What Matters

Stop, look, and listen:

Community matters. What makes a community, is people. So: People matter. People coming together as a community—in meatspace—is truly, what matters the most. Above all else. That’s understandably hard when folks are being evicted left and right, young people new to a city and without families or the urge to put-down roots move-in, and few seem to work within the city limits.

Large double-decker blingmobiles of affluence crowding-out the public busses at bus stops citywide, only rubs salt into those wounds. The busses are in and of themselves a reminder to folks, of why the speed of gentrification and turnover of residents has hastened in recent years.

Property values have also shifted to favor the private bus routes—a totally new phenomenon—changing what had previously been cultural uniqueness as the defining trait driving the market appeal of residential niches. That our public busses usually stink of vomit and body odor, are notoriously beat-up, always late, are a cacophonous clatter of YouTube videos blaring from smartphones and kids yelling at each other, are freezing cold, and have more recently become prone to crime, only intensifies the strife.

Tension builds from anger. Brewin’ a long time, has been anger from the clear disparity in wealth that’s only worsening, and the loss of longtime residents, with the disappearing working-class—a new kind of cultural change that seems to be stemming from what’s driving that wealth disparity, and no clear path to gain control amidst the snowballing losses. Blame emerges in an effort to express the anger.

It’s convenient to blame the Techies: most are young, many are arguably obnoxious, we’re not reputed for having the best public manners, and walking through life iLeash-first projects an impression that we’re not too interested in integrating with the rest of our fellow neighbors in shared spaces of passive marginalia.

We walk down sidewalks immersed in our Instagram feeds, jabber on the phone while waiting for busses or our coveted UberCabs, sport the hoodie-n-jeans uniform of today’s privileged six-figure upwardly-mobile community aliens, and despite clearly having the financial access and social mobility to drive change—it doesn’t seem like we do. Taqueria, BART platform, brunch lines and checkout-counter banter also seems to have shifted to “My investor this” and “Closing round-that,” with no existence or involvement with the rest of the world ever evident when eavesdropping among others in town whom appear to be under 40, are dressed in the hoodie-n-jeans uniform (but with +$400 jeans), sport the requisite laptop messenger-bags… and on an aside, are usually white and male. It’s obnoxious!

This whole mess may not be “our fault,” but guess what: we are in a far better position of influence to drive the change that needs to happen,
than anyone else.

You see: we, techies, have this privilege of power, much more than our older, tireder, and more consumed with family neighbors, do, whom are rightfully upset from seeing their communities crumble in the face of Ellis Act evictions and unseemly real estate greed. We didn’t cause the problems directly, but our obvious complacence with the ripple effect of our industry’s prosperity and the personal affluence we’re each reaping as reward, is driving a huge social wedge that’s brewing a mean undercurrent of resentment and division.

It’s not enough that we don’t like what’s been happening, either. We have the power with our financial mobility, social influence, and the free time that older folks & multi-job, multi-generation families seem to have much less of, to make that difference. We can spend our free time coding ourselves to death, disrupting disruption for the sake of being disruptorly, daily brunching, and all the artisnal entrepreneurial buzzwordy pastimes we love to Tweet about. We can also spend a small amount of time each week working towards solving our city’s problems by personally working towards making our civic communities better places for all.

It can start with just one simple commitment: eye-contact and simple conversation with folks we pass on the sidewalks.

Actual outside-our-bubble, meatspace engagement. Walking from here to there. Standing in checkout lines at the grocery store. Stuff the smartphone when we’re out and about, and be present with the people who share our civic spaces with us. Do our social feeds and email and SMS conversations, really need to take that much of our days? Are our social silos really that much more important than the world at large, and all the serendipitous delight that can only come from the occasional unexpected exchange?

Can’t things other than work, be discussed when not at work? And please, do spare the “it’s not work when you love it!” retort on that… because to the world at large, jobs and the pursuit of money is work. We all live together as one human race in that world, regardless of the graces and blessings some of us have experienced in our own worlds.

The Ellis Act (eviction law) needs to be amended from how it was tweeked a few years ago.

By rallying our supervisors, researching & pushing for the kinds of changes that need to happen, and helping elder and handicapped neighbors to re-locate who are under the thumb of these cruel greedmongering evictions, we can lubricate the wheels of change & reduce the burden on those in less advantageous positions than we are, in the process.

Volunteer. Don’t just write a check.

At a local neighborhood center or soup kitchen. Engage with the elderly, with kids, and with the handicapped. Join a neighborhood NERT team. Start a food or toy drive to benefit local kids. If compelled to donate money, keep it local—at a minimum, within the city limits, tho ideally, to a direct neighborhood beneficiary that’s probably struggling to keep their own rent paid. If you need some recommendations on where to donate or to volunteer, check out my next article! I list over 20, wonderful, LOCAL organizations. ☺

Our mayor, Ed Lee.

That guy with the dead grey caterpillar on his lip and the glasses 1985 has been calling to reclaim: he needs to stop favoring all things showy and shiney, and start showing some love to the city overall. When the kids with the money start demanding he pay more mind to his own citizens and less to Larry Ellison, he just might. We need more high-density housing, and not of the fancy condos flavor. We need to be a friendly place for families, immigrants, the affluent, and the poor. And we need to get our mayor focussed more on the human needs of his city, and less on PR opportunities.

San Francisco’s Payroll tax

Yep, it‘s in for a long-overdue update, and not just happy handshakes to look-good employers that City Hall is ok making shady one-off deals with. We just plain need to be a more friendly city for entrepreneurs and big business to thrive in—but without pendulum shifting in the opposite direction, to the detriment of businesses who manufacture & sell goods. It’ll be a 4-year phase-in of the Gross Receipts system, so let’s keep an eye out…

Make The Busses Pay!

