Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pasko! Pasko! Pasko!

Happy Holidays... 

I've been a terrible blogger on this site as of recent, but I hope to redeem myself with this entry.

This year has brought about a lot of learning, thankfully. 

I learned that no matter what, people will lay their lives on their homes.  Outside of family, and our health, it's often all we have.  With support and love from family, friends, and community members, a home will ALWAYS be a home, no matter the critique -- shortsighted, unfounded, and conflated as it is.

Unfortunately, I've missed out on a lot of events since October, ranging from the Planning Commission Hearings on the final steps of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, to the United Playaz Thanksgiving Celebrations.  I've a backlog of footage that still needs to be edited, interviews that need to be wrapped up, photos to still take... tick tock tick tock!

No matter, the SOMA is still there, residents still dance in the streets, stay warm behind their homes, smile with each other, laugh before they go to bed, persevere and dream in slumber.

On December 19th, SOMCAN ran their annual Pasko event at the Bayanihan community center on 6th and Mission. Festivities were full with Lechon (Roast Pig), festive performers young and old alike.  The space bustled, and while I'm glad I was able to get some footage at this gathering, it still wasn't nearly enough to feel the crowd's presence.

Featured on this short video is Marti Dulalas--I confess, I should have done more interviews, but Marti has been the impromptu guide during these events, and she holds it down!  Jazzie Collins, a longtime community advocate and resident provides her jovial input.  Also on this video is Jack De Jesus, aka Kiwi Illafonte, staff member of SOMCAN.  The youth from Galing Bata and Bessie Carmichael filled out the night with a postmodern mix of bilingual carols, hip hop choreography, and redux versions of other classic tunes.

As I managed to be a fly-on-the-wall, I scanned the crowd often from behind the camera.  I always attempt to follow a mental checklist of shots to get.  Sometimes I get through the checklist properly, often times I get caught up in balancing out the anonymity and participation.  On one of these b-roll items on my list I caught sight of this fellow:

After continuing with filming, I realized I needed a quick break outside. I greeted several folks I recognized, but mostly kept to myself, assessing what else I needed from the event. Standing in thought amidst all that is 6th street, I could not resist the charm that the night had... and I think I zoned out for a minute. Unsure of how to reset my thoughts, I started devising more opportunities to appease my need for technical and narrative precision (which I will perpetually work at doing), but these were moot to complete presence without camera, and active emotional involvement, interaction...

Next thing I knew I was smiling... at what? I can't articulate. Oddly.

Shaking myself from the breather, I noticed the same lolo walking towards me, or rather, the exit.  I immediately turned my camera on, attempting to get a more dynamic angle to integrate with the previous footage, as seen above.  As he continued to move towards me, I began to watch his face, and began to remove my face from the camera screen, a technique I employ to assure that I'm seeing the right things.

Making eye contact, we smiled at each other again.

The doors slid open and we were within inches of each other.  

We said nothing.

He placed his hand on my wrist, and not to prevent me from recording.

I placed my other hand on his.

We parted.

I made sure to take pause, if only for a second. If there's anything that I've learned working solo is that I always gotta check-in with myself. Reflect. Reassure. Repeat.

What we did for each other that night, 
that singular moment, is what I've been trying to do everyday, 
with or without camera... 
...and I'm sure it's the same for him.

Thanks for reading, see y'all next year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Leaning and Learning

I geeked out last night.

I sat in the classroom for a class called, “Economic Development, Housing and Neighborhoods in San Francisco" I was audience to panel with April Veneracion from SOMCAN, Tony Kelly from the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, Nick Pagoulatos from MAC and Dolores Street Community Services. from the Post War Period to the Present,” taught by Calvin Welch.

The topic: Eastern Neighborhood Plan and how the represented organizations have been organizing from the ground up as “amateurs” against City Planners, Redevelopment/Real Estate, and other “Professionals.”

Some talking points and observations:

SOMCAN was borne out of rampant redevelopment in the SOMA. As a response, a small and hardy group of concerned community members linked arms and ideas and mobilized a significant number of SOMA residents. Taking heed to the needs of those who are most likely to be displaced (i.e. people of color, immigrants, low-income), SOMCAN made sure to assist in dealing with eviction notices, receiving services, and working towards building neighborhood-friendly institutions. Some results were the rebuilding of Bessie Carmichael, the opening of Victoria Manalo Draves Park, and the saving of the Trinity Hotel Apartments.

The Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association was founded in 1926 continues to service the Potrero Hill district. Tony Kelly introduced the organization as a set of residents and property owners that work for the neighborhood, simple and plain – they house no experts other than those that know the neighborhood simply because they’ve lived there for over 10 years. The Boosters have an integral voice and have recognized their neighborhood is invariably affected as much as the residents of the SOMA and the Mission.

