S.F. neighborhoods change names to map out new identity

July 23, 2015

San Francisco still may be only about 47 square miles, but that doesn’t mean the city’s neighborhoods aren’t growing. In numbers, anyway.

Through the combined efforts of local real estate agents and residents eager to stake out their own patch of the city, the neighborhoods and districts that have defined San Francisco for generations are being trimmed and tailored into ever smaller, buyer-friendly niche communities.

NoPa. Somisspo. TenderNob, Little Russia and Lower Pacific Heights are just a few of the names in the real estate listings that can baffle longtime city residents.

“Lower Pacific Heights is the Fillmore,” said John Freeman, a retired public-school teacher who now writes about the city’s history. “It’s the way the game gets played in a process driven by real estate.”

Real estate brokers deny that marketing plays a role in the way they map San Francisco for the citywide Multiple Listing Service.

“All it is is a database on homes listed for sale,” said Jay Cheng, deputy director of the San Francisco Association of Realtors, which maintains that map. “We need to be able to say, ‘This is in that neighborhood.’ ”

Home sales a factor

But a revision to the citywide MLS map suggests that sales can become part of the equation.

Shifting the Noe Valley boundary line from Guerrero Street to San Jose Avenue between 24th to 26th streets instantly moved property owners out of the Inner Mission and into an area where people are willing to pay more for a home. Expanding the increasingly popular Glen Park neighborhood had a similar effect.

The changes also added three new districts, grabbing Yerba Buena out of SoMa and pulling Candlestick Point and Little Hollywood from Bayview Heights.

For folks looking to sell property, there’s the hope that a friendly name or boundary change can add to the size of a hot community or transform a neighborhood with a sketchy reputation into a magnet for new renters and home buyers.

The fact that many of the changes are aimed at neighborhoods with a heavy minority presence isn’t lost on the people who live there.

Last month, for example, Supervisor Malia Cohen complained that the first new housing project carved out of the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is being marketed as the “San Francisco Shipyard,” with all reference to its heavily African American community edited out.

It’s not the first time that’s happened.

For decades, the Western Addition was seen as stretching from Van Ness Avenue west to Masonic Avenue or even to the traditional eastern boundary of the Richmond District at Arguello Boulevard, including the Fillmore and Japantown neighborhoods. But as more black residents moved into the area following World War II, the huge neighborhood was chopped into smaller pieces with very different names and sensibilities.

Hayes Valley, Cathedral Hill, Alamo Square, the Lower Haight, Anza Vista, Lone Mountain and NoPa – or North of the Panhandle – all are part of the traditional Western Addition, which now is seen by many as little more than a few blocks around Webster and Divisadero streets.


For Supervisor London Breed, who both represents the Western Addition and grew up there, the changes have balkanized her old neighborhood, purposely dividing it up into sections that are very different, both socially and economically.

“I’ve watched it change in front of my eyes,” Breed said. The new neighborhoods “basically segregate people,” with local, neighborhood-serving businesses – and low-income residents – being pushed out of places like Hayes Valley.

For example, NoPa, a small, relatively new real estate hot spot bounded by Divisadero, Fell, Turk and Masonic streets, is shooting for a hipster-friendly, non-Western Addition vibe, with one commenter on the Yelp website describing it as “part Mission, part Haight, part Hayes Valley, with tendencies toward the Marina.”

To Breed, that’s an enclave, not a neighborhood.

“I don’t mind change, but not at the expense of squeezing out whole parts of our history,” she said.

There are plenty of other residents unhappy with the continuing efforts to reinvent San Francisco’s neighborhoods, as Jennifer Rosdail, a real estate agent with the Paragon Real Estate Group, found out.

Earlier this month, Rosdail, 45, wrote in her real estate blog about her idea for “The Quad,” a mashup of a neighborhood centered on Dolores Park and consisting of chunks of the Castro, Inner Mission, Mission Dolores and Noe Valley.

“I’m not a real estate developer trying to drive everyone out of their homes,” said Rosdail, who was born in San Francisco. “I wanted to create a tool to explain what was going on with the crazy, rising housing prices in the area.”

Personal reactions

In her blog, she called residents of the area “quadsters” and described them as under-40 tech types who work hard, make a lot of money and “want to be in a place where they can get to work quickly, meet up with their friends and walk or bike instead of sitting in traffic.”

Rosdail got plenty of reaction to her piece, much of it from people who accused her of trying to destroy the city by making it unaffordable for anyone but millionaires.

“I had a guy posting threats on my Facebook page and people giving me one-star reviews trying to damage my career,” Rosdail said. “I was surprised by the personal nature of the reaction.”

But in creating new neighborhoods, a sense of place is as important as property values, said John Barry, a real estate broker who has been pushing to rename part of the Inner Sunset.

“People just don’t have enough imagination,” said Barry, who has suggested “Sunset Village” or “Irving Village” as possibilities. “It’s nice to have a place name, an identity. ‘Ninth and Irving’ is an address, not a neighborhood.”

Some of the neighborhood changes come from the residents themselves, not from real estate agents or anyone else. Cole Valley evolved when people living in the Upper Haight decided to cut their ties to the area’s hippie past. People living along Ocean Beach around Judah Street are rebranding their community as the La Playa neighborhood in an effort to set themselves apart from the rest of the Outer Sunset. Then there’s “Cloud Corridor,” a name some workers have coined for the home of the fast-growing downtown, SoMa and Mission Bay high-tech companies.

‘Always evolving’

It’s a process that’s been going on in San Francisco since the Gold Rush, with the names of some old-time districts, like Carville, Happy Valley and Butchertown, disappearing into history and others, like Dogpatch and Rincon Hill, reappearing as people look back toward the past.

“People always ask what are the boundaries of a district, and we have to tell them it’s a moving target,” said Susan Goldstein, the city archivist. “The city is always evolving, and it will be interesting to see if the changes today are still here in 10 years.”

South of the Slot became South of Market, which has become SoMa, with the area surrounding the future Transbay Center already dubbed Financial District South.

And as more new people move into the city, the past grows progressively dimmer, Freeman said.

“It’s a fluid thing and some of the past you can’t hold on to,” he said. But when it comes to the names attached to the familiar parts of San Francisco, “it’s the people who ultimately decide.”

Source : SFGate.com