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San Francisco

What You Want: Citizen Opinions On The Haight Circa 1978

What with the coming changes to the 'hood (also here), the perennial challenges faced by a neighborhood famed for its, ahem, lack of chemical inhibition, and the media whirlwind over the city's shifting cultural landscape, we thought it might be an opportune time to put 2014's Upper Haight in some historical perspective.

Thus, we present some findings from a survey launched in the fall of 1978 by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council and the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association. The survey was created in 1978 to help devise a master plan to present to the city planning department. As below:

"As everyone is aware there have been many changes in our neighborhood over the past few years, and we decided it's time for neighborhood residents to have a voice in its development."

It turns out people were concerned largely with a handful of things: rising rent, upscale retail, "bums," "gays," and dirt.

The survey results were found in the home of Michelle and Calvin Welch, longtime local residents involved in city and neighborhood politics. Michelle spoke with us about the survey process, and about some of the continuities (and differences) between the neighborhood today and the neighborhood as it saw itself 36 years ago. Many common themes included the homeless and panhandlers, the retail landscape and safety.

The survey was mailed in, and also ran as a half-page ad in the Haight Ashbury Newspaper: A Collective Perspective

To the question "Do you shop in other areas?" one 28-year-old man replied, "Yes," for "cleanliness and civility."

The "comments" field yielded a familiar mood regarding panhandlers and the homeless ("bums"):

"I realize that there is no way to really get rid of the bums on the street but I think they are a painI get hassled every single day and it's very tiresome they have a lot to do with the reputation of the neighborhood as being dangerous."

"A street fair may benefit merchants but it also attracts outsiderand bumsto Haight St. A better approach would be to promote neighborhood participation egtree planting and cleaning sessions."

Regarding the changing retail landscape, one of the recurring themes was another familiar refrain: more late-night eateries, closing McDonald's and better restaurants (at the time, said Welch, most of the restaurants in the neighborhood were boarded up). Said one commenter, "I hate to see old businesses run out by rising rents." And another: "I think we should get rid of those downtown investors who are increasing rent at our expense." "It would be nice," said another, "if The People took it back." And, regarding the increasingly "slick" retail: "All stores in Haight look like a decoration."

One marked difference was the friction, in 1978, against the Haight as an active gay destination. Welch said the Haight Theater (the "Straight Theater" formerly at the corner of Haight and Cole) was a popular cruising spot.

One resident wanted a better neighborhood for "families" ... "not a tourist attraction or a gay community." Another said, "I like gays fine but do not want Haight Street to become a 'cruising' street."

And what did people come to the neighborhood for, besides shopping? "Leisure walking or Disco."

So what do you think would improve the future of the Haight?

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