Nick Pagoulatos also comes from a legacy of vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that operate out of the Mission. Upon first glance, it seems that the Mission is impervious to the wiles of City Planning and Redevelopment, however, the increase in market rate housing has create conditions almost parallel to a slow bleed that won’t clot. Longtime residents (some families have been renting their property for over 20 years!), are being displacement to the rippling effect of rezoning, and landowner buyouts to convert the said properties into market rate (i.e. uber expensive) prices.

It’s still about the economy. Land scarcity in this 7x7 region pushes on this bottom line. Questions of who’s paying who for land dictates who lives where and what business gets done, and it make sense in a very elementary way, yet when you involve egos and (perhaps) greed, then the arena turns into a gladiator’s ring as opposed to an open forum. Allusions aside, it’s difficult to operate in housing and planning CBOs within an economic system that inherently is about competition more than it is about equity, and that’s the crux of the problem. I’m not asking for a coup, far from that – like most of the organizers from these neighborhoods, I’m part of that voice that asks to use the tools that have been put forth by those from the neighborhoods. This translates into this sensible idea that everyone pays an amount appropriate to their abilities. The city works with tax increments—the hotel industry has always been a tapped source. Another area to explore is how to go about legalizing certain offices that have planted themselves in locations that aren’t zoned for that use. Or actually holding developers to their end of the deal when it comes to a building fee per square footage (often redevelopers are given the option to include affordable housing or paying out to the city a certain amount, most often opt to pay out), but I’ve read that there have been enough administrative loopholes or just straight stinking attempts to follow-through that causes a loss in uncollected hundreds of millions of dollars that would go back towards building affordable housing. To note, if land is scarce, and building up and out is even more difficult, simply because there is no more land then the next viable step would be to appropriate “Air” space (just learned that term last night)—floors in these newly proposed developments with height increases… all of these options, and several more have been understood to diffuse this potential bomb and subsequent explosion of this idea of a downtown filled with the privileged.

Which actually segues me into another talking point where a young gentleman of color brought up a befuddling question (to me at least) to our panel—I’m paraphrasing here, but I understood his question and his context as such – with a “Conservative” Base (i.e. status quo, profit driven), that has consistently either through policy or outright explicit conversation expressed distaste in working with CBOs and their constituents to get them more housing and to operate on a premise of equity, why bother continuing the fight? He additionally pointed out that this whole sub-prime mortgage loan debacle was said to be blamed on the low-income (Do low-income folks even qualify for these loans?). He capped with this disarming, yet valid question/statement of “What’s so bad about Gentrification?” Perhaps terming gentrification as “bad” is a misleading understanding, I mean folks who pay and have that mobility and access to resources should be able to live wherever they want right? It’s not a bad thing, that’s the nature of our economic system. I don’t necessarily agree, a home is a home and anyone should have the liberty to choose where they live… Aside from displacement, there are other nuances that make gentrification’s processes and movement distasteful – don’t get me started on Co-opting and Re-appropriating cultures… okay, I’ll stop and get off the soap box.

Needless to say, I’m refreshed by local politics. Nick had asked about the blog and how I got started, and I just told him simple and plain – City planning is the penultimate form of art. What does that mean? As an artist you dictate, manipulate, position folks into a narrative by means of your chosen medium. As an artist one can inspire through a painting, photo, etc. to incite change – however, most of art is to be deciphered, and there are expressions that mask the message, leaving the audience either in sublime appreciation, or quizzical confusion. In City Planning the block is the medium and form, as planner you dictate narrative directly, you cause people to rethink their positions in life – folks either mobilize, think about mobilizing, whatever, the bottom line is that you create an internal/external movement.

I wish I can make it out next Wednesday, when the class hears speakers from the “other” side.

For more updates on the progress of the Land Use Hearings go to the MAC blog:; if you want the nitty-gritty, go to the SFGOVTV website for recordings of the hearings.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Resource: The Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition

The Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition is.... well, just read their blog, they can speak well on their own behalf. They've been a strong group, and an awesome ally to SOMCAN. Their blog is a solid collaborative, it houses pertinent and accessible information of what goes down in the Mission.

Also peep their position on the Eastern Neighborhood Plan.

Urban Studies 1A: The Death and Life of Great American Cities

"Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties... Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves." - Jane Jacobs

As I've mentioned before, I have a ramshackle understanding of Urban Studies and Planning. My understanding grew from the notion that people construct a concept of space based on a layered, nuanced, and complex understanding of home. It's the relationships within a structure of politics, economics, and culture that set in motion crazy dynamics that teeter on a balance of intuition, will, and irrationality.

