ONE: Backyard, a new “pop-up space” that occupies the parking lot beside Fountain Alley, is a product of the real-estate company WeWork.
It is a private space that feels like a public space, hence the name Backyard. To attend events, you must download an app, which means only those residents with smartphones can come. What’s more: attendees must consent to their long terms of service. This includes allowing WeWork to use photographs and videos of event attendees “throughout the universe in perpetuity and in all forms.”
TWO: Backyard aims to displace “undesirable” San Jose residents who spend time in Fountain Alley.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, the CWeO Di-Ann Eisner (a former Google exec) said that [until recently] this was mostly urine and cars. Now it’s something wonderful. Note that there are few (if any) public restrooms in DTSJ where people can pee after dark without participating in some form of consumerism. As such, Eisner is positioning those residents without money to gain access to a restroom as disposable. At whose expense do consumers with smartphones get to enjoy music, food, dancing, conversation, craft beer, and other amenities that Backyard provides?
THREE: Backyard adds to a troubling history of displacement in Fountain Alley, one we must not forget.
In 2017, SJPD opened a satellite police office in an unmarked fake storefront in the alley with vintage wares in the window. To passersby, it resembled a closed shop. In reality, it disguised an intentional tactic to increase surveillance and state violence towards Black and Brown folks, sex workers, people who use drugs, and people experiencing houselessness. Around that time, the Downtown Association and Knight Foundation began hosting family friendly events to “activate” Fountain Alley. Fountain Alley is by no means “inactive.” Activation is a code for gentrification.
FOUR: With this Saturday’s Silicon Valley Pride dance party, Backyard is using queer folks as a tool for displacement.
This is especially unsettling when an estimated 29% of youth experiencing houselessness in Santa Clara County identify as LGBTQ. What’s more: there are few queer parties in San Jose, and queer folks in want of connection may be willing to bend their values to attend something local (rather than trekking to other parts of the bay). The event listing on Facebook shows a photo of the crammed back patio of San Francisco’s El Rio. This reveals how disconnected the event planners are from queer folks in the South Bay, and serves to perpetuate the false notion that we should aspire to be more like San Francisco.
FIVE: If you need proof that developers are rapidly gentrifying Fountain Alley to make way for “tech titans,” look to Lido Nightclub.
Backyard is directly across the street from the former Lido Nightclub, a long-standing dive bar that catered to San Jose’s queer, Vietnamese, and Latinx communities. In April 2019, two San Jose real estate and investment companies unveiled a plan to renovate Lido’s building. It will be called the Fountain Alley Building and offer office, retail, and dining space. Our goal is to activate and revitalize the entire block, said one developer in the Mercury News. These words are too familiar.
SIX: WeWork has enlisted 43 community partners to endorse the Backyard space, many of whom are respected by local residents.
This includes community-based organizations, small businesses, tech companies, art galleries, local government, and more. But just because these groups support Backyard and WeWork, that doesn’t make the pop-up development benign and worthy of our time and resources. Gentrification doesn’t just require newcomers with money, it needs foot soldiers on the “inside” too.
Five Things You Can Do
ONE: Steer clear of arts events at spaces run by predatory developers and investors. Instead, get to know people with San Jose ties who are working to create community spaces outside of gentrifying forces like Backyard. Here are a few: South Bay DIY Zine Collective, 3F Gallery, folks organizing to protect historically significant Chicanx murals in ESSJ.
TWO: If you are planning an event in San Jose, take time to think critically about the venue, who it might attract, how it might be inaccessible, and if you can be transparent about which organizations are funding it.
THREE: Give money directly to QTPoC in the area who are facing displacement.
FOUR: Learn about the Muwekma Ohlone and Amah Mutsun indigenous land we currently occupy in San Jose. The Amah Mutsun Land Trust is hosting their next Volunteer Work Day on 9/14, and the South Bay Indigenous Solidarity group meets twice per month. The Sogorea Te Land Trust is also worth checking out.
FIVE: Show your support (via time, money, and other resources) to folks facing displacement in San Jose. Related, learn more about mutual aid and other resources (like Rapid Response Networks) that locals can organize to keep each other safe from ICE, police, and other harmful institutions.