Way back when, I started riding a bike as an easy way to make the monumental commute from Sacramento, CA to Palo Alto. It was a 7 mile bike ride, to the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train, to a bus, to another train. I did it 3 days a week on average. The bike was a very practical thing, and I had a very practical bike.
To continue to explore the potential links (or perceived links) between cycling and gentrification, I thought it would be important to solicit unbiased opinions from outside of the cycling community. For this, I reached out to Rashawn, long-time resident of the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco (and the neighborhood inhabited by yours truly.) Below is a series of questions and answers via an email conversation. Rashawn’s perspective provides an extremely valuable outside perspective that all of us interested in bicycle advocacy and advancement need to consider. It can become quite common for advocates of any cause to find themselves constantly “preaching to the chior.” Only by actively soliciting, and taking the time to understand, the opinions of those that are outside our group can we truly find ways to expand the cause we are advocating for.
Note: Any links included in the below transcript were added by me (after the fact) to help provide context for those unfamiliar with the Bayview community, or items referencing what can reasonable be considered “local knowledge.”
JustAnotherCyclist: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Can you tell us who you are, and a bit about yourself?
Rashawn: I am a Black woman who has deep roots in Arkansas and Louisiana. My family began migrating to the Bay Area during WWII, drawn by the promise of opportunities in the shipyards and looking for a better life. My grandmother came here in 1945, and sent for her children (including my 10 year old mother) a few years later. My parents settled here following my father’s stint in the Army. I was born and raised in San Francisco, and have never lived anywhere else.
Living in the city of San Francisco in 2015, you are constantly confronted with issues of class struggle and gentrification. In most parts of the city the rent you’d pay for 1 month in a 1 bedroom apartment could buy you a functional used car elsewhere in the country (or one hell of a nice bike). I also happen to live in a neighborhood that was, until recently, one of the most affordable (relatively) in the city. As a predominately African American community, this puts the area directly in the crosshairs of everything potentially bad about gentrification and displacement. Lots of new people moving in, demanding change. Lots of established families that have been in the neighborhood for generations feeling pushed out both socially and economically.
It is against this backdrop that I came face to face with an issue that at first seemed completely unfathomable for me: for many, cycling is a sign of gentrification. Keep reading →