A different World in ours – “Kotti”, “Tenderloin” and other ‘Bad Parts of Town’

Major cities have always been a focal point between people of different origins, cultures and habits. Especially in the last century or so, with urbanization at a higher rate than ever before and the world being more and more connected, cities have not only grown significantly in size, but also in diversity. Democratic elections show that often, cities are a lot more liberal than the surrounding areas. Most recently in the Austrian presidential elections on the 4th of December, where the Austrian citizens living in the major cities voted liberal, while most of the rural areas voted right-wing. And that despite – or maybe because of – the many foreigners and different cultures that they are exposed to.

But with all the skyscrapers, flashy advertisements and fancy stores, it is easy to forget about the ‘bad parts of town’. Islands of hopelessness, troubled with drug usage and criminality in the middle of hectic metropolis’, that have unusual nicknames such as ‘Loin or Kotti. Most of the city’s residents try to avoid these regions at all cost, they try to ignore their existence. But they do exist – third world spots surrounded by some of the wealthiest cities in the world.

San Francisco is a very diverse (and also a very liberal) city in the US, with Chinatown, little Hanoi, Japan Town, Russian hill, an Italian district, little Paris and many more as well as one of the largest Iranian populations outside of Iran. It is well known for its nice neighborhoods on the hills, with the “painted ladies”, colorful wooden houses, along the roads and also for the various startups that have emerged in and around the city.

But in the middle of all this is the Tenderloin district. The area is so harsh that tourists are advised to stay away from it and shouldn’t enter it without a group, especially at night.

In the late 19th and very early 20th century, the Tenderloin had become an urban district of San Francisco thanks to the gold rush. In fact, it was usually labeled as “downtown” on maps of San Francisco; the name Tenderloin was used informally but only found its way onto official maps around the 1930s. Following the 1906 earthquake and the city being rebuilt, the district became notorious for gambling and its nightlife. Many musicians, especially Jazz musicians and bands, thrived in the tenderloin around the middle of the 20th century. The housing in the region consisted mainly of lower class hotels, and single-room apartments, so mainly single adults or couples lived in the region. In the years after the Second World War, the tenderloin faced a significant drop in population, which was then suddenly reversed with the Vietnam war in the 1970s and the large number of refugees from Vietnam and the surrounding countries that settled in the Tenderloin thanks to the low pricing of apartments and also its proximity to Chinatown. Due to this large Vietnamese population, the region is still referred to as little Hanoi occasionally. The tenderloin had also been a red light district ever since, and also had some of the first gay neighborhoods of San Francisco before the Castro emerged as the main gay region of the city.

However, today the ‘Loin is mainly known for squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, illegal drug trade, prostitution, liquor stores, and strip clubs. Violent street crime – robbery and aggravated assault – are unusually common in the region, with 7 of the 10 areas with the highest rates of violent crime being in or adjacent to the tenderloin. Drug dealing on the streets, even during daytime, is a common sight, just like people using these drugs and injecting themselves in the plain sight of the public. Many violent crimes are directly linked to drug usage. In 2007, gang violence spiked in the region, including daylight shootings. Human trafficking is also a problem in the region, especially in relation to sex work.

In some parts of the Tenderloin, parking has been banned along the roads to prevent the cars from obscuring visibility of the sidewalk, which resulted in a slight decrease of crime rates there. The general atmosphere of lawlessness has also led to a high density of street art in the form of graffitis, which are technically illegal, but are also showing a tendency to help the community.

Although there are some social initiatives in the region, including homeless shelters and soup kitchens, by far not enough is being done by the city’s government. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, “Many homeless youths in the Tenderloin district are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems arising from past traumatic experiences. Lack of appropriately targeted options available in the area has meant many youths will have few viable paths to deal effectively with their problems”. Why hasn’t the city taken more initiative in the region? By not intervening too much against criminality and drug usage in the Tenderloin, the city is able to contain and focus most of it there, making it significantly easier to “keep an eye on it”, while at the same time kind of turning a blind eye to it. The city fears that if they decide to intervene, the problems of the Tenderloin will only spill to other parts of San Francisco.

Around 9,000km away, the Kottbusser Tor, referred to by locals as the “Kotti”, is the well-known new center of drug trade in Berlin, having partly replaced, partly joined the U-Bahn (Subway) and train station Zoologischer Garten at the city’s zoo.

The Kottbusser tor is mainly a traffic node in Kreuzberg, a district of Berlin known to be fairly problematic concerning drug trade and criminality, although it was able to significantly improve its image in the past few years.

The Kotti’s main problem is drug trade, which has skyrocketed since the early 21st century. As of now, there are around 20 drug dealers known to the authority in the region. From 2014 to 2015, the number of robberies doubled to nearly 800 around the Kottbusser Tor, the number of armed robberies increased by 50% and the drug criminality doubled.

In the last few years, the Kotti has advanced to be the main location for the trade of “hard drugs” in Berlin. “Die Welt”, a German newspaper, interviewed a local addict. According to him, “15 to 20 deal pills, five or six weed and two or three deal cocain, that’s the most difficult to obtain”. According to the Newspaper, pills are sold at around 500% of their original value.

For a long time, the city didn’t react to the problems at the Kottbusser Tor. Then, there were gradual attempts to help the region with its massive drug problem, most of which were terminated. Now, little is being done, the drug trade is booming, the amount of stuff being sold is doubled, tripled, quadrupled from year to year. And the city isn’t doing much to stop this from happening.

Islands of criminality or drug abuse can be found in many cities all around the world; San Francisco and Berlin are only examples. And in many cases, the city’s or country’s government isn’t doing enough to help the people there. Because sometimes it is easy forget for outsiders, that every drug addict, dealer, criminal has their own story, is an individual and many would’ve not ended up where they are now, had they received help earlier in their life. It is the responsibility of all of us, especially the “city people”, not to close our eyes to things we don’t want to see, but rather to admit that this is happening. However we shouldn’t accept it – it is our task to start a change, press the authorities for more actions and ultimately to help the people that are trapped in these worlds that are so different from ours, yet in plain sight.

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