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Burgh Diaspora


Guerrilla Geographies of Artisanal Toast

• January 30, 2014 • 2:16 PM

San Francisco food trucks. (Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr)

How the affliction for hand-crafted confection gentrifies industrial space in the Bay Area.

For Pacific StandardJohn Gravois wrote the cultural anthropology of artisanal toast. I’m here to map the contemporary urban economic geography. How the affliction for hand-crafted confection gentrifies industrial space in the Bay Area:

While San Francisco’s industrial base has been slowly eroding for decades, the strong uptick in local food industry — everything from producers of boutique goods like coffee and chocolates to corporate caterers — is creating a strong demand for industrial space.

“They live in San Francisco and they want to be able to say they are a San Francisco entity,” said Golubchik. “The challenge is you can’t find food grade space in the city. Every space is 100 percent leased. When you have food-grade space the sky is the limit on rents.”

Rarely does one read a Matthew Yglesias going on about the rent being too damn high for industrial food space. But the impacts are just as far-reaching as techies bidding up the price in the draconian zoned residential areas. All kinds of activities are competing for city turf, which impacts the cost of toast and the wages for service workers.

Land scarcity breeds innovation. While San Francisco bullies buses, street food producers squat in London:

There are over 30 storage units in the yard and they all have their own tale to tell, each a tiny engine of industry, crucial to the running of one business or another. You could find a bicycle workshop or a ‘pound shop’ stockroom, but more than anything you’ll find the building blocks of London’s street food revolution. The movement has grown rapidly in recent years, and as central London has been blanketed in burger trucks and portable barbecue shacks, vendors have looked to establish footholds in less-traditional areas of the city. Few areas are less traditional than the Dalston container yard.

I first came across the place during Street Feast, a roving party night of pork buns, tacos and good times. As a street cook myself, I’ve been on both sides of the party, stoking wood ovens, flipping burgers and packing salt beef into sandwiches, but have often been away from the bare bones of the business. I wanted to take a look behind these heavy steel doors to see how good food comes together in the most unlikely of places. My interest has only grown since discovering that Dalston is living on borrowed time: A planning application is in place for the existing structure to be replaced by an apartment block. This will comprise 79 homes, only 13 of which fall into the category of ‘affordable housing’.

These are the stories of the Dalston street-food vendors, before their steel boxes are replaced with polished glass.

Emphasis added. More housing will displace the livelihoods of many struggling to find enough work in an ever-more expensive global city. Don’t worry. Urbanists assure me the increase in residential supply will fix everything. Embrace density and all that.

Where an urbanite works and how much she makes is just as important (if not more so) as where she lives and the cost of rent. Both sides of the equation are competing for limited land. “When you have food-grade space the sky is the limit on rents.” Where’s the outrage about displaced employment? It is drowned out by the xenophobic rants of tenured residents who think only they have any rights to a neighborhood.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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