North Beach a top-10 U.S. neighborhood

Poor migrants, the Beat Generation and risqué businesses helped build North Beach into one of the nation’s great neighborhoods, but rising real estate affordability risks undoing the character-saving work of those who have protected the area against chain stores and franchises, a Washington, D.C.-based association of urban planners has warned.

The history-rich, European-style neighborhood between the Financial District, Chinatownand Russian and Telegraph hills was one of two California neighborhoods included in a list of 10 great neighborhoods published this week by the American Planning Association.

The association praised the area’s mom-and-pop stores and nightclubs, and the tolerance and tradition of both its developed and social environments.

“What truly makes North Beach unique are the people who live there,” the association said in a statement. “If they are left behind by the market, so, too, is the character that a century of effort has kept in place.”

The managing partner of iconic bar Vesuvio — which serves drinks at an alley named after Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac — on Tuesday praised the diversity of the neighborhood and the character-saving work of its local preservation activists.

“The vulnerable people — the low-income and the elderly and the youth — all have strong advocacy groups,” Janet Clyde said. “The most dangerous thing is increasing commercial rates that will price out the small independent businesses.”

The Board of Supervisors was complimented by the planning association for helping to protect North Beach’s “essential character,” which was described as “a mix of tolerance and tradition in both its built and social environments.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents and lives in North Beach, described the neighborhood as “ground zero for the anti-chain wars.”

But Peskin said The City has to remain vigilant to preserve North Beach’s unique identity.

“There are always threats,” he said. “There are always fly-by-night developers who want to demolish a historic building. There’s the ongoing threat from the homogenization of business types — we’ve lost a lot of the diversity of the businesses.”

Hillcrest in San Diego was the only other California neighborhood included in the planning association’s list.

Top 10 neighborhoods in alphabetical order

» Chatham Village, Pittsburgh

» Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.

» Elmwood Village, Buffalo, N.Y.

» First Addition, Lake Oswego, Ore.

» Hillcrest, San Diego

» North Beach, San Francisco

» Old West Austin, Austin, Texas

» Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y.

» Pike Place Market, Seattle

» West Urbana, Urbana, Ill.

– Source: American Planning Association

jupton@examiner.com

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