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Google Invades
January 31, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Rebecca Solnit on how Silicon Valley corporations are transforming San Francisco: I weathered the dot-com boom of the late 1990s as an observer, but I sold my apartment to a Google engineer last year and ventured out into both the rental market (for the short term) and home buying market (for the long term) with confidence that my long standing in this city and respectable finances would open a path. That confidence got crushed fast. It turned out that the competition for any apartment in San Francisco was so intense that you had to respond to the listings – all on San Francisco-based Craigslist of course, the classifieds website that whittled away newspaper ad revenue nationally – within a few hours of their posting to receive a reply from the landlord or agency. The listings for both rentals and homes for sale often mentioned their proximity to the Google or Apple bus stops.

See also: The City from the Valley, Stamen Design's effort to map the Google Shuttle.
posted by liketitanic (143 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
And a map (now outdated; rents are higher than they were 9 months ago) of rent increases in the city.
posted by liketitanic at 7:45 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, man. Is this where I can complain about being on the verge of being priced out of my DC neighborhood? Because it sucks.

We don't have a SF-level bubble, thank god, but our housing inventory is starting to dip well below the level that one would expect to see from the cyclical churn of the market.

And, let me tell you, none of this is because the federal government or local employers have suddenly gotten more generous with their salaries and compensation packages. I honestly don't understand how half of the people manage to live here, let alone raise families.
posted by schmod at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, man. Is this where I can complain about being on the verge of being priced out of my DC neighborhood? Because it sucks.

+++1 on that. I live/work in Baltimore and was considering moving to DC for a bunch of reasons (girlfriend,like the city,more job opportunities) but the apartment rents have completely put me off doing that.

I thought I was making a good salary, at least in most of the rest of the country I would be. My options in DC are spend > 50% of my salary on rent or maybe live in a not-so-nice area of DC. But even in those areas rents are going up.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 8:03 AM on January 31, 2013


Not to further derail this post into not being about San Francisco, but... I moved into my apartment in NYC a year ago, and when I recently considered moving, I found that rent had increased to the point where I could not find a single apartment within a mile and a half of my location that wasn't AT LEAST $150 more per room than my current place. I am clinging to this room for dear life, basically.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:14 AM on January 31, 2013


solution: build more social housing for lower/ mid income households, make it easier to built lots more market rate housing for mid/ high income.
posted by markvalli at 8:17 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


My impression of San Fran is that it's a place that highly values its culture, and if that culture (or leading cultural figures, as noted in the piece) our driven out for corporate reasons, that's going to start a little war.
posted by kgasmart at 8:17 AM on January 31, 2013


Holy cow - what's going on with Seacliff?
posted by eviemath at 8:21 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I talk a lot of shit about Chicago but it's stuff like that map that reminds me why I stay here. I pay $750/month for a good-sized 1-bedroom a block from a 24-hour train line—I don't think there is another city in the US where you could say that.

I have to say, though, this piece left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth when I read it yesterday. There seems to be a lot about how tech workers are "uncool," "out of place," look like "German tourists," "bees who belong to a great hive," incapable of "speaking to the people around you." As though it's not a problem that working-class people are being displaced, but that the people doing the displacing are the wrong sort. That if the displacers were people who people who made their money in a field a little less alien to the typical journalist, this article would not have been written. It's interesting that the mainstream coverage of (tech-worker-driven) gentrification in San Francisco is so much less sympathetic than the mainstream coverage of (artsy-hipster-driven) gentrification in Brooklyn.
posted by enn at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2013 [39 favorites]


This is why I work for a Silicon Valley company with a flexible work from home policy and live in Santa Cruz. I'd rather have a good telecommuting policy than free lunches and onsite laundry. I lied about that being why I live in Santa Cruz, though. I live here because I like it better.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Rent is Too Damn High

The Gated City
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember looking for apartments in SF, someone was renting their living room - literally a mattress sitting in their den - for like $450 a month. I also remember being very tempted.
posted by hellojed at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the article:

The whole of the US sometimes seems to be a checkerboard of these low-pressure zones with lots of time and space but no money, and the boomtowns with lots of money, a frenzied pace and chronic housing scarcity. Neither version is very liveable.

I definitely sense this as well, and I'm sure it contributes to our incoherent politics. I do think that a lot of people view this divide positively, though, and it's definitely part of what makes American culture American. You get at least of illusion of choosing which side of the tradeoff you want to take.
posted by selfnoise at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


It would be useful if the information about apartment rents was broken down by apartment size/number of rooms.
posted by eviemath at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2013


The company buses (the map link) really underscore the failure of public transportation in the US, even in a place as supposedly progressive as SF. They're literally the opposite of public transportation: intensely private transportation, paid for by private companies for the benefit of their workers and only their workers. And I assume they're not cheap to operate, either. You wouldn't have that cropping up if the public transit system worked and met the needs of residents.

I'm surprised that the various companies haven't decided to work together; none of them really have a "core competency" of running a bus line. Conventional business wisdom would suggest the best thing to do would be to spin off the bus operations, merge them together, and let one operator that actually does it well then sell the service back to the various companies that want it, or to the commuters themselves.

Maybe they just haven't gotten around to that point, since they're still viewing them as an employment perk and not simply as a mode of transportation. But my guess is that we'll get there (probably when the current "social" bubble pops and management starts looking for fat to cut), and what you'll have at the end of the eventual consolidation will look something like the privately run urban bus lines of the early 20th century. Only with WiFi.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yes, this article is completely right. But there's something else going one here, because the tech jobs are moving back into the city and yet I rarely see a Google bag on Muni. As far as I can tell, tech employees are driving to and from their city jobs everyday. (Or, at best, taking Uber home most nights). Meaning that they need parking at two places (home and work) for the equivalent of what is at most a 1-7 mile commute.

It makes sense on an individual level I guess (if you work 10AM - 10PM or 12 or 2AM 6 days a week as many of these people do), but in aggregate it's undermining the already poor state of public transit in the city, increasing congestion (which slows buses), increasing the demand for parking, changing the kind of buildings that are built here (must have garage parking), etc.

When too many people work too many hours and make too much money to take public transit (or demand better public transit), you have the kind of public transportation crisis San Francisco is suffering.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know if it gets discussed much, but I know a lot of younger people in DC and to some extent NYC are subsidized by their parents. In SF, the dotcom salaries tend to correlate with the insane rents, but DC seems to have a lot of people making much less than what the (rental) market reflects. DC also has a lot of people living in group houses with 4,5, even 6 roommates. (which was something I never noticed in SF, but has always been a thing in LDN. Maybe this is just a facet of the architecture available?)

