Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Haight and my Intro Class

Before this rant (or, as I like to think of it, scholarly musing) begins, let me give some background information. Last week the assignment in my intro to media studies class was to collect artifacts that represented the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1960s and post it on our class message board. Then, the class took a field trip to the Haight (which is about 6 blocks from USF) and collected artifacts from today's Haight, which included interviews, photos, and video. These artifacts were also posted to the message board, and old Haight and new Haight were compared.

A surprising number of students wrote about the commercialization of Haight and about the neighborhood today the neighborhood being a symbol of materialism and capitalism. While the Haight is probably more commercial than it was in the '60s, it is problematic, and even somewhat untrue, to make such a blanket, black-and-white statement.

Let me explain further...

It is true during the '60s there were programs dedicated to free everything, including housing, food, and medical care. But some of the hippies did buy stuff, if only food, drugs, or the latest LP. I agree that they probably didn't buy 15 pairs of shoes (which, unfortunately is soooo easy to do in the Haight), but some of them had at least one pair. Therefore, while not overly materialistic, the hippies did buy things, and thus there have always been stores in the Haight.

Furthermore, to chastise the Haight for becoming overly commercialized is to ignore all of the counter-capitalist businesses that exist there. My favorite example of such a business is Coffee to the People, a cafe that only sells organic, fair trade coffee and tea. Although a coffee shop, it is far from Starbucks, and the fact that it is still in business (I am unsure when it opened) is a testament to the fact that businesses that treat their workers, the environment, their suppliers, and their customers with respect can still be profitable.

Even though there exist many other stores which probably don't dig as deeply into the origins of their products as Coffee to the People does, most of the businesses are small rather than corporate. In fact, San Francisco Law requires that any "formula retail" establishment apply for a special permit before setting up shop in the Haight. The only large corporations that come to mind when I think of the Haight are McDonalds, Ben & Jerry's and Wells Fargo (the Gap recently closed its Haight & Ashbury location), and of those three I know that at least one (Wells Fargo) is so environmentally friendly that it was awarded a "Green Business" status by San Francisco Green Business.

The other aspect of Haight that makes it anti-capitalist is the wide array of second-hand stores. While I can't find any good evidence to support the claim that second-hand stores are anti-capitalist (at least in the 5 minutes of googling I did), it seems intuitive to me that by buying something used the corporation that manufactured the good doesn't get any more money for the item, and instead a local business profits. Furthermore, something new didn't have to be created, packaged, and shipped, so the impact on the environment is less for second-hand goods (if even No Impact Man will buy second-hand goods, then they must have less environmental impact).

In short (if only brevity were my strong point...) there are stores in the Haight that sell things, but a closer look at the structure, type, and products of the stores receals that the neighborhood is far from an all-consuming, materialist, capitalist beast (or at least as far from it as the Haight is from Union Square).

I promise that not all of my future blog posts will be this academic, nor this long (well, I kinda promise that), so please stay tuned for more!

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Blogger beth said...

yay, sara! the haight still has free medical clinics, a family homeless shelter, and a soup kitchen, along with the expensive shoes. :)

October 05, 2007 9:22 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Hey, Beth, what happened to your blog?

October 05, 2007 11:16 PM  

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