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Back to <-- DotComs and the Information Revolution

There Goes the Neighborhood
Fair Use Statement

Source: The Industry Standard

July 3, 2000

There Goes the Neighborhood The dot-com invasion of the Mission district in San Francisco has inspired a guerrilla response from area artists and, surprisingly, some dot-commers themselves.

By Lessley Anderson

When Alex Stroessner's employer, Internet Devices, was bought by Alcatel (ALA) , he found himself with a stock-option windfall of $80,000. Last year he splurged on a new VW Passat to drive to his new job at Spinner.com in San Francisco's Mission district.

One night Stroessner left work and found a fresh scrape along the side of his light blue car. His Passat had been "keyed."

He wasn't surprised. In previous weeks, several of his coworkers at Spinner had gotten their cars keyed in the Mission, a predominantly Latin American working-class neighborhood, where the affordable rents have long been favored by artsy types and where dot-com startups are becoming as plentiful as the neighborhood's taquerias. For months, a poster attributed to the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project had been pasted on the sides of garbage cans, mailboxes, bus stops and buildings. It read: "VANDALIZE YUPPIE CARS: BMWs Porsches Jaguars SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES Break the Glass Scratch the Paint Slash Their Tires and Upholstery Trash Them All

"If yuppie scum know their precious cars aren't safe on the streets of this neighborhood," it continued, "they'll go away and they won't come back and the trendoid restaurants, bars and shops that cater to them will go out of business."

Since 1998, when a thirtysomething temp worker going by the pseudonym Nestor Makhno created the first Mission Yuppie Eradication Project posters, anti-dot-com sentiment has swelled. Many blame the Internet gold rush for San Francisco's soaring rents, the "yuppifying" of its neighborhoods and the tacky advertising that litters the city. The response has been a vigilante attack from artists, activists, and, surprisingly, some dot-commers who are joining the rebellion.

Besides the traditional community responses like rallies and neighborhood meetings, dot-com resentment has taken the form of vandalism, public art and open hostility. And for dot-commers with a sense of humor and even the slightest distrust of dot-com overkill, it's hard not to sympathize with the outcry. The owner of an Internet PR firm who asked to remain anonymous admits that the ubiquity of dot-com advertising disgusts even him. "I make a living evangelizing dot-com messages," he says. "I want to see them in the business section, but I don't need dot-com-branded coffee cozies. The messaging is so aggressive it's ruining San Francisco."

Nowhere is this tension felt more than in the Mission. In the 1980s this neighborhood became the preferred bohemia for those who moved in to take advantage of low rents. From predominantly middle-class backgrounds, having chosen not to take corporate jobs, these new residents, like it or not, were the first wave of gentrification that made the Mission safe for yuppies.

But now, the Mission looks increasingly like tony Pacific Heights restaurants with valet parking, boutiques selling $100 capri pants in soft hues and high rents to match. The new face of the Mission makes funky types feel fussy, and has sparked some of the city's most intense backlash.

The Mission's popular Beauty Bar is decorated like a '60s hair salon, with sparkly, salmon-colored walls and cutout ads of women in beehives "a sports bar for girls," jokes manager Aaron Buhrs.

For three months after the bar's opening, Buhrs says, the place was graffitied twice a week with slogans, including "Yuppies Must Die." "We also had a stink bomb, the toilet tank got kicked in and somebody lit the garbage on fire," he adds. Most recently a pail of snails, urine and feces was dumped in the bar's entrance.

Though Buhrs asserts that the clientele of the Beauty Bar is diverse, he admits that, generally speaking, it caters to "dot-com white wealth," noting "there are only a hundred other businesses that could make that same claim."

Other reactions are less strident, and come from artists like 39-year-old Andy Cox, who conducts "unauthorized interventions in public space" with his group TWCDC Together We Can Defeat Capitalism.

In 1998, Cox bought a video ad in the city's BART subway system, shown on a monitor that updates riders on which train is arriving. It read, "Capitalism stops at nothing."

Since then, his art has become more decidedly anti-Internet. In May, he rented a blinking highway-display board programmed with the words "Danger, Digital Divide Ahead," and parked it in the dot-com-saturated neighborhood of San Francisco's South Park. Cox's next project will involve posters showing himself vomiting, accompanied by the message, "If I see another dot-com ad, I am going to puke.com," which he intends to paste over dot-com company billboards and posters.