With that said, among the handful of books that I'm attempting to plow through, is a very special text to the discussion entitled The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. I won't spend too much time summarizing the text, but I will reference the text often, and hopefully over time, I'll be integrating other texts to this blog.

Jacobs' popularity and universal appeal has a lot to do with her methodology. With no formal training in City Planning, Design, or Architecture she very well could have been relegated to a pop scholar, but she gained momentum as she wrote about cities based on her daily and extensive walks and conversations with residents. I'm looking for more time to have a go at this, but in the interim, I'm just keeping my eyes and aperture open to events (to which I'm behind in posting).

I've been highlighting sentences, placing notes in the margins. I'm looking to Jacobs' text to introduce questions that I should consider when I structure documents that respond to this layered and often masked history with Filipinos in the South of Market. With all her writings centering on the relationship between the technical and organic elements of a city, it could get heady, yet it's all very accessible because her writing is from the ground up, not the top down.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Checking In

Sorry folks, I'm still here, it's been nearly a month -- I've been restructuring my approach, developing, revising curriculum, volunteering, recording....

I'll purge everything here soon enough.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Resource: WochenKlausur

Pallet application beyond the bonfire.

I began my forays into critical and cooperative art expressions sometime in college (UCSD - woot!). Lecture halls and sections were filled with bodies, a poor representative cross section of a patronage of privilege.
Yours truly was part of this mass.
The work produced in studio, media, computer, and photography classes ran the range between personal expressions of ebullient and potential Frida Kahlo's, Robert Frank's, Eric DeGuia's to the despondent, and maybe hung-over 'bohemian' or 'dandy' students.

I began to grow towards a critical discussion in sharing an ever growing knowledge base that included a pedestrian-art relationship (one that physically places art/object in direct opposition to the spectator). However, it's one thing to keep the discussion between academics, it's another to build your chops up by affiliating and collaborating with those "outside" the academy and art production.

Luckily, there was one extremely welcoming professor on campus (Grant Kester) who would point me towards several directions that I continually explore.

One of the directions that I was pointed towards, is a group called WochenKlausur.
(If you have time, please go through their FAQ, and the ART links to get a sense of context)

Certainly not the only group to explore dialogical art productions, there are plenty of individuals (Suzanne Lacy), organizations, and collectives (SF Print Collective) that exercise a more collaborative and pedagogically-friendly approach. However, WochenKlausur has a track record, model, and philosophy that builds bridges between and blurs the concept of art and politics.

Revisiting their website and noting their evolution only makes my brain synapse's go wild and inspire projects that apply a similar methodology.

What if I were to apply such strategies to encourage dialog between developers, residence -- from the rich to the transient -- service providers, business owners, etc. What would that look like?
Perhaps a pre-approved commandeering of 6th Street and Natoma: Imperceptibly occupy a space with a small unit constructed of hundreds of cardboard boxes, or an intricate shell of shopping carts that would house a "warm" space, replete with fresh donuts, fruit, and coffee -- the ideas are endless.

The intent of such constructed spaces are to encourage moderated dialog and political dealings. Can you imagine a 'casual' conversation between two planning commission members and two schoolchildren, and the vehicle of conversation would be crayon drawings based on the theme of home... or even using this space to share cooking tips from an SRO resident and a local grocer... and having these documents integrated into an Environmental Impact Report?

Or, if documented dialog isn't the cup of tea of collaborators, perhaps daily data collection of 6th street goings on. Arguably, this could potentially encourage more surveillance, however, maybe with the inclusion of oral history, video, or photo essay all contained on some accessible database -- would be humanizing. Perhaps the information disseminated would act as an appropriate litmus or forecast that would effectively incite involvement -- in addition to rallies, the public would be in the halls more often... oh wait that's what I'm trying to do on this blog ;P

These ideas aren't pipe-dreams that will lay stagnant, with the relationships that I'm hoping to nurture I'm sure in due time something WochenKlausur-esqe will manifest. Trust.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting Work Done: Rally at the Planning Hearing (07/10/2008)

Several housing rights and community organizations gathered on the steps of City Hall on July 10th, 2008 to show support and unity towards the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. Many are affected with the prospect of zoning changes, and heavy hitting redevelopment corporations/agencies with the interests of a specific kind of growth in mind, that doesn't typically include families that decide to make their homes in the city.

Following support, I was able to take my camera into the hearing room, and document the 15-minute presentation from SOMCAN that broke down more terms of the the Youth and Family Zone (More on the YFZ in another entry).