Having lived in SF during the boom and bust of the late '90s and early '00s and now the boom in DC, it's weird to witness the cycle all over again. The backlash, the "lofts" going up and all of the same sort of displacement issues, absurd rents, bidding wars, etc. Interestingly, in '00 in the Mission there was an organized backlash whereas in DC it doesn't feel like anyone cares enough to organize. It's not like they were able to stop the "progress" in the Mission, but it was interesting to see the community stand up for themselves.
posted by shoepal at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2013


I talk a lot of shit about Chicago but it's stuff like that map that reminds me why I stay here. I pay $750/month for a good-sized 1-bedroom a block from a 24-hour train line—I don't think there is another city in the US where you could say that.

Man do I miss Chicago, for that but not only that.
posted by kenko at 8:30 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holy cow - what's going on with Seacliff?

It's actually a very small area, so one or two more ocean view homes renting this year than last year could push the average up by a lot. There are not many houses there and even fewer for rent.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:30 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


As though it's not a problem that working-class people are being displaced, but that the people doing the displacing are the wrong sort.

I didn't get that. It seemed more like the author was drawing attention to the fact that these people who are flooding in are just so different than the normal Bay Area crowd, much like the miners in the late 1800s.
posted by ceol at 8:31 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


The company buses (the map link) really underscore the failure of public transportation in the US, even in a place as supposedly progressive as SF. They're literally the opposite of public transportation: intensely private transportation, paid for by private companies for the benefit of their workers and only their workers. And I assume they're not cheap to operate, either. You wouldn't have that cropping up if the public transit system worked and met the needs of residents.

I'm not sure that's really true. Even if there were awesome public transportation in the area a bus that only went directly to your office would still be more convenient and I'm sure their employees prefer the company of their coworkers to the random madness of public transit. It's just another perk in an industry known for them.
posted by ghharr at 8:34 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm currently househunting in the DC area, after three+ years in the same place, and it is actually insane. I've started looking for the Craigslist ads that were clearly put up by elderly landlords who don't like computers, because the rents are slightly lower and they are less likely to have an application fee.

On the bright side, I am going to look at an $1800 3-bedroom in Takoma Park this afternoon, owned by a very nice-sounding old lady. Wish me luck!
posted by nonasuch at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2013


The whole of the US sometimes seems to be a checkerboard of these low-pressure zones with lots of time and space but no money, and the boomtowns with lots of money, a frenzied pace and chronic housing scarcity. Neither version is very liveable.

Canada can be like this too (although the city I live in is very liveable save for housing costs).

Not sure if it has been discussed, but one thing that may be driving rental prices in places like DC is the fact that so many more people are renting after the foreclosure crisis.

Here where I live in Canada (a smaller city with a ton of tech jobs and less snow than Seattle), there is something like a 3% vacancy rate for 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments, something unheard of, due, mostly, to a boom in investment condo developments. Still, the rental market for families is below 1% vacancy.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:43 AM on January 31, 2013


I can verify these stories. It took my wife and I eight months to find a place in the city. We got kicked out of our previous rental because our landlord decided to re-occupy it (though not for the tricky, under-handed reasons proposed in this article, but simply because he had moved to Ohio for a job that didn't work out). In those eight months we went to open house after open house and were shocked to see 40 people filling out applications for $4200/mo flats with no parking and barely minimal yards. We had to get our own packet together with resumes, references, applications pre-filled, photos of our dogs, information about our trainer, copies of our liability insurance, credit reports, bank statements, 401k statements, etc, etc. The only way to compete was to be ready to pull the trigger as soon as you saw the place. We often offered above the asking price to close the deal and disguised it as "pet rent" since we have two dogs. We finally found a "dog friendly" place that was actually dog friendly ("It's between you and another couple, but they don't have dogs."), most landlords were just kidding about that and I visibly saw our applications go to the bottom of the pile.

I love living in this city. Whenever I feel bad about anything I just walk around my neighborhood and look at the buildings and downtown in the distance and I feel better. I love living near so much water and natural beauty. I love thinking about all the interesting and world changing people who have walked these streets. I have many friends here. My wife and I both work in tech. I take Muni to work, and she takes CalTrain and it works out pretty well. But I don't know if we can afford to stay in the bay area at this rate. We want to have children and a bedroom to put them in. Seattle is looking pretty tempting. I have no idea how anyone actually lives here who hasn't had at least a few $1M stock grants.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2013


Kaydin2048, the buses are not being operated directly by the companies, they are contracted. Bauer's is one of the big companies providing these buses.

i think this boils down to "engineer" thinking - get the problem solved, now. get those people to the campus. no time to mess around with the city and the 10+ years it would take to build whatever transportation systems are needed. just use the existing infrastructure. sucks, but that's what capital does.
posted by joeblough at 8:47 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


As though it's not a problem that working-class people are being displaced, but that the people doing the displacing are the wrong sort. That if the displacers were people who people who made their money in a field a little less alien to the typical journalist, this article would not have been written.

Your reading of this essay assumes an awful lot of bad faith on Solnit's part for which there is no textual evidence. It seems... pre-emptively defensive?
posted by dersins at 8:50 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yelamu, Spanish, Mexicans, Americans, Gold Miners, Silver Miners, Bankers, Chinese Railroad Workers, Dock Workers, Prison Guards, Naval Workers, Beatniks, Hippies, Manhattanites, Homeless, Dot-Com, Hipsters, Google,
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:51 AM on January 31, 2013 [17 favorites]


Kaydin2048, the buses are not being operated directly by the companies, they are contracted. Bauer's is one of the big companies providing these buses.

If the companies are paying for them and restricting them (actually or practically via route selection) to the use of their own employees, then it's a distinction without a difference.
posted by Etrigan at 8:51 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember looking for apartments in SF, someone was renting their living room - literally a mattress sitting in their den - for like $450 a month. I also remember being very tempted.

There was an article on sfgate a few days ago about "pop-up rentals", which is apparently a cutsie thing to call rental spaces that violate housing codes. There's a guy paying $500/mo to sleep in a laundry room. Another one sleeps in a closet. Etc.

The economy in the Valley is booming, as I can tell by my commute (SF -> Menlo Park). There were three accidents this morning - two of them closed two lanes a few miles apart - all caused by people driving too fast and following too close in heavy traffic.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on January 31, 2013


The company buses (the map link) really underscore the failure of public transportation in the US, even in a place as supposedly progressive as SF. They're literally the opposite of public transportation: intensely private transportation, paid for by private companies for the benefit of their workers and only their workers. And I assume they're not cheap to operate, either. You wouldn't have that cropping up if the public transit system worked and met the needs of residents.

