A Gen Xer Reflects on the San Francisco That Is and That Was
A person on Quora asked why people in other cities were nicer than people in San Francisco. I answered.
San Francisco — I’m going to show my age now — is not the city that it once was. In the past, it was sort of like an overgrown artists’ colony, an adult paradise for people who enjoyed culture, kink, and queerness. It was a glorious haven for creativity and full of life.
Then the Internet happened.
It started around 1998, and the last twenty years have brought with them a massive influx of tech money, and with that, smarmy venture capitalists that live in the garish high rise condos the block the view of iconic Sutro Tower on Twin Peaks. The city is overrun with young people with more money than they know what to do with.
Rents are impossible. If you make less than $117K/year, you fall below the poverty linein SF. There is rampant gentrification. The diversity in the city is decreasing as communities that have been there forever — such as the Mission District, home to many Latinx families — have been forced out of their dwellings when either the rent becomes too high (we’re talking $3.5K/month for a STUDIO, for the love of Pete) or the building is sold/bought to build a new high-rise condo.
People are stressed out from their lengthy commutes, because a lot of people that work in the South Bay at companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, want the glamour of living in “The City.” Getting to work in your new BMW, Tesla, or (yes, I’ve seen them) Maserati, can take at least 90 minutes each way to drive an average of 40 miles or so during rush hour.
In other words, San Francisco has a chronic case of monied privilege, which unfortunately lives alongside the acute AND chronic homeless crisis. Under every freeway, there is a massive homeless encampment that the authorities periodically “clear out”, trying to force homeless persons into shelters that — I’ve heard — do not provide adequate services. No one seems to know how to resolve the issue, despite San Franciscans’ professed compassion for the less fortunate.
San Francisco, with its income disparity, overblown sense of self-importance, self-righteous political posturing, drunken tech bros who take over public parks for their private parties, and increasingly bland, heteronormative culture that is built on wealth, privilege, and entitlement, is now just a dystopia with stunning views and a temperate climate.
I have watched my city change over the course of the last 35 years, and (if it is not already obvious) I am not at all pleased with what I see.
I’m sorry, San Francisco. I remember you as you were when I was growing up. I remember your daring, brave face when confronted with homophobia and right-wing intolerance (see my husband’s article about his role in Queer Nation’s Street Patrol in the early ’90s here). I remember your cutting-edge performance art community, your sex-radicalism that protested Basic Instinct, your commitment to kink, now replaced by garden variety polyamory. I remember when you were into drugs, not drink.
Those were some good times.
The people who you’ve met in San Francisco aren’t friendly because of these things, and also because — truth be told — they aren’t from San Francisco.
Small talk among new San Franciscans starts with “Where are you from?” and then moves on to a few select topics: real estate, traffic, startups and IPOs. People who have lived in the City for more than twenty years talk about these things too, but we talk about them with a sense of grief, not greed. We have lost the place that we loved so much. We talk about what used to be, we talk about the demolished places, the erasure of the gay community, the disappearance of the book stores, small theaters, bars, restaurants, and clubs that defined the youth of Gen Xers and the thirty- and forty-something years for the Boomers.
I’m truly sorry you have this impression of our City, and I wish I could show you what it used to be. You would have loved it. And we would have welcomed you and taken you out for a night on the town in a place like no other on earth.
San Francisco is dead. Long live San Francisco.