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book review:

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City

In the introduction of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs recounts meeting with her city planner friend who, despite thinking Boston’s North End of­fered “wonderful, cheerful street life,” still believed it to be “the worst slum in the city.”

Erick Lyle’s beloved “slum”–the streets of San Francisco’s Mission neighbourhood–is the setting for the majority of Frequencies, a collection of articles from Lyle’s Turd-Filled Donut street newspaper, Scam magazine and other free publica­tions. The stories weave intricate tales of the neighbourhood and its “untouch­ables” (to borrow from India’s antiquated caste system), which include immigrants, punks, drug dealers, prostitutes and others that City Hall deems unsavory.

Despite this stigma, Lyle and his impassioned (and sometimes tragic) friends struggle against the cops and local government to work for a better life: building hope out of temporary art and community centres such as the previously abandoned 949 Market, advocating on behalf of the Mission’s homeless population, fighting mid-’90s gentrification and the dot-com explosion, and making good things hap­pen for free.

Both hindering and bolstering these dispatches is the book’s choppy organi­zation. The chronology is iffy and sometimes repetitive. However, the flow is also a literary embodiment of the way Lyle and his gang lives–from the security of their own homes, readers will have a simple un­derstanding of the chaos and uncertainty of idealism and street life.

More from Jacobs, angered by her friend’s comments: “It may be that we have become so feckless as a people that we no longer care how things do work, but only what kind of quick, easy out­er impression they give.” Fortunately for neighbourhoods, Lyle’s challenging love affair with (and fight for) the Mis­sion proves that some of us aren’t will­ing to give up hope for our communities. (Kerry Freek)

by Erick Lyle, $14.95, 210 pgs 19 West 21st, Suite 1101 New York NY, 10010, USA

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