It sure looks like that, doesn't it? But it ain't so. I took a tour of Google's transit system a few years back. (They are subcontracted, as noted above. But Google still runs the system, pragmatically.)

It's a failure in the land use planning and policy; the clean high tech firms of the Valley are all located in suburban light industrial areas, miles away from any housing, and miles away from transit. If Google's HQ wasn't a 47 minute walk from the closest Caltrain station or a 48 minute walk from the closest VTA light rail* station, perhaps people would take these services. But you can't, and it's not physically possible to service this kind of sprawling suburban light industrial area effectively. Apple is building their new headquarters in a freeway-oriented site, with ample free parking and miles away from major transit. Thinking exactly the same as a Wal-Mart.

It's a series of restrictions like the idea that public employees should be able to negotiate as a group with their employer, the government. So transit workers (the bulk of the cost of any transit service) are unionized. You think Google's transit drivers have a union? Fuck no. They have pensions and job protections and living wages as much as Google Wave was a smash-hit Facebook killer.

It's a unique circumstance that Google and Apple workers are incredibly valuable to their companies; these company shuttles were some of the first to have wi-fi, as part of Google's idea that keeping their employees working longer with cheap benefits is a massive gain for them. (You don't think that the free cafeteria -- don't drive the 20 minutes it would take you to go to a restaurant -- or the free laundry are just out of the goodness of their heart?)

Do the math; Google gets two extra hours every day where two dozen employees are basically stuck with nothing to do except use the wifi on their computers. Even if they just use this as their MetaFilter time or whatever, they are getting it out of the way before the office. They can recruit top-level employees who want to live in The City (and tech is something where the top 5% are exponentially more valuable than the next 5%). And it costs them a dude making $10 an hour driving a shuttle van. Why wouldn't they do this?

But it obviously doesn't scale to the rest of society -- for starters, even if we increase the productivity of every worker, that money doesn't go back directly to the government providing transit. And most workers aren't as economically productive as Google workers. And many workers don't actually do the sorts of jobs that can be done in a shuttle bus over wi-fi, like pouring coffee or making cars.

* Okay, VTA's light rail is something of a failure of public transportation. But that's as much due to land use policy in the sprawltastic Valley as it is on the transit operator.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2013 [25 favorites]


Yeah, I lived in San Francisco a few years back so just went and checked my old building. Rent for my exact apartment is up $800 a month over what I was paying. And that's reasonable for the area, on looking at it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2013


"Engineer" thinking is not "Capital" thinking. For one thing, plastic screws are better priced than metal ones.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that the mainstream coverage of (tech-worker-driven) gentrification in San Francisco is so much less sympathetic than the mainstream coverage of (artsy-hipster-driven) gentrification in Brooklyn.

I wonder if that's perhaps because the NYC journos think of most Brooklynite hipsters as being unemployed wanna-bes, and they are therefore not threatening in the same way that a 22-year-old Google engineer making 5x your salary is? Or maybe because a journalist (say, hypothetically, a staff writer for a daily) is in a different place on the social totem pole in Brooklyn vs SF? I'm genuinely curious.

Not sure if it has been discussed, but one thing that may be driving rental prices in places like DC is the fact that so many more people are renting after the foreclosure crisis.

This is a significant part of it, but the market for SFHs is fairly hot again, too. Time on market is getting shorter; I've seen houses go under contract for the asking price in a matter of days. That hasn't happened since the market tanked back in '08ish, that I can recall. Personally I think it's largely pent-up demand from people who wanted to buy all along, but suddenly discovered that they'd need a much bigger down payment than they previously anticipated (when everyone and their dog could get a zero-down interest-only ARM) and had to go save up for a few years.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure if it has been discussed, but one thing that may be driving rental prices in places like DC is the fact that so many more people are renting after the foreclosure crisis.

If that were the case you'd expect purchase prices to remain static. Not so. (and that's in a neighborhood that, six years ago, was almost literally placed under martial law by the DC police after a rash of street murders).

I want to stay here (or, barring that, move to another culture-magnet American city) but the idea of buying a house in Washington scares the shit out of me. Like, I have quite literally woken up in the middle of the night panicked about how I'm going to a) afford to buy a house here and b) send my future children to private school.

I don't know of a fair and equitable solution to this problem. I have a running, intense battle with myself over being a gentrifier, but the answer clearly isn't to move out to the suburbs where the white people belong (both for personal and environmental reasons). I want to participate in the civic life of my city but not at the expense of risking the education of my children. It's really clear that the answer to the price problem is to just build more houses, but I appreciate critiques of those who want the city and its culture to say the same. I don't know.
posted by downing street memo at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oakland, people!

The buses are indeed insane. The City From The Valley project is partially my baby; I’d been watching those white monsters roll through the Mission and sensed that there were a lot more of them than anyone really knew. We started counting them one morning at 18th & Dolores and the frequency of pickups and variety of companies was eye-opening. Google runs a regular fleet, and they now buy their own coaches at ~$700k a pop (though the driving is outsourced). There are transportation startups offering GBUS-like transit for smaller firms. The Yahoo ones are sort of sad and empty-feeling.

I have mixed feelings about the system. They do help get cars off the road, but would those cars be there in the first place if workers had to personally bear the inconvenience of their reverse commute? They also betray a startling lack of imagination on Google’s part as joeblough says.
posted by migurski at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


The sad thing is that in SF, almost everyone who rents is paying dearly and living with the anxiety that they could be out by some unexpected means at any time. Those who aren't paying dearly because they have rent control (as I did when I lived there for over a decade) can afford it but are even more terrified because you feel like you have a target on your back.

It's a weird city, but to me, the Google thing is a bit of a red herring because the city had already changed before Google employees started taking the Google bus and changed the Mission and the Castro (and other areas too). San Francisco of 2005 was a vastly different place than San Francisco of 1995, in part because of how tech and money (lots of money) had shaped the landscape.
posted by artdesk at 8:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The buses have wifi which is nice but they also don't require mode shifting (switching from BART to Caltrain to Shuttle, etc) which is a huge barrier for a lot of people. I used to walk, BART, Caltrain and then shuttle to work. It was absurd.
posted by shoepal at 8:58 AM on January 31, 2013


What I find most interesting about the whole phenomenon is that for the most part the personality of the people at these major corporations is not about striking out on their own or taking on risks.

