The Trouble With San Francisco's Skid Row

What was envisioned as a "Great White Way" turned out to be city's blighted core

By Jackson West
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 4:09 AM PDT
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Even before the gold rush of 1849, Market Street was envisioned as San Francisco's central artery, a rival to Chicago's Magnificent Mile or New York's Great White Way. For the last few decades, it's instead been a petri dish of local urban planning problems.

The once-thriving Filipino community that held court on Sixth Street? Now mostly gone to Daly City. The grand theaters? Peep shows and strip clubs. Upscale dining? Quite possibly the dingiest Carl's Jr. franchise in all of California.

Local investigative journalism project Spot.us has published a detailed report, complete with interactive graphics chronicling the neighborhood's history and efforts to find solutions, with all the details that you probably don't want to explore for yourself by venturing west past Fifth Street.

The report illustrates the essential "Catch-22" nature of the problem: Until there are welcome commercial amenities, nobody will want to live there, but with no one living there, nobody wants to open new businesses.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom promised to once again move forward with city efforts to address the problem through redevelopment money at a press event at the newly opened boutique sausage restaurant Showdogs, but with the economy in a slump, the city budget underwater, and entrenched political opposition, even he recognizes that it will take years.

Things are picking up culinarily, with Showdogs, the recent opening of the Passion Cafe, and a project from the restaurateurs that brought us Foreign Cinema. 

But in the meantime, if you're looking to score some crack or buy stolen bicycle parts, the neighborhood does offer you plenty of options.

Jackson West lives in a mid-Market SRO at the rump end of a freeway offramp.

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