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Friday, January 15, 2010

Mayor's Comparison of Market Street to Champs-Élysées Still Puzzling, One Day Later

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 2:55 PM

click to enlarge For better or worse, San Francisco has no answer to the Champs-Elysées - LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
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  • For better or worse, San Francisco has no answer to the Champs-Elysées
Mayor Gavin Newsom said a lot of things at yesterday's upscale wiener joint press conference. But, since most of them were about redevelopment issues -- and skirted the fact that this very argument was derailed in 2005 by the very people who will probably derail it now -- he wasn't very quotable. He did, however, say one thing that got a laugh out of everyone. He noted that Market Street was originally conceived of as San Francisco's answer to Paris' Champs-Élysées.

"This," Newsom deadpanned, "Is not the Champs-Élysées." Newsom is far from the only person to make this comparison. And, as a laugh line, it worked. But as a statement for a man supposedly determined to remake mid-Market, it did not.

The more you think about it, the more the Champs-Élysées is a horrible comparison for Market Street, or, in fact, any street in this city. While Newsom took pains to state that his vision -- whatever it is -- for Market "is not about gentrification," it'd be hard to imagine a more gentrified stretch of real estate than the Champs-Élysées: It's surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods and stocked with top, top, top of the line shops. While tourists are ubiquitous there, middle-class Parisians are not. Regular French folks don't go there to shop, recreate, or quaff the five-dollar cups of tea in tourist cafes. Certainly Newsom doesn't want to drive regular folks away from Market Street -- right?

So, what's the point? If this is just an indirect way of saying that Market Street is a grimy, desperate cesspool, well, fair enough. But there are more expedient and polite ways of saying that, too.

Of course, giving any seriousness to our city having its own answer to the Champs-Élysées also shows misconceptions about San Francisco, let alone Market Street. The Champs-Élysées was designed to serve as a truly massive artery fit for martial displays of national power, and suitable as a nationwide mustering place in times of glory. Literally millions of French people spontaneously streamed onto the Champs-Élysées following the nation's win in the 1998 World Cup -- Times Square or the Washington Mall serve a similar purpose here. Market Street does not. You can love San Francisco, but you'd be one hell of a chauvinist to think this 800,000-person city's major artery is meant to serve any purpose similar to a boulevard designed to be the aorta of the traditional capital in a nation that centralizes its public and private power to a degree inconceiveable here in the United States.

Or maybe I'm giving just a little too much thought to the things our mayor says while pontificating in a classy wiener eatery.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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