attractive. I mean the fountain is not attractive, it’s kinda behind everything, I don’t even know if the water’s running. And there’s some ledges over there that’s kinda behind everything and next to the street. And they don’t have any kind of benches. I think the atmosphere is fine, I mean they have interesting architecture. Other than if there’s food trucks or the farmer’s market, I don’t see places to easily get something to eat.”
Steve says he’s seen an increase in the amount of people experiencing homelessness since he moved to the area in 1983.
“There’s more people that are down and out that are in this area, for sure. I think the homeless situation and struggles has increased definitely over the years. I think it’s safe if you’re not homeless. If you don’t have a place to live and you’re living out here, I’m not sure how safe it is. But I think the City overall, if you’re fortunate enough to have everything in place and you can survive with that, then it’s safe.”
He thinks the income disparity in San Francisco has gotten extreme over the years, making it difficult for people who are not making a lot of money to move to San Francisco and afford to live here.
“It’s a city of extreme contrast. It’s a city where so many people are just struggling who can’t seem to make it. I have been walking a lot in the City because right now I’m not working and there’s just so many parts of the City where you least expect it; you see the tents, you’ll see people. It’s a tent city. There’s so many people for whatever reason cannot live, what maybe you and I would think is a suitable way of living. And it just seems like that population has really increased. And on the other side, it’s very youth-oriented, and the fact that you see so many, seems like very prosperous young people you know, twenties, thirties; so you see both ends. Not to mention the people all in-between. And it’s just a tough place for people to come in and work and have anything other than a tech job or a job that requires very advanced skills. Because when I came here in the ‘80s, I came here to study art and I got a flat on Howard Street between 8th and 9th. There was just a sign in the window that said ‘for rent’ and I was a student and my buddy was a student and we had crappy jobs but we could afford it. We had a whole flat and do your work. And to just come to the City and figure ‘Well, I can find a space’ and be able to afford it, I don’t think you can do that anymore. To just be in your early twenties and not have much money and just say ‘I’ll go to school and find a nice space with a lot of room’ and unless you got in before the rents shot up a few years ago and have rent control, I’m not sure how people can do it unless you’re in the extreme of the high income. I don’t know what the City can do about that.”
Despite San Francisco becoming more expensive, Steve thinks it’s doing well with the amount of accessible public spaces. He walks all over the City and has noticed many new public spaces cropping up.
“I think there are a lot of nice public spaces in the City. I think a lot of the newer buildings south of Market have pleasant thoroughfares or places where people can sit. And even in the Tenderloin there’s some nice public spaces. That park just north of here, I walked through there recently and it was just a nice space, they had a rec center and there were a lot of elderly people in the neighborhood doing their walks. There were some younger people in there that I think were visiting the city; it was a nice place to sit for a while.”
“I’m happy there are public spaces, I’m happy for this space. If they’re thinking of improving it, I mean there would be only one thing I would say is more seating, make it more inviting for people to spend a little bit of time to eat your lunch or just relax and read. And I don’t think this space is really conducive to that; it could be because it is a beautiful Civic Center.”