The (de)Appropriation Parklet - San Francisco
San Franciscans proudly consider their city a little universe onto itself. Having been at the center of many social debates, the Mission is perhaps its most interesting galaxy. Historically the neighborhood was the city's poorest area, where Hispanic and Latino families lived. In the last decade that population decreased by 20% to make room for creative people riding expensive fixies and fresh compsci graduates starting their first 6-digit paying jobs. The trend was already apparent during the early stages of the dot-com boom, so some of the district's original residents decided to act against it by inaugurating the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project, a manifesto that compelled peer residents to induce fear in the wealthy newcomers by vandalizing their expensive cars. The project's effectiveness is unknown for it was short-lived because of police countermeasures.
The (de)Appropriation Parklet on Valencia Street has been one of the peaceful initiatives that replaced the Eradication Project. After buying old jail cells of the Mission Police Station, Bruce Tomb repurposed the outside wall as a space for people to hang posters about anything, from ironic takes on gentrification to vignettes depicting ongoing church scandals. Since August 2015 two facing podiums were added on the public sidewalk to transform the parklet into an urban debate society where pressing topics can be discussed. Debate sign-ups and schedules, however, are not formalized or streamlined on the Internet. A laissez-faire dominates the space. Indeed, for Mr. Tomb the parklet is the public sphere in the making, where school classes, tour groups, friends, or even dates can take a moment to hold a spontaneous conversation and share it with everyone. The two podiums tickle the passersby's mind by conjuring up a scene in which they finally air out in public all those thoughts, beliefs, thrills and beefs that they could only reveal with clenched teeth sitting with a trusted person at a third-wave café or craft brewery. That fantasy soon clashes with the reality of self-consciousness. Gatherings are rare and fleeting, lasting less than an hour when they do happen. After all, freedom of speech exercised on a public podium is frightening, and Internet forums and social media sate most people's need for civic expression. Yet, when a debate is on, all eyes are on those two people standing on the podiums. In those moments, what's being de-appropriated and made public is that personal reticence and composure to share two cents with strangers in passing.AP