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Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism [Paperback]

Rebecca Solnit , Susan Schwartzenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

28 Oct 2002
Reporting from the frontlines of gentrification in San Francisco, Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartzenberg sound a warning bell to all urban residents: wealth is just as capable of ravaging cities as poverty.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books; New edition edition (28 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859843638
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859843635
  • Product Dimensions: 18.2 x 18.7 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,166,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"So many people who kept American cities alive and creative through dark decades, when capital abandoned the city, have become victims of capital's recent triumphant return to the city. This beautifully composed and crafted book tells their story. It is a compelling vision of our emerging global culture of displaced persons" - Marshall Berman ""Passionate, potent, and to the point, Solnit's polemic embodies American political and social writing at its best."" - Publishers Weekly "One day we all woke up and San Francisco had become a bohemian entertainment park without bohemians. Those were the golden days of virtual capitalism. Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartzenberg help us to understand why this happened. Their book is necessary to understanding our new place in a brand new scary world." - Guillermo Gomez-Pena "Schwartzenberg's images survey more than thirty years of upheaval in the name of 'urban renewal', and Sonit's text brings urgency to the question of whether a place in which h artists, activists, and members of diverse races and classes can no longer afford to live is fated to become a 'city of presentation without creation'" - New Yorker

About the Author

Rebecca Solnit, a resident of San Francisco for twenty years, is a former art critic and and environmental activist and the author of several books, including A Book of Migrations, Savage Dreams and Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Urban archaeologist and artist Susan Schwartzenberg is the author of the critically acclaimed Market Street, a visual study of San Francisco's main artery, as well as photo-essays in several books, including Reclaiming San Francisco.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Distressing look at killing a great city's soul 22 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This is an excellent and timely (late-2000) treatise on how San Francisco is being transformed, and not for the better, by the dot-com influx, chain stores, and other new-wave homogenizations. Ms Solnit focuses on the negative impacts upon the poor and the artists and artisans being forced out by spiralling housing costs and the destruction of old, vibrant neighborhoods. There are undoubtedly parallels here with the recent history of London. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of our cities.
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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mild success 31 May 2002
By C. Szabla - Published on Amazon.com
Although Rebecca Solnit writes with a deliberate and sometimes myopic agenda, her style is extraordinarily effective in evoking sympathy. It is elegaic in nature and the entire book reads as a eulogy, a fact reinforced by the shuttered structures and funeral processions presented in Schwatzenberg's photo essays. The digressions into such realms as the origins of Bohemia don't seem irrelevant or excessive but merely an extension of the beauty of the writing and presentation.
Although the issue has become less pressing with the collapse of the fervor of the internet economy, it should be noted the type of mass evictions in favour of live/work lofts is still a common occurrence in San Francisco, and that housing is still beyond the means of many ordinary San Franciscans. Despite the less fervent pace of gentrification, those in the funeral procession presented in the opening pages will not be returning to their homes; the character of their neighbourhood will not be restored.
The work is a mild success. Although somewhat obsolescent, it is still relevant, whether because of its still necessary impressions on the hearts of those who read it, or as a presentation of a historical phenomenon. But furthermore, as a literary work, and as a visual work, it is beautiful both in its prose and photography.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating overview of sf history 6 Nov 2007
By c. in sf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
alas, this is not an outdated book. sf has only become more homogenized since its publication (a topic that is crucial to the book, and covered very well in terms of past creative types who've inhabited sf).

the book's overview of sf history is fascinating, and well-presented. solnit did a thoughful, unbiased job of evaluating the housing crisis in sf and its effect on the creative energy of the city. her metaphors are apt, and overarching points are salient.