"I started doing this out of disillusionment with the way I saw that society was heading," says Cox, who is originally from England but earned his master's degree in art at San Francisco State University. "Now that the dot-com thing has taken off, it really has a new impetus; I'm seeing other artists leaving the city and getting evicted."

One Mission renter whose building is for sale enlisted theatrical friends to put on a show when her landlord brought prospective tenants by. A Butoh dance troupe performed a somber piece while a man wearing a gas mask and holding a spray can informed visitors that he was "cleaning up" the neighborhood.

While the wealthy, young Net entrepreneurs who inspire fear and loathing among San Francisco's counterculture types are often blissfully unaware of the ire directed toward them, midlevel employees are not, and this seeming us-against-them movement can be more accurately described as a case of us-against-us.

For many young professionals, even those with countercultural leanings, the lure of the dot-com, with its high wages and low barriers to entry, is hard to resist. Many are getting paid well, but feel like they're contributing to a culture they ultimately detest.

"It sickens me," says one startup employee. She describes leaving work after a recent power outage, along with all the other Internet workers in the neighborhood: "Everybody looked the same! They were kind of tan, [and had] pastel-color clothes with black shoes and new haircuts. Do I have to swim in this river? And yet I am!"

Another dot-commer, describing the backlash as a war between haves and have-nots, adds: "The 'haves' have become so unabashedly unashamed and so obnoxious with their Porsche Boxsters that it's almost like this needs to exist to keep them in line."

Eric Shea, a musician and staff writer for music search engine Listen.com, laughs about how his ex-girlfriend used to call him "Eric.com." That is, until she took a job at software company Macromedia.

In fact, one of the most ubiquitous anti-dot-com campaigns was created by a Mission couple going by the pseudonym Sam Lowry. Until a month ago, they worked in the Internet industry. The couple came up with a collection of satirical URLs that poked fun at their industry, and turned them into posters and stickers, including BlowtheDotOutYourAss.com, ButIdon'tNeedMyToothpasteDelivered.com and FuckYouandthe- StartUpYouRodeInOn.com.

The seeds of the campaign were sown when the male half of Sam Lowry tried to attend a launch party but was met with a line that stretched around the block. Amazed that people would wait for hours to get into an industry event, Lowry and his friend began to poke fun by making up fake URLs and yelling them at the line.

"There's this crazy myth built up in San Francisco about the dot-com industry and how cool it is and how glamorous it is," says the female half of Sam Lowry. "How people are moving here and trying to get into this. We wanted to punch holes in that." In the first few weeks of the campaign, BlowtheDotOutYourAss.com received so many visitors that the site crashed. Much of the fan mail that followed was from dot-commers.

Even stranger alliances have come of this identity crisis. Listen.com's marketing manager convinced his company to underwrite a recent Food Not Bombs Benefit concert in San Francisco, featuring the bands Fugazi and Sleater Kinney. A Food Not Bombs spokesman told the crowd he didn't usually like dot-coms, but begrudgingly acknowledged Listen.com for sponsoring the event. Some members of the audience wore shirts that read "San Francisco, 1969-1999."

While some struggle with their place in the dot-com world, others are so caught up in the race that they don't notice it. Kendall Fargo, VP of corporate operations and services for Beyond.com (BYND) , an online software retailer in Santa Clara, Calif., says he works so much he barely spends time at home in San Francisco. When he does, he notices only the positive effects of the new economy, including youth and good vibrations.

"I like to see the excitement and passion that seems to be a part of having people succeed," adds Fargo. "It's creating a lot of new jobs, bringing the whole world together through one network and allowing businesses to expand worldwide through electronic delivery of products."

But for those who don't share Fargo's vision of a digital utopia, working in the dot-com economy can trigger a mild identity crisis. Listen.com's writers still joke about the day they were guided through their stock options paperwork. To illustrate what riches could be theirs if Listen.com were to go public, the consultant bubbled, "Then you can buy that sports utility vehicle."

She used the example a few minutes later. The writers looked at each other and laughed uncomfortably.

Finally, Sean Garrett, Listen.com's communications director, pleaded, "Could we use another example? How about, like, a really cool guitar and amp or something?"

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Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist

MapCruzin.com is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

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