Q&A: A man zooming in on Market Street

Name: Dan Goldes

Age: 54

City: San Francisco

Position: Filmmaker, nonprofit consultant

Talking with … A man zooming in on Market Street

J.: You’re working on a documentary film, “5 Blocks,” about the redevelopment of San Francisco’s Mid-Market area. How did that area, roughly from Fifth Street to Van Ness Avenue, fall into such decline?

Dan Goldes: For the people who’ve been living there, they would say that it’s been a thriving neighborhood. That’s the lesson I had to learn: We were calling it a run-down place. They were saying, “It’s run down, yeah, but it’s our neighborhood.”

Most people trace the real change to the construction of BART in the late 1960s, early 1970s. It took a decade, and they tore up the length of Market Street from Embarcadero all the way up to Van Ness. A lot of the neighborhood businesses suddenly found that their customers had no way to get to them, and they began moving out. At the same time, there was a rush from cities to the suburbs. The result was landlords and building owners found that they had empty buildings and they had to lower the rents.

Like the city as a whole, Mid-Market has become more difficult to afford to live in. How is life changing for low-income residents?

When my team picked up our story in 2011, the median income for the area was around $16,000 annually. It’s a very low-income area. Versus San Francisco as a whole, it’s more male, less well-educated and has a lower life expectancy. Yet I’ve heard anecdotally of some of the rooms in single-room occupancy hotels going for $1,000 a month. That’s hardly affordable.

But the poor people who live in the SROs are there. There are pretty onerous regulations about removing that kind of housing stock. It opens up a host of other questions: How do very poor people and [businesses serving the] wealthy live together in the same neighborhood?

The city of San Francisco is engaged in revitalization efforts for Mid-Market, including measures like offering tax breaks to Twitter when it moved its headquarters there. What’s your take on this?

Our plan with the film has always been to bring in a variety of voices: people who think that revitalization of this neighborhood is a good thing, people who think that it’s a bad thing and people in between. How does somebody who lives in one of these hotels on Sixth Street view their world now that it’s changing around them?

You spent many years as an executive at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. So what has sparked your passion for making short films?

I am a gay man, but I was never very active in the LGBT movement per se until I found this medium of film. My first film “ub2” came out in 2011, and that was a result of seeing ads on gay Internet dating sites where gay men, instead of saying “I’m HIV negative,” were saying, “I’m clean and disease-free; you be too.” It just struck me that language was so marginalizing, and it was coming from the gay community. It’s so glaring to read “clean,” as if somebody else is unclean. I found the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking, and the result of the program I enrolled in was my first film.

What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I was raised by a father who was Jewish and a mother who was not, so as a result I had what I think was the best of both worlds. We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah and Easter and Passover. We were taught to care about what was happening in the world and to pay attention and not to just look down and keep walking. I don’t think that that’s exclusively Jewish, but it strikes me as a very Jewish trait, to be interested in what’s happening in the larger world and to ask questions and to make trouble a little bit. Some people do that by picking up a sign and marching in the street. But what I do now is pick up a camera and try to tell stories about people whose lives are worth exploring and who we may not get a chance to meet.

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Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.