That manifests in not only where they choose to work, but also where they choose to live - why aren't there thriving new communities in Cupertino or Mountain View? In many ways, the risk aversion even extends to the startup world. Startups would rather pay much more to be in some craphole space in SOMA than really nice spaces in towers in FiDi (though that's changing to some degree with places like Yelp relocating there).

Don't even get me started on what all this is doing to families trying to make it in SF. As hard as it is to find a place to live as a single person, it's that much harder when trying to factor in two commutes and schools that aren't clear across town.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:01 AM on January 31, 2013


Your reading of this essay assumes an awful lot of bad faith on Solnit's part for which there is no textual evidence. It seems... pre-emptively defensive?

enn actually cited textual evidence: 'There seems to be a lot about how tech workers are "uncool," "out of place," look like "German tourists," "bees who belong to a great hive," incapable of "speaking to the people around you."' Maybe it's still defensiveness, but there were definitely some choice words used.
posted by nave at 9:01 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oakland, people!

Yep. The big culture-magnet cities seem to generally have a more working-class alternative a few miles away. SF-Oakland, DC-Baltimore, NYC-Newark. I'd move to Baltimore in a heartbeat if the transportation were more reliable.
posted by downing street memo at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2013


Well, sprawl and bad transit feed off of each other - one becomes an excuse for justifying the other (it doesn't matter if we build near transit because the transit here sucks! it doesn't matter if we build more transit because everything is too spread out to be possibly reached by transit!). To break the cycle I think you sometimes need to do more than just respond to whatever the latest short-term demand is, but since that usually means spending (or giving up) some money without immediate tangible returns, it's hard to get people to agree to, even if they ultimately agree with the end goal.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:03 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Similar situation in Boston ...

What The Cost Of Renting An Apartment In Boston Looks Like
A new tool developed by Jeff Kaufman, a 27-year-old programmer at Google in Cambridge, allows apartment renters to visualize where Boston’s most and least expensive apartments are. Kaufman’s heat map displays the cost per bedroom relative to each Boston neighborhood.

... Areas of Cambridge along the Red Line also display expensive apartment listings, where the booming tech economy is squeezing commercial rents for startups.
posted by ericb at 9:05 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yep. The big culture-magnet cities seem to generally have a more working-class alternative a few miles away. SF-Oakland, DC-Baltimore, NYC-Newark.

The difference from the other pairs though is that Oakland has a better quality of life than SF.

Holy cow - what's going on with Seacliff?

Forget that, how the hell is Bayview more expensive than the Sunset and the Inner Richmond?
posted by psoas at 9:08 AM on January 31, 2013


It's interesting that the mainstream coverage of (tech-worker-driven) gentrification in San Francisco is so much less sympathetic than the mainstream coverage of (artsy-hipster-driven) gentrification in Brooklyn.

Bizarre, if true, because it seems to me like there is a substantial amount of overlap between those communities.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:08 AM on January 31, 2013


I used to walk, BART, Caltrain and then shuttle to work. It was absurd.

shoepal, I did the same thing to get to a job in downtown Boston, a decade ago. *shrug*

I agree, it sucks. After I moved, I was working 40 hours per week and en route another 20. Forget that: I got a job in another state and switched back to car commuting, so now I drive under 30 minutes a day -- and it's as few as 18 on Labor Day (when the students return and we have to work)!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on January 31, 2013


why aren't there thriving new communities in Cupertino or Mountain View?

Zoning laws. Communities like the kind already available in SF require a density of housing and amenities (coffee shops, bars, restaurants, public transit...sidewalks) that those places don't want to build right now or possibly ever.

Forget that, how the hell is Bayview more expensive than the Sunset and the Inner Richmond?

Closer to the freeway and Caltrain.
posted by rtha at 9:11 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have real hope that the Clipper Card system might be a way out of this mess. My experience over the past few years, since getting a smartphone and a transit card, has been a total transformation of how I move through the Bay Area. Bus schedules are no longer a mystery, and transit fares are no longer dependent on the coins in my pockets. I think CC is a possible wedge to allow for better area-wide governance, which would allow for smarter and larger-scale transportation and land-use plans. Maybe BART through San Mateo county, which rejected it in 1961?
posted by migurski at 9:18 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Zoning laws. Communities like the kind already available in SF require a density of housing and amenities (coffee shops, bars, restaurants, public transit...sidewalks) that those places don't want to build right now or possibly ever.

The powers that be have got the suburbs sprawled out almost exactly how they want them. For them it is a feature not a bug. They think the people who live downtown with homeless people piss and commute an hour each way to work are like aliens or something.
posted by bukvich at 9:19 AM on January 31, 2013


dsm, one thing about the Jersey-side cities (Jersey City, Harrison, Newark) that makes them somewhat special is that the public transit is often actually pretty excellent - HBLR, PATH, etc. Having lived in both Jersey City and Williamsburg the (24h!) PATH was at least as reliable and ran close to as often as, say, the L train, at least pre-Sandy: good service during work hours, sparse but way-better-than-nothing service all night. Apart from maybe Chicago I have no idea where else in the USA you can get that.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2013


..why aren't there thriving new communities in Cupertino or Mountain View?

Have you been to either of those cities recently? Mountain View has a beautiful little downtown and Cupertino just built (a few years back) a new town square and revitalized a shopping center with a theatre. There's lots of stuff going on in the South Bay.

There's an entire new townhouse community 200 feet from the Mountain View Caltrain Station. Reconstruction projects have rebuilt the freeway overpass and are constructing new neighborhoods in Sunnyvale. Los Altos is in the process of a downtown revitalization effort that is making that Norman-Rockwellesque burg even better. This stuff is going on all up and down the peninsula, even to San Jose. There are walkable downtowns and cute neighborhoods all within a short walk of public transit -- from Burlingame on southward.

Who gives a shit? It's not San Francisco.
posted by phoebus at 9:28 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason (apart from the failure to properly plan, and a horrendous public transportation system, as mentioned above), is that building codes in SF are very restrictive. It is illegal to tear down a building to build a larger one (the original facade must be maintained, and you cannot add stories). That is the case even if that building is, say, completely burned out. With an effective cap on inventory, and a growing population (more people want to live in the city, and less want to live out in the burbs), it is not surprising that rents go up.

There's something else to be considered here: Some neighborhoods in SF were simply not very nice places not long ago. They are rapidly getting better, and as a consequence, rents go up. This is gentrification, and people hate it for all the hipsters and expensive coffee and housing that comes with it, but is that really worse than the muggings, rapes, and the occasional shooting on the corner (we had one about three years ago, kind of unthinkable now, it changes pretty fast)?