Here's a short compilation of the rally:

Some of the speakers included: Marti D., Mai D., Eric Quezada, and folks from PODER, POOR represented as well.

I broke down the hearing into components of the presentation (In the queue for upload are both Chris Durazo's, and April Veneracion's part of the presentation):

If you want to watch this particular hearing, or any other hearing for that matter, hit up the San Francisco GOV TV website. Here's a link directly to the City Planning Commission's meetings. As an aside, it's impressive and makes complete sense that these hearings are available online. Granted, transparency in bureaucracy can never get to 100%, at least it's a step in the responsible direction.

So what's next for SOMCAN? Gathering more support for the Youth and Family Zone, and working towards meeting with the City Planning Staff responsible for the EN plan and working it to get the language and terms down on the page for the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors to approve and implement.

Estimated time line? Perhaps naively I thought that a final draft of the plans would be set on the tables of the Planning Commission by the end of this month, however, as I've quickly RE-learned, that one can't ever be certain with so many political interests in mind.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Implementation: Silkscreen, Session 2 of 4 - CPA Youth

Also producing material for the Silkscreening sessions are the youth from the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA).

CPA has a long history with grassroots organizing starting in the 1970s. In fact, the 1970s presented a strong period of Pan-Asian collective consciousness, and collaboration. Their website provides an overview of their campaigns through the decades, so be sure to fill in on their background information.

I asked several of the youth organizers (Tiffany Ng, Annie Liu, Jenny Deng, Edmond Tang, June Su, Emily Lee their mentor) about their designs, their work in CPA, and how it fits in to their development and ability to engage in critical dialog.

Although not located in the SOMA, CPA's work in Chinatown carries strong reverberations in the SOMA.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Implementation: Silkscreen, Session 2 of 4 - PODER Youth

I jumped into the last hour of the 2nd session of the Silk Screening Class, and right away pulled out the camera to document this weeks progress, and let me say that from the get, these youth didn't mind at all that I was documenting their process, asking them questions about their day, about their process and progress, or as Einar S. so deftly asked, "Isn't our progress our process?"

Mind you, I wasn't giving them the third degree, calling them out, what have you - I suppose it's a guilty pleasure of mine to ask all the youth that I've worked with to explain what it is they're doing, how they're going about it, etc. All with the interests to vindicate any naysayers to public service/civic engagement/youth work. It's damn affirming when any one youth can explicitly articulate the structures that be and how to work said structures in interpersonal relations with no half-steppin' and no slippin'.

PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environment & Economic Rights), is a grassroots organization based in San Francisco's Mission district. In a neighborhood that's continually evolving with/against/forwards/sideways/backwards with gentrification, organizations like PODER and their allies work with the immigrant and low-income residents with the intent to build and foster empowerment through campaigns that serve the interests of many of the folks involved. I could go on and on, with citation after another about their campaigns, but I encourage everyone to peep their website, learn a little. Common Roots is the program that bridges the youth from CPA (Chinese Progressive Association) with the youth from PODER in efforts to solidify their coalition, and build up the next generation's leaders.

I sat with Fabiola R., Ingried S. (who proudly stated that her three brothers were in the mix), Yosei, S., Juan S., Christian S., Fernando M.R., and Einar S., and they broke it down for me. The PODER youth meet weekly at El Centro Del Pueblo, and I was told that the showing to the classes are nothing but a fraction of the youth that gather in their small space in the back of the offices, where they hold educational workshops that speak to their communities and campaigns.

They recently had a block party replete with free burritos, an urban art-faire, and was an overall "positive space," as Fernando affirmed with a charismatic smile.

I asked about their progress/process in the classroom and asked them to break down designing for me:

I dunno about y'all but I was impressed with their forward thinking. A way of working the involves implementing political education and empowerment, in addition to economical education and empowerment. It's certainly one thing to drop knowledge on inequalities, it's another to be able to hustle to keep the coffers full so that you can continually learn and drop that knowledge. Dope.

Keep posted for a vid with the CPA youth....

Oh and if you do read this in time, come out for the rally in front of City Hall today -- see flyer in previous post.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Implementation: Silkscreen, Session 1 of 4

It took a minute folks, but I finally uploaded a short video of the Silkscreening class being held at Asian Neighborhood Design.

In addition to the SOMCAN ENACT youth and adult organizers, the folks at PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), and CPA (Chinese Progressive Association) sent their cadres of youth to learn a historically populist artform known as Silkscreening, or Screen-printing.

The instructors were Jesus Barraza of Taller Tupac Amaru, and Vicki Carr of the SF Print Collective.