a highly recommended read to anyone who cares about san francisco history, or who has bemoaned the exodus of its artistic inhabitants.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Written over a decade ago and yet more timely now than ever 7 Jan 2014
By Isabeau Doucet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hollow City is both a panegyric and requiem to San Francisco. Beautifully written and assembeled, it opens up ever relevant debates on gentrification, evictions, changing flows of capital and how a complex biodiversity of native San Francisco labour is being clear-cut and replaced with a the tech industry mono-crop.
13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars this book has its points, but... 15 Sep 2004
By Brad - Published on Amazon.com
This book has an interesting subject and lovely photography. I am sympathetic to the plight of gentrification. However, the tone of this feels as though she were a professional complainer. Neighborhoods change, that is a fact of life. The residents who were displaced in this book were undoubtedly not the same residents from the time it was built. You get the sense that the author feels like everything about every neighborhood is worth saving. It isn't. I'm not going to cry about a neighborhood with less crime. And what solutions are offered? Should one never try to improve a distressed neighborhood, so that no one ever has to move? What sort of building *should* be allowed in a city? Ms. Solnit has some very valid points in this book, but she comes off as anti-change and not really offering anything close to a solution, other than fossilizing San Francisco in the "good old days", whenever that was for her.
28 of 53 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars outraged 21 Mar 2006
By ChefBum - Published on Amazon.com
I was outraged when I read this book... but not in the way you would think.

Published in 2002, this book is already quite dated. Now that it is 2006 and the dotcom boom has become the dotcom bust, this author's hysteria over gentrification and urban renewal in San Francisco-- all blamed on the dotcom phenomenon, mind you-- has been proven to be unfounded. In fact, in relative terms rents are more affordable now than they were back in 2002.

Where to start? This book is simply a long list of gripes and sour grapes about how San Francisco has gotten too expensive for spoiled "bohemians" to live in because they don't want to work. Perhaps most galling is how Solnit puts urban "artists" at the top of her self-righteous hierarchy of those who "deserve" to live in the City. Urban professionals are likened to "dirty old men" who follow around the innocent "schoolgirls" who supposedly are the artists.

The crux of the problem is that in her myopic, NIMBY-istic viewpoint, Solnit fails to acknowledge the fact that space in San Francisco has ALWAYS been severely limited. The city itself is only about 49 square miles and it has ALWAYS been expensive... it has always gone through change, sometimes rapid. Manhattan is the center of a worldclass, GREAT city. How does she think all of those tall skyscrapers got there? When Solnit mourns the loss of an unused, empty lot to development, I have to laugh.

You will find that the author considers herself a "radical" and associates with the originator of "Critical Mass", a regular, planned, and deliberate snarling of local traffic by disgruntled people on bikes. She also is in league with a local carmudgeon in the Mission who, over perceived "gentrification" in the neighborhood, put up fliers encouraging others to vandalize expensive cars on the street.

With an attitude like this, it's not hard to dislike such people as these who arrogantly call themselves "radicals" and "bohemians". All the while they are complaining about the high cost of living in SF (join the club!), they petulantly claim that to get a REAL job would compromise their ideals.

Give me a break.

The author also makes the extremely simplistic assumption that all "true" artists are by nature poor or "downwardly mobile".

I have news for the author-- San Francisco is-- and always has been-- made up mainly of hardworking people. This city was built upon that industriousness, ingenuity, and enterprise. Art has its place, but none of it would be possible without those taxpayers who HAVE JOBS. As a property tax paying citizen of the city I love, I resent her and her ilk assuming that it is their right to inexpensive or free rent in one of the most desirable places to live IN THE WORLD.

The thing that amazes me is the fact she can't see that it has ALWAYS been that way... for decades and decades. I had to laugh at the idea that this book actually mentioned a parody of how, in the height of anti-gentrification hysteria, the last Mexican would soon move out of the Mission.

Guess that was a wrong guess, eh?

Finally, as if it were a suprise, the author in her closing acknowledgments thanks, among a number of other parties, both Critical Mass and "the bar at Place Pigalle" where some of the work for the book apparently took place. I wonder if it ever felt vaguely hypocritical to the author to be condemning urban development and trumpeting the plight of the poor over $8 glasses of Belgian ale?

Extremists on either side are self-absorbed, self-righteous, and unrealistic in the extreme. I strongly disagree with everything George Bush stands for, but at least he doesn't have the gall and arrogance to assume such an air of superiority over the rest of us, especially those of us who actually work for a living. I only agree with the author over one point: idiots who drive big SUVs in the narrow streets of San Francisco are idiots. Other than that, I plan to continue enjoying San Francisco as a San Franciscan who does their fair share to keep this city vibrant, alive, and relevant. Let others stew in their own sour grapes.
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