San Francisco Changing From Oasis to Mirage

↑ The City Exposed: Earthscapes.

San Francisco doesn’t feel the same anymore. That old feeling was hard to put into words, but its absences makes it a little easier to describe. There was always a looseness, an openness to the place. It was a refuge for nonconformists—people who ran the Bay to Breakers backwards from the finish to the start in salmon costumes yelling “Spawn! Spawn! Spawn!”

Everyone could feel comfortable in San Francisco. The city was a blessed oasis from your judgmental mainstream relatives. In the span of my lifetime, it’s always had the same vibe.

Now there’s a creeping vague soullessness to the city, a mall-like feeling where the weird has been overly commodified, where irony is merely recreational, where rebellion is an aesthetic choice, and where every conversation is a conspicuous display of one’s connection to the tech industry.

The Observer recently described the loss of San Francisco’s culture:

Emerging in its place is the mostly white, male-dominated, monied monoculture of the tech industry and there appears no end in sight. “It is not like it is over, but the tide is going out on San Francisco,” says Chris Carlsson, a resident since 1978 and co-founder of the Critical Mass bicycle activism movement, whose offshoots regularly take over the streets of London and other cities worldwide. Writer Rebecca Solnit, whose book Hollow City documented the effect of the first dotcom boom, fears the world is about to lose one of its most radical outposts. “I am not arguing for a city frozen in amber,” she says, “but this particular iteration of change is eliminating a lot of what the city’s identity has been for the past 150 years.”

San Francisco has become a playground for the rich, and I can’t help but see the connections between San Francisco and the Democratic Party. In the Democratic Party, the language of the past has been preserved, but the words and phrases that have real historical meaning are soon revealed to be hollow verbal gestures to old values. In San Francisco, icons of the past (the Ferry Building, Crissy Field) appear preserved, but they feel more and more inauthentic as urban places enjoyed by a select few.

↓ At 95, Lawrence Ferlinghetti Recounts More Than Six Decades of Life in San Francisco.

Portland, on the other hand, has the right attitude. In fact, there’s a big ol’ sign warning against the very thing that’s happened in San Francisco. And what does that sign say?


Yep. When you boil down all the socioeconomic issues you’re left with what’s essential to a metro area: weirdness.

Keeping a place weird is easier said than done (because of all the complicated socioeconomic issues). While we may not be able to address everything it takes to keep a place weird, let’s take a shot at a few key areas that are relevant to what’s happening in San Francisco.

  1. A rising tide will not lift all boats. When you ally yourself with monied interests, everything will not simply work out in the end. We must be very deliberate about how things unfold. For example, Seattle’s new Priority Hire legislation.
  2. We must take full responsibility for the wealth and poverty created by the rules we make to create and run our markets (including our local real estate market) and we must be more deliberate about avoiding the economic violence these market rules currently produce.
  3. We must undo Prop 13, reform the mortgage interest deduction, and revisit the relationship between rent control and the creation of new rental housing.
  4. A Left Coast start-up’s assumed endgame shouldn’t be a “public offering” on the NYSE. To pretend that the NYSE is a benign, transparent, democratic, or morally agnostic institution is to perpetuate the problems that plague San Francisco (and the nation). California should look at re-creating the Pacific Stock Exchange and have start-ups go truly public there with built-in benefits for the whole community, including some form of basic income.
  5. You personally have to give a shit about what happens to people who are less fortunate than you.
  6. You have to respect creative people for their own sake, apart from any monetary gains their creativity may or may not be producing. You have to make a space for pure creativity.

Key decision points in San Francisco have already passed, but we can return to those decision points and remake those decisions. The only question is whether this will happen before or after we realize: All that glitters is not gold.

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