North Beach, depending on whose propaganda you choose to believe, is (a) one of the best urban neighborhoods in America, or, (b) passé, trading on former glories that were never that glorious in the first place.
Northside San Francisco is apparently betting on the former. With this edition, the monthly magazine plants its flag firmly in this historically Italian bohemian quarter, making it truly a “northside” publication. I’ve been invited aboard to help chronicle the neighborhood in this column, “North Beach Beat.”
We won’t be lacking for subject matter.
Sure, the old-country Italians are as rare as dinosaur eggs around here (and their kids and grandkids are getting harder to find, too). And except for a few stubborn citadels – Caffe Trieste comes to mind – bohemians are no longer thick on the ground. Gentrification threatens to turn us into another Noe Valley, and along certain streets it’s hard telling where North Beach ends and Chinatown begins.
But even as things evolve, the old vibrancy remains. Whatever else it is, North Beach is a living organism. New problems arise and old ones fester. The village, as a friend of mine calls it, has always been a great canvas for word painters. There’s still a lot going on here, if you look beyond the tour buses and the strip joints. I agreed to pen this column because the place still fascinates me. That, and because the neighborhood is poorly served in the mainstream media.
Our local metropolitan daily, which is taking an impressively long time to die, has never done a very good job of covering neighborhood news – any neighborhood’s news. Carl Nolte keeps the flame burning with his entertaining essays, but he’s about the last guy left at the San Francisco Chronicle with any real institutional knowledge of the City and its enclaves. Seems like the only time North Beach gets any press from the “Voice of the West” these days is when someone gets shot dead on Broadway, or when C.W. Nevius turns up in his frocked coat and silk breeches, warning us to mend our sinful ways and become the Chamber of Commerce neighborhood that the developers and real estate agents would like us to be.
As for TV and radio, well, it’s TV and radio. Nothing more need be said on that subject.
So there’s a dearth of coverage of this neighborhood, which three-plus years ago was proclaimed by the American Planning Association as one of the 10 best in the country. This column will attempt, in its modest way, to shine some light into those corners that are the best … and the worst.
This is not the first time the neighborhood has had the services of a North Beach beat. Seven years ago it was a monthly newspaper that enjoyed an 11-edition run before disappearing in a pool of red ink. I know this because I was its editor, which, presumably, is why Northside S.F. recruited me and suggested this name for the column. Later, I wrote a North Beach blog for the San Francisco Examiner. So much for my bona fides.
As in both previous ventures, this is largely a labor of love. Nobody gets rich in community journalism. I just like the neighborhood a lot. I want you to like it a lot, too. And, when the need arises, to fight for it as well.
Assuming I don’t step on the wrong toes, I can see doing this for a while. On the other hand, I do tend to step on toes – “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” remains one of my guiding journalistic principles – so this could end up being short and sweet. We’ll see.
So, come, let us take this leap of faith together.
Got a hot tip? Know something that needs covering that isn’t being covered? Gimme it: firstname.lastname@example.org.