Portrero, the Mission, even Noe Valley, all had their gangs not too long ago, they are on the way out or gone now. Sure, probably not very many starving poets left in Noe either, and that's sad in a way, but it's a tradeoff, and most people pay more for a safe environment than for one with a poet.
posted by dlg at 9:31 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a relatively new transplant to the bay area, and ended up in the East Bay. Even within tech, the rents in San Francisco are absurd; not everyone works for a Google, after all. The software industry as we know it was built on startups, which often needfully operate on a shoestring in their early years. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are no longer shoestring sorts of places, which means that the next crop of very early-stage startups - and in turn, many of the next generation of software companies - will be elsewhere. Oakland is a great bet; so is the North Bay, which already houses a bunch of biotech companies, and is about to get commuter rail.
posted by bwerdmuller at 9:34 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


How Skyscrapers Can Save the City
Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity. Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.
posted by thomisc at 9:35 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not like house prices are any better. My sister and I live in roughly comparable houses. Hers is worth about $150K and mine... about $1M. Her, the midwest, me, the south bay.

What I don't understand is how rents and house prices can explode and inflation remains extremely low. Because clearly housing costs are growing.
posted by GuyZero at 9:41 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is gentrification, and people hate it for all the hipsters and expensive coffee and housing that comes with it, but is that really worse than the muggings, rapes, and the occasional shooting on the corner (we had one about three years ago, kind of unthinkable now, it changes pretty fast)?

See, and here's the important thing here, this is a false choice. Replacing the residents of a neighborhood isn't the only way to make a neighborhood safer, and in fact just displaces the violence elsewhere.

I don't mean to sound judgmental because I live in a gentrifying neighborhood too and am as much a beneficiary of this dynamic as anyone else. But the thing gentrifiers should absolutely not do is invent self-serving narratives of why this process is for the greater good.
posted by downing street memo at 9:43 AM on January 31, 2013 [16 favorites]



Forget that, how the hell is Bayview more expensive than the Sunset and the Inner Richmond?

New condo construction and the T. Interestingly, the Bayview has historically had one of the higher rates of home ownership in the City, in spite of being one of the poorest and most crime-plagued areas. Poorer people tend to stay in their family homes, and remain where they have ties to (generally) more tight-knit communities. Unfortunately what happens when new rental "live-work" lofts get built in these neighborhoods is the worst sort of gentrification: people moving into vertical gated communities and doing their working, eating, shopping, and socializing elsewhere. The people in condo rentals usually don't have families, so there's no incentive to fix schools or parks locally. It's not a boon to the existing community at all, except sometimes in the case of roads and public transit. This type of development does nothing for community building as the people in the rentals learn to resent the lousy parts of their still poor neighborhood, and the long-time residents get more traffic and not much else. Sadly, when your local economy is no longer driven by manufacturing but by real-estate priorities shift in ways that rely on a steady influx of more and wealthier newcomers.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


I, for one, would like to see more sky scrapers. I'm waiting for the long-promised MegaSkyScrapers.

Forget that, how the hell is Bayview more expensive than the Sunset and the Inner Richmond?

Bayview is right on the Third Street Muni line (T) that goes direct to Soma and Financial District. It's near Caltrain and the highways for those who go south. And it's frequently Sunny. It takes forever to get to Downtown or Soma from the Sunset... by Muni or car.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2013


It would be useful if the information about apartment rents was broken down by apartment size/number of rooms.

JFCLI. That's what you get for >$1,000 in SF this month.

The problem with skycrapers (in SF at least) is that they are almost all luxury (who wants Cabrini Green?) apartments that don't really apply as housing for people who live there. Also, there are no neighborhoods around them (outside of the workaday).

Also, earthquakes.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:48 AM on January 31, 2013


shoepal: "I don't know if it gets discussed much, but I know a lot of younger people in DC and to some extent NYC are subsidized by their parents. In SF, the dotcom salaries tend to correlate with the insane rents, but DC seems to have a lot of people making much less than what the (rental) market reflects."

I grew up in the NYC suburbs and now live in DC. I'd argue that the phenomena that you describe is overwhelmingly NYC-based -- in fact, it's pretty much the thing that inspired the nationwide gentrification backlash and vilification of hipsters.

NYC has a lot of people living expensively on virtually no income, while DC has a small but growing population of people who have their incomes augmented. That said, I am starting to see a whole lot more recent AU/GW grads living in apartments that they couldn't possibly afford. I wonder if this has to do with DC's gradually improving "image," NYC's gradual slide into being "unhip," the proliferation of unpaid internships, colleges with $55,000 tuition, the generally dismal employment scenario, or something else entirely.

In my own personal experience, DC-area employers were some of the only ones who were even willing to look at a fresh graduate from a non-Ivy school, and pay a living wage for it. It isn't much, but to badly paraphrase David Rakoff, "I pay the fucking rent."

shoepal: " Interestingly, in '00 in the Mission there was an organized backlash whereas in DC it doesn't feel like anyone cares enough to organize. "

The DC gentrification story has a strong racial undertone to it, which generally makes people afraid to go near it.

Also, the reality of the gentrification narrative is a lot different than the one that people seem to be wanting to tell. This makes an organized backlash even more difficult. It's rarely as simple as rich white people displacing poor black people, or that it's even opposed by the existing residents.

In my neighborhood, a lot of the long-term residents are either rent-controlled (by the grandfather clause -- real rent control went away a long time ago) or own their homes. For the most part, they're the chief beneficiaries of gentrification -- why on earth would they want to oppose it?
posted by schmod at 9:49 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


The company buses (the map link) really underscore the failure of public transportation in the US, even in a place as supposedly progressive as SF. They're literally the opposite of public transportation

I lament this as well, but looking briefly into the numbers is staggering. This is really rough and I'm open to a more nuanced back of the envelope, but:

Apple Revenues in 2012: $156 B
Apple Employees in 2012: 73,000
Apple Employees in NoCA campus: 13,000
Apple Rev in NoCA: $28 B

Annual Budget of SF govt: $6B

It's not apples to apples (sorry), but it's a small look into the big difference in financial capacity when you compare public and private resources. Core-competency or no, Apple can take on and solve this problem with more clarity of purpose, less bureaucratic process and more money than the entire City who's labor force it's leveraging.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_of_San_Francisco#Budget
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Campus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Inc.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:54 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


@downing street memo: I'm not saying you should displace people in order to make neighborhoods safer. The causation here goes both ways: As soon as you succeed (by any means) to make the neighborhood safer, you will start to displace people, because rents skyrocket. You can also start by displacing people with wealthier ones, which will likely make the neighborhood safer, but that's not something I advocate per se. I do like the safer neighborhood better, that's all.