Added Jan 20th · Ok, no—not with that kind of a vengeance-seeking lust for justice that really, is unfair to pin on the busses. June 2014 is when our next election is, and that pesky state law that bars the City from profiting from the private bus fees? Should a proposition be placed on the ballots for private use of public bus stops by for-profit corporations (of course, UCSF, convalescent homes, and other such entities could be exempt) to be charged a much higher than $1 fee, with all proceeds going towards MUNI & community support, Proposition 218 would be honored & the roadblock removed for a great win-win solution.

Google, Apple, Facebook, Genentech, Yahoo!, and others, do send massive busses that do have a great impact along their routes through many of our cozy communities. The added weight wears on the roads, but more notably, the social tensions are palpable… and need an equitable solution.

Funds could get raised to help make the MUNI experience more civilised for its riders. Help local businesses like Adobe Books and Modern Times Bookstore that contribute to our funky creative culture, stay in business when struggling. Pair some of our smartypants techno-fabulous CFO and COO types with these struggling businesses, to help them sustain in the long-haul. Help pay for moving expenses for evicted elders & the handicapped. Show some love to the SFTU, who’s in the trenches on the eviction issues.

Sign posted in an Alameda Taxicab. ❤

Likewise, the large corporations could be required to encourage their employees to abide by an “Employee & Neighborhood Pact” that by riding the busses, employees agree to be better neighbors who contribute positively to the social fabric of our ‘hoods. For everyone.

This latter point may seem a bit excessive, que? Perhaps… but, one such simple ‘contract’ that I saw posted in an Alameda cab, really touched me. It was a light-touch way to remind folks that everyone involved is human, and that civility is just really nice. And I loved it. Not over-wrought with regulatory hoo-ha, just: “Hey: we wanna be nice, and we want you to be nice, and it’ll all be great!” It also made me feel more in control; that were the cab driver to violate any of the responsibilities on his plate, I had this handy list of expectations to cite in kindly asking for his compliance. Lastly, it also reminded me of the wide berth of opportunities for passengers to make this person’s life hard… which is always nice to remind us why & how empathy is always in order.

Inside the MUNI bus stops an email address could be made available for residents to send feedback to the various companies, and each company could assign each neighborhood a ‘delegate’ to ensure communication. And of course: such a sign as the one above, would live in both the bus shelters, and the busses themselves. “We won’t be douchey, please don’t you hate on us, and we’ll all work together to make change happen.”

The exit of families and elders (longtime residents) and the rapid influx of fresh, young relocatees who work in other cities and perceptibly do little more than eat and Instragram from SF, has changed the social makeup of lots of neighborhoods. I’ve been here 20 years, and the whole time I’ve been here EVERYBODY has ALWAYS been complaining and whining that SF is loosing its charm. Everyone says the same about my hometown in Michigan, too. Shit happens, change happens, get over it, people.

BUT, in the last few years, it’s gotten much quicker, and has felt much more brutal. If the young relocatees could get more involved in their neighborhoods and residential communities *in meatspace,* I think that could help considerably. It may not be our “fault,” but we still have the power to change the tide… and it is our fault to not seize that, if we chose to get defensive and do nothing. We have a lot of power that others do not, via financial access, youth and social mobility. That is un-deniable.

We are no better than the crappy entitled techies we’re popularly painted as, if we don’t get off our butts and do something. → Follow-Up Article

UPDATE 21 Jan: Some great thoughts/ideas by Max Kirchoff, as published in the Bold Italic:

It is undeniable that a new wave of transplants contributes enormously to dissonance in the cost of living and abuses of public goods within the city. But these same transplants are more than just office drones, they’re a collection of people with various passions, and many of us have roots in social justice. From Open-source to social entrepreneurship, technology workers around the world participate in communities that promote egalitarianism and also seek outlets for their personal activism.
In Portland, activism and technology were seen as overlapping pathways, not enemies of one another. Previous mayor Sam Adams challenged the technology industry to grow thoughtfully and contribute to the city’s public goods. Civic data hacking groups and, specifically, CivicApps.org led the way to locally focused collaboration with an aim on social change. Celly, a Portland startup, helps schools and political organizations organize and communicate efficiently. In Portland, it is not only accepted, but also expected, that a technology worker be civically involved.
The very same transplants who are demonized on their shuttles here may be powerful advocates in turning the tide of social justice in San Francisco. Technology companies as corporate entities may choose as a whole to ignore those yelling in the faces of their employees. But if the activists and the workers in the technology sector see one another as advocates and not enemies, if we work together to resolve the big challenges here, San Francisco will see changes like no one-sided protest could ever illicit. We must combine the civically minded from both communities into one undeniable voice.
How do we get our voices together? We need to work together, period. One suggestion? Meetups. Honestly. The tech industry loves Meetups, activism groups love Meetups, let’s have some together. We need to invite social justice groups into technology communities to give their perspective, and activist groups should be working to create connections within the tech community.
Corporate sponsored education. Google, Facebook, all these big tech companies should be educating their employees on the area’s civic problems and encouraging local involvement. Smart, well-rounded employees are involved with their community and understand their impact.
Cut the rhetoric directed at technology workers. The Peter Shihs and Greg Gopmans are in the vast minority, stop comparing every person who writes code or carries a Google badge to them. They represent the technology industry in the same way that Donald Trump represents entrepreneurs.
We need to leave our generalizations and petty divides in the past. This is the time to rally around one city, with one community of voices, hell-bent on preserving a San Francisco that we all fell in love with.

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