The video above includes a handful of what happened during the first session, and I'll be documenting the subsequent 3 sessions, and what I'm hoping to explore in the next 3 sessions are how these groups articulate both the core and the immediate of their campaigns and how to create an image and design the is mindful of everyone's input.

Oh, and I hope to document the fun inherent within printmaking and collaborations -- especially with youth productions.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Research: Randall Crane

I have no formal training or background in Urban Studies and Planning, Urban Economy, or any kind of social scientific discipline.

What I do have training in is Film, or Cinema-for those Cineastes/Snobs. My 'formal' training in film and video production provided the vehicle for me to cross various sectors/disciplines. With that said, in combination with critical pedagogy and working with "at-risk" youth for a number of years, has provided fertile ground for calculated curiosity.

Oh, and I'm Filipino. Insert Diaspora and other assertions/questions/musings of Home here.

This amalgam permits fluidity in my scholarly searches, however, I'm sure my legitimacy will be in question because I don't have a bunch of letters following my name.

In an effort to combat potential critiques/bashing, I've been cutting my teeth on ground (see Pin@y Education Partnerships, SOMCAN, etc.), and in the books... or in this first example, blogs.

Urban Planning Research is authored by Professor of Urban Planning, Randall Crane, down at the University of California, Los Angeles,.

Although, possibly not the commanding voice, Crane's content diversity and form are more than digestible to outsider and academic alike. Crane's most recent entry is a strong example of very accessible material to a very practical understanding of urban planning conversation.

Crane also features individuals that continually ask the important questions, but also keep the work on the streets, and not just the books.

Crane does a thorough job in citations and links, which supplement the article and both open up more doors for questions, and set up strong cases.

I suppose Blogs aren't a substitute to the thick, voluminous books that line the shelves, but they certainly are changing up how conversations and research questions can be framed succinctly, and in greater frequencies, to encourage discourse.

(I'll be posting other blogs that I often frequent in future postings)

Friday, June 20, 2008

On The Table: San Francisco's Eastern Neighborhood Plan

Image courtesy of - for detailed information peep this:

SOMCAN's current campaign addresses the diversity of the projects in the planning pipeline, and making sure that the Planning Commission tread carefully and responsibly when approving a plan to go before the Board of Supervisors.

The campaign title is ENACT, which stands for Eastern Neighborhoods Action Community Team. They've organized around a platform that responds to residential needs, established on a ground-up approach to topography (as opposed to top-down; looking down at a map) from daily walk-abouts, needs assessments with youth, to census/survey analysis.

ENACT responds to bureaucratic jargon, which is a language that is arguably manipulative, misleading, and uncommitted. If you peep the informational website, things are that suspect are not necessarily the numbers but the qualities of a neighborhood and what determines the 'vitality' of the neighborhood.

Achieving 'Balance' is what the plan calls for, but does such a concept integrate equity? Responsibility? Integration? The vitality the city calls for hopefully aligns with human personality, and not necessarily economic stimulus.

Who I'm Working With: SOMCAN

Located on Mission St., on the 2nd floor of a mixed-use building is a small office overflowing with the markings of movement.

A cross section of SF's grassroots housing and community development history adorn the walls: Posters with minimal and effective design to call for community support and responsible planning in Rincon to candid shots of collaborators from all sectors sit next to one another. The walls weighted with narratives that don't need an interpreter...

Binders clearly marked with campaign names - acronyms that effectively simplify and impact those involved, stacks of paper documenting anything from drafts of informational pamphlets to phone lists add weight to a desk already occupied with computers, and snacks for the next meeting.

The hum of the copier machine accompanies the conversation in the main lobby, green room, what have you - a committee meeting describing next steps in a solid coalition, laughter breaks the air of monotony as a result of the heat and the consistent work that never ends. It's necessary to smile in this work...

Large posters on plywood are painted with earthy tones of red, green, brown - perhaps to illustrate humility, pride, accessibility... the palette revealing careful thought to complement an equally effective typeface that reveals the very real and very basic need that SOMCAN addresses:


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Along the Way

I've been researching, contemplating, sharing... everything but implementing this project within certain parts of the South of Market in San Francisco, popularly known as the SOMA.

It's a contested history rife with drama -- the key players run the gamut from bureaucrats, international business owners, to blue-collar residents, to Community Based Organizations.

The topography is rich in history, most of it layered, hidden, and undocumented. Buildings and homes razed and raised -- it's time to unpeel a lot of that paint, chip away at the asphalt, and whatever appropriate urban metaphor you can think up.

This blog will be the forum to explore that history, and research questions regarding city planning, and community development.

The players here will not be exclusive. I'll invite other non-profits, CBOs, residents (youth, immigrant, the gentry, transients) to contribute, to share.

Thanks for reading.