It's (unfortunately) very hard to make a city neighborhood safe, and at the same time keep rents low enough to keep everybody there. It's a more desirable place, and people will pay more to live there, and therefore, poor people will be pushed out.
posted by dlg at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with skycrapers (in SF at least) is that they are almost all luxury (who wants Cabrini Green?) apartments that don't really apply as housing for people who live there. Also, there are no neighborhoods around them (outside of the workaday).

The idea is that while the luxury skyscrapers do cater to the rich, the expanded supply of luxury real estate will also lower demand on more modest properties, making them more affordable to the middle class.

Also, earthquakes.

Japan, Taiwan, many other Asian countries in the ring of fire seem to do just fine in constructing earthquake resistant skyscrapers.
posted by gyc at 9:58 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


And I'll take the SF of today over the SF of 1993 any day.

And also, to be fair and contrarian, the most active I was as an SF citizen and participant was back in the '90s, when I rode a Google-style bus from SF to Redwood city every morning (25th and Guerrero at 7:30am) back to SF at night (Church and Market at 7pm). I was also 25, which helps.

I overheard someone note recently that the buses shortened her daily commute to 3.5 hours from 4.5.

Not buying it, though I guess it gets worse down past Menlo/Palo Alto ...

I guess I'm not sure that things have really changed that much since '94-'95. SF was dealing with all these problems back in the late '90s too, though the technology is new.

I dunno. I didn't get much from this article. *shrug*

They're literally the opposite of public transportation

No, the private automobile is literally the opposite of public transportation. Someone might argue these passengers would each be driving their own cars if not for the Google bus. As someone who frequents BART, Muni, or Caltrain every day, I don't stress about the Google bus.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 AM on January 31, 2013


Amen to enn. I moved from San Francisco to Chicago in '09, and the difference in rents and home prices is just shocking. That has obvious implications--more money to spend on food and entertainment--but less obvious ones too.

For example, it means the city isn't frozen in amber. When you have people paying $1m for a smallish condo, they get risk-averse. NIMBYism runs rampant, and the result is a static theme park-y feel reminiscent in some ways of master planned developments. What little development happens in San Francisco's Victorian neighborhoods tends to be small-scale, conservative, and historicist. And pricy, of course.

Oakland is under-appreciated and actually a very nice place, but if you're a city person, you're going to find it sleepy. In my experience, once San Francisco starts to seem ridiculous to you, the right thing to do is to move to Chicago. The best value proposition in the country, bar none.
posted by hal incandenza at 9:59 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


The idea is that while the luxury skyscrapers do cater to the rich, the expanded supply of luxury real estate will also lower demand on more modest properties, making them more affordable to the middle class.

Yeah, the idea is wrong, and has been proven wrong time and time again.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]



Yeah, the idea is wrong, and has been proven wrong time and time again.


Cite? There isn't an unlimited market for luxury housing.
posted by ghharr at 10:04 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my experience, once San Francisco starts to seem ridiculous to you, the right thing to do is to move to Chicago. The best value proposition in the country, bar none.

That's assuming you can stomach very cold winters and Midwest culture. And people who think Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever, or even worse, root for the Cubs. No thank you. (Can you tell I grew up in Detroit?)

Oakland is under-appreciated and actually a very nice place, but if you're a city person, you're going to find it sleepy.

I've lived in Oakland, and I love lots of things about Oakland, but overall ... it kinda sucks. Everything is spread out and far and too dark and too quiet, and everybody goes over to SF to do anything. It is like living on the moon.

As for North/South/East options, I have been pretty pleased with Berkeley so far, if only for the fresh injection of spirit, events, etc. from the university. Berkeley has a "there"; Oakland really doesn't. It's also less segregated, imo. It's still fucking sleepy, of course.

As for the rest, I really like the "wrong" side of Redwood City. I think it's the best bargain in the Bay Area, but my wife will never go south. Sure, North Bay has some great spots, but certainly out of my league, pricewise and transportation wise (difficult commutes).
posted by mrgrimm at 10:05 AM on January 31, 2013


This is the third time (at least) that we've had this thread in a month. I'm terrified because I really want to move to SF/the Bay in the next ~2 years but the costs are crazy. Then again rents in Boston are going up as well.

I think the suggestion that zoning regulations be lightened so that people can build 4-6 story apartments, like you see in Brooklyn, make a lot of sense.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:06 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Core-competency or no, Apple can…
Heh.
…take on and solve this problem with more clarity of purpose, less bureaucratic process and more money than the entire City.
Apple might be able to run buses with more clarity and less overhead, but that’s not the same thing as solving the problem. Public transportation (and government generally) needs to be fair more than it needs to be efficient, and private companies like Apple have no interest in fairness. Nor should they, they’re private. The corporate shuttles are more than just transit, they function as rolling offices so employees do work on them. That means wi-fi, comfy seats, and ID checks at the door so you can talk about internal projects without competitors overhearing. Public transportation has other needs: running extended hours for workers, low costs, and reach into poorer and outlying neighborhoods.
posted by migurski at 10:06 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


In my neighborhood, a lot of the long-term residents are either rent-controlled (by the grandfather clause -- real rent control went away a long time ago) or own their homes. For the most part, they're the chief beneficiaries of gentrification -- why on earth would they want to oppose it?

I agree that gentrification doesn't have to be a bad thing. I once yelled at an acquaintance who was complaining about gentrification in the neighborhood that I was living in. West Oakland is quite poor, and many of the residents own their homes. However it used to be a thriving, middle-class neighborhood. I don't think the people living there now should be condemned to live forever in a poor, crumbling neighborhood where their homes aren't worth anything and their schools suck. At the same time the gentrification like I discussed above doesn't help that situation- different priorities, wealthier residents moving in with no concern for the neighborhood, just a desire for stainless steel appliances, a secure garage, and an easy commute out. Whereas my friends and I bought things at the local store (owned by local residents), people who buy cheap condos in disadvantaged places usually don't get out of their cars. But there's gentrification where people who genuinely want to live in a particular neighborhood and invest in the community come with a bit more money and enthusiasm and that can help everyone. That's often a more organic situation where you have people willing to give up some amenities for cheaper rent or home ownership. It's rarely development-driven, if at all. Organic gentrification can be a good thing, but in many cities it's less about pioneering souls who are willing to give up secure parking or a grocery store instead of a liquor store, and more about developers doing cheap land grabs. It used to be artists and immigrants who gentrified neighborhoods, and now around here it's real estate investors.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:07 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cite?

