Bayview Hunters Point community:
A brief history of resiliency*
The Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood has always been home to peaceful and scrappy folk, beginning with the native Ohlone people. Draped over hills of Serpentine and loam in the southeast part of San Francisco, its ragged coastline of land and landfill cut into the Bay.
In modern times, the neighborhood grew along transit arteries to the City, the business of producing, processing and distributing food, and by lending its naturally conducive waterfront to building the region's maritime industry. Growth stopped abruptly after WWII, when Hunters Point Naval Shipyard reduced and then ended shipbuilding activity, and a steady decline in the community's overall quality of life began.
Unemployment climbed. Unjust redevelopment in the City's Fillmore District scarred the African American populace. Civil Rights Era social frustration erupted into rioting after police killed a young man from the community. The crack epidemic of the late '70s and early '80s devastated a generation, and ignited a trend toward self-medicating behavior. The Shipyard, once a source of pride, was placed on the nation's Superfund Site list of most toxic places, and on the community's long list of environmental injustices. Violence became common, and residents withdrew into isolation from one another.
Despite serious problems, Bayview Hunters Point retains its historic strength and peaceful nature. It is still the most densely populated African American neighborhood in San Francisco. The area is home to good weather, stunning views, and unprecedented urban open space and waterfront. Its cultural history is rich and visible; and its families, churches, and community-based organizations thrive.
Demographics are shifting as Asian, Latino, and Pacific Islander populations grow, and the African American population shrinks. Overall, the population is expected to double in the next 20 years, an explosion of change far beyond typical gentrification. Structural injustice and economic forces, at work everywhere, are glaring here. Low- and moderate-income people struggle to hold on as home prices and rents increase. Unemployment is generally understood to hover above 50%. Long-term residents feel pressured to leave as rapid changes to their neighborhood seem defined by anyone but them.
The health and longevity of residents are directly affected by these forces. The neighborhood's population is over-burdened by chronic disease and hospitalization rates. People who live in Bayview Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill.**
* Excerpt from Seva* Community-Based Health Policy, Practice & Advocacy Recommendations by Betcher J, with Jain S, Rao SM, Vargas, RA et al. UCSF University Community Partnerships (2011). See www.SevaPartnership.org.
** Healthy Communities Initiative and the Hospital Council of Northern & Central California (2011).