Todd Lappin, the creator of the popular local blog Bernalwood, explains the background of his five favorite blog posts and how they’ve impacted the community over the years.
When did you start Bernalwood and what was the original idea?
I started the blog in 2010 because I felt the neighborhood wanted a publication that spoke to the growing population of residents who were not baby boomers. I wanted to give a voice to another perspective on the neighborhood.
I was a magazine editor for 15 years at Wired and Time Inc. I didn’t have a clear vision at first. Sometimes the publication was just plain fun and whimsical, others times we focused on current events and the neighborhood activity. I tried to maintain a balance and celebrate the quirkiness of the neighborhood.
Will you give us a round up of five of your favorite blog posts and why you picked them?
In no particular order:
There is a guy who goes by the pseudonym Burrito Justice and lives in the flat part of Bernal, in an area that has never had a name. Around 2009 he decided that since he lived there and nobody had claimed it, he would name it.
After that I decided that the Bernalese (people who live in Bernal Heights) would treat this neighborhood as a kind of rebel province. We would allow them a certain degree of autonomy but demand their fealty in recognizing that we were sovereign.
This post put Bernal on the map because it attracted attention from media outlets who saw it as a neighborhood fight. People are always arguing over how to name areas and draw boundaries. It became a recurring theme.
After that he and I collaborated on other posts and created names for sub-neighborhoods in Bernal Heights.
One of those is called…
Realtors are always naming neighborhoods, so this was a playful way to make fun of that. I think the original inspiration came from a realtor naming an area and we decided, “That doesn’t work. We’ll do it ourselves”.
Where you live influences what you consider your neighborhood. Though we all live in Bernal the people on the north side have a different mental map from the people on the south side. When you account for hill topography, you end up with very different little hoods. There is interesting data on the differences between how different micro-hoods vote on ballot propositions. From there we created the New Political Analysis Reveals Political Leaning of Bernal Microhoods post and Your Hyperlocal Analysis for 2016 Primary Election Results in Bernal Heights.
It’s all tongue and cheek but there is real truth behind it. These ideas say a lot about how people live. I created terms of reference that I now use when describing parts of the neighborhood. Like instead of “Southern Bernal” I use Baja Cortlandia or The Crescent. If you live here you get it.
This one demonstrates how the blog evolved into a place for neighbors to contribute. We have been powered for years by emails or tweets from neighbors that I used to create posts. Occasionally I do reporting and analysis. The bread and butter of Bernalwood is neighborhood contributions.
Here we covered a strange fire in an art gallery. It originated with a weird installation that involved lighting matches in the gallery. I’m not sure what everybody thought would happen but it went very wrong. I covered the event in real time with such depth and richness. I sat at my dining room that night while people sent messages throughout the episode.
I had pictures from the inside and outside. A woman described what it was like when the fire started. It showed me the power of a community that can think like journalists.
#4) Ski Bernalwood:
This was fun to write and intentionally goofy. I’m a skier and when I’m on Bernal Hill I often think, “If there was snow here, this would be fantastic.” There are a bunch of things a that lends itself to the idea of a neighborhood ski resort.
Researching and writing a history post opened my eyes to how city governments impact our neighborhood when they abandon street plans. Why did we end up with this highway-like dynamic in a relatively quiet street grid? The street was originally designed as a high-volume route for planned freeways and a Transbay bridge that never materialized. Neighbors dug up photos and we pieced together the origins. The bridge intended to stretch from Twin Peaks eastward toward the shoreline. I painted a picture of how that project would have impacted our lives if completed.
Before we end, what are some unexpected things you’ve learned from starting the Bernalwood blog.
The quirkiness of Bernalwood mostly comes from the contributions from the neighborhood itself.
For me, it’s been a great experience because of my friends. I made so many good friends through this blog that now I barely remember what brought us together.
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All photos courtesy of Todd Lappin, Bernalwood
Jen Baxter is a writer, photographer, and San Francisco native. She tells stories encouraging people to be more independent, aware and creative. You can find other articles at JenBaxter.comor follow her on Instagram @JenBaxterSF