Mapping Gangs and Cupcakes

IMAGE: Mission: Gangs and Cupcakes, by Danya Al-Saleh.

This map, created by UC Berkeley undergrad Danya Al-Saleh, overlays bakeries in The Mission district of San Francisco with Norteño and Sureño gang territory (for a larger PDF version, click here).

As Al-Saleh writes, cupcakes and gangs, violence and sugar, “are perceived to exist in separate worlds.” And yet, as the Mission Local blog reports, a recent homicide, followed swiftly by a lunchtime gunfight, “offered Mission District residents a reminder that the hip neighbourhood where they feast on everything from the latest doughnut recipe to cupcakes and artisan pork rinds is also a place where gang violence still exists, and where a 2007 gang injunction is still in place.”

The insights to be gained from a spatial analysis of cupcake proliferation have been examined on Edible Geography before, in a post inspired by Rutgers Urban Policy lecturer Dr. Kathe Newman’s theory that “cupcake shops can provide a more accurate and timely guide to the frontiers of urban gentrification than traditional demographic and real estate data sets.”

But whereas Dr. Newman’s students mapped cupcakes to track the flow of capital investment into previously depressed parts of the city, Al-Sayeh’s map is designed to draw awareness to the uncomfortable socio-cultural overlaps that occur in such transitional neighbourhoods.

“Next time you bite into your cinnamon horchata cupcake,” concludes Al-Sayeh, “reinterpret your surroundings.”

Thanks to @subtopes for the link.

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  1. BarbG
    | Permalink

    Sorry to nitpick but from a cartography standpoint alone I have a difficult time taking this map seriously. All maps should be oriented with “North” at the top of the map (rather than “west” as was presented).

  2. Nice Latin, but no causation is actually claimed. The map (which I did not create) is an example of spatial analysis that draws awareness to a particular phenomenon: the geographical overlap between gang activity and upscale bakeries (and Kiranator, I agree with you on the fact that many of the bakeries Al-Sayeh mapped are not yuppie cupcake boutiques). In my discussion, I then refer to a previous post about a urban studies professor who was investigating the usefulness of mapping the proliferation of cupcake shops as a leading indicator of gentrification. Neither the mapmaker nor I are implying any kind of causal relationship. As far as correlation goes, the map-maker is noting a geographic association (hard to deny), and I am invoking a speculative attempt to show a socio-economic one. And the overall point I’m making is slim but undeniable: to map the city according to different criteria is to see it with new eyes, and to notice potentially overlooked patterns and juxtapositions. That’s something that I find endlessly fascinating and inspiring.

  3. metacodger
    | Permalink

    post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  4. ZeroSum
    | Permalink

    And this is why people think social “sciences” are a circle-jerk.

    Anybody can find a bunch of random correlations like this.

  5. Fucoulanges
    | Permalink

    It’s a pity that, as was said below, a handful of these places are Latino or Asian family-run, long-standing businesses now made out to be purveyors of “cinnamon horchata cupcakes” (and several that follow the same local/ethnic/longstanding criteria in the same swath of the Mission were left off the map), whereas others that could be said to herald gentrification no matter the identity or intentions of the owners (Mission Minis comes to mind) were left out. Her argument might have been strengthened by greater methodological rigor.

  6. Kiranator
    | Permalink

    What a bunch of nonsense. I hardly know where to start.

    This dividing boundary is structurally reinforced, whether by the police, culinary reviews, or our education system. The Yelp reviewer, Joy B., illustrates this with her one-dimensional reference to “a slightly unsavory
    part of town.” Next time you bite into your cinammon horchata cupcake, reinterpret your surroundings.”

    I’ve lived in this neighborhood (Bryant & 20th) for 5 years & do a lot of walking and bicycling. I’m pretty up close and personal with it.

    First, many of the places on the map have very little to do with yuppie cupcake joints. Many of them are Hispanic-owned and operated bakeries. Tartine is, yes, an expensive bakery and pastry shop, but it’s been around for years & could barely be considered a cupcake shop. It’s also a VERY different part of the Mission than, say, 17th and Mission is. Cakeworks — yes, upscale, but they do wedding cakes; this is their baking & decor facility, it’s not a storefront where you can pop in and buy a $3 cupcake.

    Second, the gang boundaries have nothing to do with the store locations. Most of these places are along local commercial thoroughfares: 24th St. and Mission Sts., or very close to a BART stop.

    Third, I don’t even understand what it means to “reinterpret your surroundings”. It strikes me as condescending — as if I don’t realize that I’m living in the middle of gang territory. As if I’ve forgotten the terrible shootings and stabbings of a few years ago, that have fortunately diminished. As if I should regret that fewer people crap on the sidewalks or vandalize my car or break into my building, thanks to increased police presence.

    Finally, it sounds like the author is judging someone for saying that this is an unsavory neighborhood. Guess what? It is. It’s a slum. I live here, I know. While I acknowledge the complex social forces that incent some people into a life of gang violence — and I thus support social programs that create alternatives and opportunities for people who are not so blessed in life, *I still have to live my life*. I have absolutely no guilt about keeping gang members apart from one another so everyone else can eat their damn cupcakes or churros or dougnuts or whatever in peace.

  7. Matt
    | Permalink

    The suggestion is that these “cupcake shops” have some socioeconomic meaning, but these aren’t all $3 donut joints.

    Has the map’s author been to Pan Lido Salvadoreno? Or Bakery La Mejor? And why not include other bakeries, such as Jocelyn? And since when can you get cupcakes at ice cream shop Humphry Slocombe?

    And what the hell is “Anthony Shop Lucas Cookie”? It’s a Yelp glitch. It’s called Anthony’s Cookies.

    Shocking! The map’s author doesn’t know anything about the Mission, and simply fudged some Yelp info into a “clever” idea.

  8. debbie
    | Permalink

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion and it is nice to share them, but if YOU do not know where MS Al-Saleh has lived, YOU might want to stick to commenting on things you know about.

  9. boo
    | Permalink

    This map is ridiculous. It just proves that there are gangs and those gangs reside in a city. You could make the same map with restaurants, bars, schools, parks – but it would be with less cute icons and draw a less striking comparison. Cupcakes! Army font!

    Mission residents *do not* ignore the violence because they can’t. They can’t ignore the sirens coming down from the police cars on 17th street. If this map was made by someone who actually LIVED in the mission, it would be quite different. Danya Al-Saleh should stick to the ivory tower in Berkeley and make a map of that.

  10. Georgia
    | Permalink

    The comments on the original blog post are fascinating; expresses several splits in the community, or at least perspectives on the shooting…