I've been living in SF since 1990 and been watching it happen. Call it anecdata. Luxury skyscraper production has had no or little effect on housing prices. Zilch. So no, no cite.

I'm terrified because I really want to move to SF/the Bay in the next ~2 years but the costs are crazy.

My entire team works for $20/hr and lives in SF. That's not chump change pay (for this industry it sort of is), but it's not high living. It's far from impossible to live in SF cheaply, especially if you are willing to have a few roommates. Here are all the rooms currently available for under $500/mo. on CL. Honestly, the situation doesn't seem much different than 1996 and 1997. There's still a bubble, folks.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2013


On the Google & Apple shuttles, for what it's worth... they're also a scheme that allows suburban companies to increase their seating density without a corresponding increase in parking spots. Without the shuttles, Google's campus would look like a megamall and not an office complex. The same for Apple's HQ although Apple is currently a lot more spread out in cupertino all over the place.

At any rate, this is as much about office parking as it is about city vs suburbs and transit vs driving.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Portrero, the Mission, even Noe Valley, all had their gangs not too long ago, they are on the way out or gone now.

I don't know why you think this. Why do you think this? I live in the Mission. Gang activity, including shootings, is still a not-uncommon occurrence.
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, so it's been a little over a month.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:13 AM on January 31, 2013


Yeah, I almost have trouble believing what I hear about Chicago. Dense, at least some 24h transit, the ability to rent a place for less than $800 -- jeez, maybe I should move there.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:15 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been living in SF since 1990 and been watching it happen. Call it anecdata. Luxury skyscraper production has had no or little effect on housing prices. Zilch. So no, no cite.

SF has added ~89,000 people since then and has only added ~31,000 housing units (pdf). The price would have gone up no matter how luxurious / not luxurious the units were.
posted by ghharr at 10:19 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in DC in the 80s, and would regularly pick up bullet casings from the gutter on the way to school. I remember making a charm bracelet out of them, which disturbed the heck out of my parents.

Now there's a Au Bon Pain on a street corner where there used to be a chinese/subs/fried chicken takeout place. I remember watching someone get stabbed in front of there when I was a teenager. The sidewalk has since been torn up and relaid, to match the beautiful, sterile office highrise that was installed.

Whenever I visit my family there, DC is completely unrecognizable to me now. I am OK with that.
posted by xthlc at 10:23 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying you should displace people in order to make neighborhoods safer. The causation here goes both ways: As soon as you succeed (by any means) to make the neighborhood safer, you will start to displace people, because rents skyrocket. You can also start by displacing people with wealthier ones, which will likely make the neighborhood safer, but that's not something I advocate per se. I do like the safer neighborhood better, that's all.

Two things here. First, no doubt the causation runs both ways to some degree. But I think that the arrow pretty obviously runs gentrification -> less crime, because gentrifiers very often consciously pick out higher-crime neighborhoods to move to. But in either case, what you're still ultimately saying is that safe neighborhoods are for well-to-do people, a proposition that I reject.

The second thing is that "safety" is a relative good. You like the fact that in your neighborhood, headline crime statistics are low. But it's not like the victims of gentrification were uniformly at risk of the higher crime rates. They had the ability to read the neighborhood - know when something was out of place, know what street not to park on, know which gang to cross the street to avoid. Their ability to safely navigate an unsafe place bought them cheaper housing closer to their jobs. So it's important to think about the actual incidence of crime across a given community - very typically that crime is concentrated in certain segments and wasn't a huge deal for the day-to-day life of the community as a whole.
posted by downing street memo at 10:25 AM on January 31, 2013


Their ability to safely navigate an unsafe place bought them cheaper housing closer to their jobs.

What's the dividing line between a gentrifier and a victim of gentrification? Cheap housing close to work is what gentrifiers want as well.
posted by ghharr at 10:28 AM on January 31, 2013


I wonder if that's perhaps because the NYC journos think of most Brooklynite hipsters as being unemployed wanna-bes, and they are therefore not threatening in the same way that a 22-year-old Google engineer making 5x your salary is? Or maybe because a journalist (say, hypothetically, a staff writer for a daily) is in a different place on the social totem pole in Brooklyn vs SF? I'm genuinely curious.

Two things.

1. The hypothetical journalist is the Brooklyn gentrifier, so it's seen in the framework of "us" rather than "them". It's easily understandable to the author of the piece, because said author is, herself, living in Williamsburg or Fort Greene or wherever. Whereas in articles about housing prices and silicon valley, it's unlikely that the author of the piece actually works for Google or Apple or whatever.

2. For most of the last 15 years, Brooklyn has been where you live because it's cheaper than Manhattan. Brooklyn has been gentrifying, but it's a special area away from the main city where creative people choose to live as an alternative to living in the city proper. That is probably changing now, as some Brooklyn neighborhoods are on par with or even more expensive than the typical Manhattan neighborhoods, and as Brooklyn becomes more of a cultural epicenter rather than that weird place those crazy artists go because they're too broke to come into the city and do normal stuff. For that reason, it's not really comparable to the situation in San Francisco, which to me sounds more like the gentrification that was happening in Manhattan neighborhoods like the Village and the Upper West Side in the 90's, not like Brooklyn in the teens or whatever we're calling this decade we're in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


SF has added ~89,000 people since then and has only added ~31,000 housing units (pdf). The price would have gone up no matter how luxurious / not luxurious the units were.

Totally agree that "luxury" housing is a red herring. More housing = cheaper housing, ceteris paribus. Housing growth hasn't even remotely kept pace with population growth in major cities, a symptom of nimbyism and dumb anti-growth laws.
posted by downing street memo at 10:33 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


What's the dividing line between a gentrifier and a victim of gentrification? Cheap housing close to work is what gentrifiers want as well.

Of course. But why should gentrifiers have it at the expense of the gentrified?

Again I'm not trying to be a douche here. Discussions of this among white, well-to-do progressives often get nasty; purity contests and one-upsmanship are the dominant concern of our discourse, not equality. I've read progressive writers on twitter who berate people who move to NE DC and other gentrifying neighborhoods, that's not what I'm going for here.

