Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on July 14, 2014
Meet The North Of The Panhandle Neighborhood AssociationPhoto: Chris Hunkeler
Talk to any longtime NoPa neighbor and at some point the inevitable topic of the changing neighborhood will come up. Some call up issues of gentrification, others mention how much safer it feels, and a few talk fondly about Brother In Law's, one of the many former names and iterations of what's now 4505 Burgers and BBQ. It's undeniable that yes, the neighborhood has evolved. 
When looking at the "how" and not just the "what", it's important to learn a little about the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA).  Founded in 1991 by neighborhood residents, it was originally formed in direct response to drug-related crimes in the neighborhood. What started as a battle against violent crime and a significant gang presence in the neighborhood evolved to something bigger. Identifying their mantra as "Respect the Neighborhood", the association defines itself around the desire for "a clean and safe environment where every neighbor is respected and included in our community." 

We sat down with President JJ Strahle—initially to get the lowdown on the history of the term NoPa—and walked away with a slew of great information about our neighborhood, past and present. Some of the big things NOPNA has taken on in the past few years have included the Divisadero corridor redesign, and rallying to get funding for the upcoming Panhandle improvement project.  

NOPNA has made strides in improving the neighborhood, but JJ has noticed some friction between the causes that older and newer residents are fighting for.  "What people don't realize is that if it wasn't for people like them, the younger generation wouldn't be fighting for the things they are today."

Though 'gentrification' in the area is an oft-cited issue, JJ notes that all the hard work that older residents put into the neighborhood in the past few decades to make it safe, clean and comfortable has subsequently made it a more desirable neighborhood to live in. "Everybody has their thing that they don't like, but you just have to respect what longer-term residents have personally been through and how they've invested in the community." 

As for what NOPNA is currently working on, things have quieted down from past years. One of the biggest initiatives they're working on is getting residential parking permits for the neighborhood. Another is focusing on the Masonic Boulevard redesign project.  On the lighter side of things, they regularly host block parties, yearly sidewalk sales, and put out a regular newsletter to keep the neighborhood informed on local news. As JJ puts it:

"My biggest crisis is that I don't have any crises. Our work is less reactionary than it used to be, and now involves a lot of community-building. A lot of the crime is gone. So what do we do now? How do you build a community? How do you grow it organically, so that it's not all about gentrification? How do you make changes that are improvements for everybody? What's best for everybody that lives here, and for the future generations that live here?"

All good questions. If you'd like to help solve some of those issues, or at least make suggestions and hear what NOPNA is doing, head to Oasis Cafe this Thursday night for the next NOPNA meeting from 7pm-9pm.  We'll see you there.