Loving my Neighborhood as it Changes

As anyone who has ever asked me about my city or my neighborhood knows, I love the place I live with a passion. My mom often tries to come up with scenarios in which I could be persuaded to move elsewhere and I am unfailingly stubborn in my loyalty to my city. I have lived in the house I live in now since I was four years old. However what it means to live here has changed vastly since then.

7-year-old Hailey at a neighborhood art show


When we moved here, I thought I was the only blonde girl in all of San Francisco because I rarely saw other white kids in our primarily Latin neighborhood. Growing up, I soon learned that other people were scared of my neighborhood. And there were scary things. People got shot a lot in my neighborhood. Things got stolen; no hipster would have dreamed of leaving their fixie bike chained to a parking meter on 24th street when I was little. As a kid and young teenager I saw cars get stolen, drug deals go down, women threatened at knife point, all from my bedroom window.

My parents encouraged us to love our neighbors and our neighborhood not only in spite of its scariness, but because the scary things meant our neighbors needed the love. We picked up trash around the park on a regular basis, for a while we made pancakes with our homeless neighbors under the freeway once a week, we went swimming at the rec center and we played at the neighborhood parks with other kids who lived nearby. There were lots of things my brothers and I loved about our neighborhood. We could walk to the library, the corner store sold Now and Laters candy for only 25 cents a pack and we could buy sweet Mexican pastries from any number of panaderias. The hill by our house was perfect for adventures and by the time I was ten or eleven we could walk all over it by ourselves.

Between the scariness of frequent shootings and richness of culture and variety of places to eat, learn, and play, my neighborhood and I developed a very close bond. It’s safe to say that this is the only place in the world that feels like home to me.However, as I have gotten older and my neighborhood has shifted with the tech boom and influx of new people, new businesses and new culture, I have realized that there is a disconnect between how I feel about my neighborhood and how I am seen in it. Although many of my neighbors recognize me from the almost two decades I have lived here, others don’t and from some of them I feel the resentment towards the hipster “gentrifier” they perceive me as. Sometimes this resentment is verbalized, other times it manifests in stormy glares or refusal to give right of way when I am walking. The thing is, I completely understand it. This is not a post about gentrification, I would need more time to write on such a complicated issue, but I do know that the changes being brought to my neighborhood create tension between the “locals” and the “gentrifiers”, “hipsters” and “techies”. Everyone here knows someone who had to move because it’s getting too expensive, even though many of us (my family included) moved to this part of the city because it was the part we could afford to live in. I catch myself glaring at the google bus and the new, hip pop-up boutiques. I worry that when I move out of my parents house I will no longer be able to live in my neighborhood, which breaks my heart because this is the only place that will ever feel like this for me.

The neighborhood and I have changed alongside one another as I’ve grown up. We’ve been through tough times together and we’ve celebrated together, we’ve mourned and marched and worked together to make this a safe community. When I was seven I wrote to the mayor and chief of police; our car had been broken into and I felt upset and rattled. Police rarely ventured into our neighborhood at that time. If we called to report a shooting or a drug transaction taking place on our front steps it took them far too long to get here and often they were too late to do anything. I wrote, pleading to the leaders of the city to make my neighborhood, my home, safer. We saw an upswing of positive police presence that year and it gave little Hailey hope and a sense of empowerment to see that change effected. Fourteen years later, I’ve marched to protest the police brutality that has been increasingly common in my neighborhood. I still long to see change and peace in my community. I long to help make it a safe place for the people who live here to get to know each other and flourish together. I want to have the same hopefulness that seven-year-old Hailey had about bringing people together, but I also recognize that to many I appear to be an outsider. I may not be perceived as belonging here, but nowhere else is home either.

I am still trying to figure out how to love my ever-shifting community through the tensions and challenges it faces. I want to take on new actions to love my neighbors, but as a college student with an ever-shifting schedule as well as limited time and money, I am not sure how that looks yet. I am excited to experiment with intentionality in this area of my life, however, so this won’t be the last time you hear about this.

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