The End of San Francisco?

Us natives are apparently restless. Everywhere I turn there is someone mourning the inevitable ruination of this once great city. As the refrain goes, it once stood proud, but the techies have arrived and absolutely squashed the soul and sterilized the fabric of our beloved city. It had a good one hundred and fifty plus year run, but now it is a soulless and overpriced wasteland. Rest in peace dear City.

Admittedly San Francisco is not the town it used to be, this is for certain. But, it is also not the town it will be tomorrow. And that is the beauty of San Francisco: it is a progressive town that evolves. It always has and it always will. Come to think of it, the fabric of this town is made of denim, which is durable and ages well. As with any patina, some decades will be better than others, but it is change that is the only constant.

This is not a defense of techies or an argument whether or not San Francisco is being ruined; it, instead, is a commentary on the reductionist, ‘us versus them’ thinking that has infected so many of us, at least those that are the most vocal. The articles, documentaries, and commentaries are nothing more than glorified fear mongering. And it seems more appropriate on stage in a Republican debate than on the streets of San Francisco. We think bigger here.

Look at our history and notice all those that were accused of ruining the fabric of our city: Chinese, gays, and hippies — not to mention, Massholes! The current attacks on the “techies” is just a continuation of this destructive thinking that does nothing productive, only causes tensions and build walls.

But almost worse than being discriminatory, this is NIMBYISM at it finest — which is actually a long-standing San Francisco tradition. Look at Andrew Pridgen’s recent article. After you read this excellent article, I am sure you want to go on a techie witch-hunt, just like I did. Take this well written line, one of many:

“Once we (re)discover that a him or a her is more than an account and password and headshot, that we can put aside our devices in exchange for experience — where do we go?”

Well after you finish the article, that convincingly tells how techies are ruining our city, be sure to click the author’s name. You are sent to his Twitter page — his very active Twitter page. But wait isn’t technology — accounts, headshots, and the like — ruining us? So the message becomes this: please continue to build these products and services that we all love and use, but don’t do it in our backyard. This is entirely hypocritical and the tone discriminatory. We cannot think this small, or we won’t solve our big problems.

Yes it is expensive, dirty, and crowded here. But these are not problems that the techies have created themselves. There is plenty of blame to go around. Take the issue of housing and the cost of living. Yes, we can blame those that work in technology for succeeding and driving up the costs. But, to be fair, we also must blame San Francisco’s geography. It is small and surrounded by water, therefore has a limited supply. Speaking of supply, our liberal politics have been positively anti-development, thus further putting a constraint on supply. You cannot have a beautiful, desirable city like San Francisco with a limited amount of housing without prices going up. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the influence of politicians and developers. We must move beyond the myopic thinking that reduces all of the various contributing factors into one scapegoat. We proudly call ourselves liberals, but blaming one group of people for all of our problems is antonymous to this label we wear proudly.

People have always come to San Francisco for the same reasons “techies” are coming now: to get rich, to follow a cultural movement, to reinvent themselves, to be inspired, or just to be in this beautiful city. This is the real soul of San Francisco; and its spirit is stronger and more durable than any one moment in time. It has faced greater forces before. Sure there are plenty of challenges, unfortunate developments, and people moving here who do not fit into our defined culture of generosity and sophistication, but San Francisco will chew that all up, spit it out, and move on. Let’s just hope we can and not get stuck building walls.