ICYMI 2014: Soccer Field Standoff Highlights Gentrification Tension : Code Switch A fight over the use of a soccer field in San Francisco's fast-changing Mission District pitted Latino youth against tech workers.
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ICYMI 2014: Soccer Field Standoff Highlights Gentrification Tension

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ICYMI 2014: Soccer Field Standoff Highlights Gentrification Tension

ICYMI 2014: Soccer Field Standoff Highlights Gentrification Tension

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

Now for a story you might've missed this year - an argument over who got to play on a soccer field in San Francisco went viral, sparked a community protest and highlighted tensions about gentrification in a changing neighborhood. From NPR's Code Switch team, Shereen Marisol Meraji reports.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: In mid-August, a pickup soccer game between mostly Latino teens in San Francisco's Mission District came to a premature end because the field had been rented out by adult tech workers. An argument took place and it and it was filmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This field has never been booked. You don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So what...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This field has never been...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: How old are you?

>>UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1 How have you been in the neighborhood, bro?

MERAJI: In the video, a pickup player asks the guys with the permit how long they've been in the neighborhood? One says who gives a [bleep]? Another says over a year. One of the teens in the background says he's lived here all his life. Later, a kid suggests they play together. A tech worker says he'd love to, but can't. Turns out the field was reserved for a game between Airbnb and Dropbox employees and rented for 27 bucks from the Parks and Rec department - a policy created after the field's renovation a couple of years ago. At the end of the video, you're left wondering how things got resolved.

HECTOR GOMEZ: Well, we split the field in half and we played on one half and they played on another.

MERAJI: Sixteen-year-old Hector Gomez was there that day. I met him and some of the other kids in the video at the Mission playground soccer field to talk about what happened. Gomez used to live with his grandparents in the neighborhood.

GOMEZ: I mean, I remember coming here to this park with my grandpa when it was cement.

MERAJI: He says back then, it was mostly Latinos who played pickup soccer here. But Gomez says he's noticed more adults reserving the field for organized games after the park was redone and the field upgraded to turf. He worries parks will become like the new restaurants in the neighborhood or stores or apartments - for people with money.

GOMEZ: There's some new apartments, and my mom told me the price of them. I'm like, nobody in the Mission could afford those. So I'm like that's something special - for them and not for us.

MERAJI: The median price for a one-bedroom is $3,200 a month in this historically working-class Latino neighborhood. Compare that to $1,900 just three years ago. Prices keep rising as more workers involved in the booming tech sector move in. Fifteen-year-old Hugo Vargas lives here with his two sisters and his parents, who worked in food service.

HUGO VARGAS: Right now, we're living in a studio. I mean, it's small. I have - we're a family of five, and it's kind of hard for us to live, you know, and have our privacy, you know, what not.

MERAJI: Vargas was escaping that cramped studio and out playing soccer when the argument took place this past August. The video was posted to YouTube weeks later, but didn't get much attention until this guy linked to it in October.

JACK MORSE: All right, hello. My name Jack Morse and I am a writer and co-editor of Uptown Almanac, which is a San Francisco culture blog.

MERAJI: Morse says someone sent the video anonymously, and he thought it was powerful enough to post without much commentary.

MORSE: The video, in many ways, is a perfect analogy for a lot of the gentrification and displacement that's currently happening in San Francisco - or could be viewed as such.

MERAJI: Views ticked up. It was shared on Facebook and Twitter. Dropbox issued a formal apology, saying they love San Francisco, we're grateful to call it home and that the employees involved were embarrassed and sorry. Both Dropbox and Airbnb didn't make anyone available for comment on this story, but Dropbox is involved in a tutoring program for local teens, and it pledged half a million to an area nonprofit that fights poverty.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through Megaphone) Mission playground.

UNIDENTIFIED RALLY PARTICIPANTS: (In unison) Not for sale.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through Megaphone) Mission playground.

UNIDENTIFIED RALLY PARTICIPANTS: (In unison) Not for sale.

MERAJI: A week after the video went viral, the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club organized a rally on the steps of the Civic Center. Hundreds came out in support. Four of the teens also spoke with Phil Ginsburg. He's the general manager of San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department.

PHIL GINSBURG: They were like this is, you know, where we socialize, this is where we exercise, this is how we make positive choices with our lives. We love the game, and we love to play.

MERAJI: After listening to the youth, Ginsburg eliminated the rental permit process for adults and agreed to turn on the lights on Sunday evening so the kids could keep playing.

GINSBURG: Look, this was a symbol of larger issues that simply played out in a park. We have to figure out a way where we can still be welcoming to people while making sure that the quality of life of people who have raised their families here for generations doesn't diminish.

MERAJI: Back at Mission playground, 16-year-old Hector Gomez says he's seen a couple of the tech guys come and play pickup recently and there hasn't been a problem.

GOMEZ: I mean, that's what I love - diversity in our community. But when they give favor to one specific type of person, that's where it has to stop.

MERAJI: Gomez says he's happy to share the field as long as everyone can agree on the rules. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

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