A while ago I told someone who reads this blog that I would write something about what I see happening in San Francisco. As I remember, the reader used to live here but had to move to Florida and was curious to know what the city is like now.
I first came to San Francisco in late 1973 and, except for a year in exile in Oakland, I’ve been here ever since. In that time, the city has gone through a lot of changes. Few of the changes have been for the good. We have a reputation for being a city filled with radical leftwing kooks who are anti-business. I wish it were true. The reality is that San Francisco is a money town now, and the interesting people—who seldom have the goal of getting rich—can’t afford to live here anymore.
One thing I see happening is that Silicon Valley has filled the town with technophiles who are so enchanted by their gadgets and virtual realities that they have very little concern with the world they actually inhabit. San Francisco has been a beautiful place, but that beauty is quickly being destroyed by mindless development. More and more, the people who live here don’t care. They want a job, an apartment, and good cell phone reception. Everything else is of little importance. So business has a free hand to “create jobs.” Doing meaningful work seems a meaningless goal to most people. All they want is a paycheck. A lot of these same people have the goal of turning San Francisco into a “world class city,” which means “high-powered,” big, bright, and crowded; taller and taller buildings that look exactly like the buildings in every other town you go to; big sports events.
One of the biggest job creators here is tourism. Tourists started coming to San Francisco in large numbers because it was different from other American cities. It had soul. But tourism kills the soul of every place it infects. I’ve seen it happen in many other places. No one can tell me it’s not true. San Francisco is losing its soul. For a lot of people, the trade-off is worth it, and I find that immensely disheartening.
The reason all this bugs me so much is that when I first arrived, there were a lot of people here working to create something that met real human needs and concerns. It was a rare endeavor within American life. These kinds of movements are hard enough to start, let alone pull off. We Americans like to think of ourselves as practical and utilitarian. I think we’re merely mundane. The powers that be—the Chamber of Commerce, certain newspaper columnists—have mocked and vilified those movements to the point that they have very little support anymore. They are worthy endeavors. Sometimes they get a little unreal, but that’s because being creative and real are so foreign to us as a people.
I live in a garden on Telegraph Hill. It’s one of the most unique neighborhoods in the United States. Because the neighborhood is officially designated an historic district, it often feels removed from developments going on in the rest of the city. But money having the free hand that it does now at City hall, this feeling seems more and more like an illusion. I’m going to be writing more about this in the near future.