Broke-Ass City: Keeping Dolores Park as a temporary autonomous zone

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerAlways give up your seat to those who need a place to sit down. It's just the right thing to do.

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerAlways give up your seat to those who need a place to sit down. It's just the right thing to do.

A couple weeks ago I did a sponsored post on for a new dating app that allows you to connect with people you might've crossed paths with throughout the day. I used Dolores Park as the example of where the app would work well, basically saying, “Remember that gorgeous person you made eye contact with at Dolores Park? Well now you can connect with them!” My Facebook page exploded with commentary.

While there where plenty of people who loved the idea, a number who thought it was creepy and quite a few who were like “just go talk to the damn person,” the most vocal seemed to be the ones screaming about the sanctity of Dolores Park.

Ostensibly, they were mad because they thought I was being hypocritical, getting paid to write about an app while I've spent so many words lamenting the changes in San Francisco. When I explained that, 1) this is how websites make money now and, 2) it was a Paris-based company so not a single employee was taking the home of a San Franciscan, some of them were still riled up.

I realized then that the anger wasn't about me writing about an app as much as it was about the powerful magic of Dolores Park being used for an advertisement.

We're not too good at the whole public space thing in the United States. Whereas many countries have public town squares where people congregate, we grew up hanging out in malls and parking lots. Sure there were parks, but usually you went there to play little league sports and left directly after the game.

Dolores Park is public space on hyperdrive. It serves as a temporary autonomous zone where pretty much anything goes as long as you're not hurting other people. From suntanning your dong to drinking 40s to selling ganja food, we as a culture have tacitly agreed that Dolores Park is the place where it's OK to do these things.

And that's what makes it special: Dolores Park is where San Francisco still feels like it's full of San Franciscans. Tech bros playing corn hole, Latino families celebrating birthdays, lesbian couples snuggling in the sun, hipsters drinking 40s amongst piles of bicycles and even Latina lesbian hipsters playing corn hole while celebrating birthdays, Dolores Park is the one place where all ethnicities, genders and classes happily coexist (on Muni they all just tepidly tolerate each other).

Some of my favorite days in San Francisco have been spent shirtless, shoeless, sipping and smoking while meeting sweet strangers in Dolores Park. I understand why some people's initial reaction was to be upset that this special public space was used in the name of commerce. There were people just as vocally angry when La Cocina set up a cart on the main pathway. And then we remembered that Dolores Park is a place of commerce every single day of the year, whether it's weed truffles, ice cream, cold beer or huraches being sold.

The real threat to Dolores Park as public space actually comes from us. If we continue to leave it looking like a disaster each weekend The City will finally really crack down. They are not gonna put millions of dollars into renovations just so it can look like a trash dump every weekend.

This is how it will go down: The City will say, “We put a lot of money into this park, let's clean up the riff-raff.” It will start with arresting the ganja food people, then move to ticketing the paleta [ice cream] guys, Hey Cookie and all other nonganja-related meals. Then it will move to ticketing people just having a smoke and a drink. And finally they will tell the naked people to put on clothes.

You don't believe me? It's already starting: A paleta guy was ticketed last weekend.

Keeping Dolores Park as public space depends on you, so clean up your damn trash.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.

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