Tourism in the Tenderloin: A Knifing Waiting to Happen?
An article in today’s New York Times describes a new effort by San Francisco civic leaders to promote the city’s Tenderloin District as a place, along with the likes of Coit Tower and Fisherman’s Wharf, that visitors to should make a beeline for. A 50-square-block radius chockablock with dive bars and single-room occupancy hotels, the neighborhood is known for a history of prostitution, gambling, speakeasies, drugs, robberies, assaults, and other bad things. True, the Tenderloin recently earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, but does that mean it should start soliciting tourists?
I only know the Tenderloin by reputation — and even at that, only vaguely. So when I ran across the article late last night, I emailed a friend who’s a 13-year San Francisco resident to gauge his level of alarm. Here’s how he replied:
“About five years ago I went to a birthday party in the Tenderloin. It was at one of the few places where non-heroin addicts would go. But it was a bad decision. About six or seven of us got jumped as we left the bar and literally had to fight our way out of the situation. Luckily, I was with some pretty big guys, and the fellas who jumped us didn’t have knives or guns or brass knuckles or those chains people used to wield on the Lower East side in the early ’80s. It was really scary, and surreal. I am not sure this whole tourism idea will take off, unless the walking tours come with security and pepper spray included.”
The walking tours won’t be taking place at night (to quote the Times quoting a Tenderloin resident, “[P]eople aren’t going to want to come down here at night. I don’t even want to be here at night.”). And maybe crime has improved some in the five years since my friend was attacked. But when I gauge my level interest in walking through the most dangerous parts of LA just a few miles from where I live, I have no inkling to even get off my couch. It just seems reckless, which isn’t something I aspire to be on vacation.
So will this tourism campaign take off? And what will they call it? It’s Better in the Tenderloin? What Happens in the ‘Loin, Stays in the ‘Loin? Come Back to the Tenderloin, What’s Old is What’s New? If Brazil’s favela tours are any indication, we could very well see double-decker buses cruising the ‘Loin someday soon — pepper spray optional.
Photo by Mr. Littlehand
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