My basic point is that we seem to have, very conveniently, come up with a narrative, based in economics, that explains why the dispossession of relatively less well-off people is actually a good thing, the greatest of things. I don't think the answer is, "don't move to the city", I just want people to think and grapple with these issues critically, is all.
posted by downing street memo at 10:39 AM on January 31, 2013


i think this boils down to "engineer" thinking - get the problem solved, now. get those people to the campus. no time to mess around with the city and the 10+ years it would take to build whatever transportation systems are needed. just use the existing infrastructure. sucks, but that's what capital does.

Do you really think that Google or Apple or whoever actually has 10+ years to wait around? That's an eternity. Google has barely even existed for that long. Waiting for government agencies to grind their way through the California budget disaster would have been stupid; they'd have long since lost all the SF-based people they were trying to recruit to startups or to whichever competitor jumped on the private transit idea first.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:41 AM on January 31, 2013


Oh, how totally fucking sad it is to live in one of the few American cities that actually has a functioning economy. Cry me a fucking river, Solnit. Actually, no, I'll do you one better. Come with me to my hometown of St. Louis, where you can live your low-rent bohemian dream in an economically depressed city that nobody gives a crap about. Certainly no "Google Bus" there.

I'm sick to shit of articles seeking to chastise me for having marketable skills and wanting to live in the city. Fact : cities are expensive BECAUSE PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE THERE. It's supply and demand. The crack epidemic is over, crime rates have gone down, and people want to live in the city again. This is a good thing! It means (potentially) an end to the disastrous and wasteful experiment in American suburban development.

Only problem? While we were ensconced in that experiment, we created an entire built environment based around terrible ideas. Those tech companies are in Silicon Valley because that's where people wanted to live in the 70s and 80s. Those people riding the "Google Bus"? They'd actually rather not be riding the "Google Bus"! Or maybe Solnit would know this if she actually took time to talk to the "neatly dressed, uncool, a little out of place [...] tech workers, many of them new to the region, are mostly white or Asian male nerds in their twenties and thirties".

(As a sidenote, was anybody else annoyed by her gross stereotyping of engineers? And, among these "whites and Asians", where are all the Indians? Are we even talking about the same Silicon Valley?)

No, the riders of the "Google Bus" moved to the city because, like 77 percent of millennials, they want to live in a city. You think they enjoy wasting 4 hours of day on a bus? Hell no. But their other option is a sad, lonely life in a boring (and still expensive!) suburb. Fortunately, tech companies are moving into the city, although Solnit and her ilk like to complain about that, too.

Whenever people write The Gentrification Article, they're dipping into the same ideological pool as the gun-toting conservatives : longing for idealized "good old days" that never actually existed. Only, instead of 1950s suburbia, they long for the dirty 70s and 80s, when they moshed at Dead Kennedys shows or shot up in Tompkins Square Park with Lou Reed or whatever.

Cities change and cities changed. We're currently waking up from the 20th century with an excruciating urban sprawl hangover. Cities are becoming nicer places to live and work, and people want to live and work there. This is a good thing! And in my opinion, there are few problems in SF that couldn't be mitigated by improved public transportation and supportive housing for the homeless.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2013 [33 favorites]


It means (potentially) an end to the disastrous and wasteful experiment in American suburban development.

Actually, for the time being at least, it means someone else has to live in the suburbs the new city-dwellers were raised in. In other words, we started an experiment, decided we didn't like it, and are beginning to force others to live with the results.

I agree with you that a move back to the cities is a good thing overall. And if the author were primarily complaining about missing the "grime" of 70's-era SF and NY, I'd also agree that was silly. But real people have been dispossessed by this trend and I think reacting to that with this kind of glibness doesn't serve anyone.
posted by downing street memo at 10:55 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come with me to my hometown of St. Louis, where you can live your low-rent bohemian dream in an economically depressed city that nobody gives a crap about. Certainly no "Google Bus" there.

The depth of your suffering is profouuuuuuuuuuuuund.
posted by liketitanic at 10:55 AM on January 31, 2013


Of course. But why should gentrifiers have it at the expense of the gentrified?

Right but where do you draw the line and say "Ok, from now on everyone that moves in is a gentrifier"? My point is that the whole thing is a process of people with various levels of constraints on their housing choices all making the best choice for themselves and it's dumb to put people on sides when everyone is being acted on by the same economic forces ie a sort of general refusal to allow popular areas to get more dense.
posted by ghharr at 10:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think she's indirectly complaining about the completely insane costs of doing pretty much anything in San Francisco, coupled with a legal/regulatory environment that makes it very difficult to add any new housing, and a poorly planned public transportation system.

This is not The Gentrification Article. It's the We're Literally Running Out Of Room Here article.
posted by schmod at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


yes, yes, yes, afroblanco, a million times yes. The real problem here is not the private buses, but the fact that Silicon Valley was foolishly built out in the middle of nowhere. Now that you've got a whole generation of young engineers coming up who think of the suburbs as empty, mind-numbing wastelands, the tech companies whose HQs are stuck out in the hinterlands are having an increasingly serious recruiting problem.

Don't think of the GBus as a perk: it's a recruiting tool. It's not that Google is providing better transit for its employees by running these buses; it's that Google would not have these employees at all without the GBus, because commuting would be impractical, and for an increasing number of smart young people relocating away from the city is simply out of the question.

Over the long run, this problem will solve itself, because the tech companies will gradually relocate themselves into the cities. The pressure toward the urban cores will only grow; as an entire generation grows up who see the suburbs as a vast distant wasteland of tedium, misery, and environmental destruction, the premium companies will have to pay to entice people to come visit their far-away offices will only grow. At some point the cost of real estate in the city will start to seem cheap by comparison.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


this is as much about office parking as it is about city vs suburbs and transit vs driving
It is also about the capacity (of highways and on/off-ramps to those highways. And add a little for maintenance of those highways under increased load in an earthquake zone.

Company buses might be the best solution for the tech campuses in the South Bay, even though that makes living in SF proper more attractive to workers.

This is a region-wide problem of urban planning, high rents in SF are just a localized symptom. And the way the smaller municipalities (Cupertino, for one) have so much of their tax base held by a single corporate campus makes it more difficult to address across the region.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 11:01 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, also this was funny...

Santa Clara County economy ranked best performing

So Google and Apple HQs both are located in Santa Clara County. And while it is nice here, a friend's reaction to reading this article was "If this is the best place in the entire US then the rest of the country must really be a complete shithole."
posted by GuyZero at 11:01 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Those tech companies are in Silicon Valley because that's where people wanted to live in the 70s and 80s.

I suspect it may have more to do with Stanford, the U.S. Navy, H-P, Lockheed, etc, evolving into an industrial center with a critical mass of science and technology talent. There was an article a while back talking a about how we are losing industrial centers to China and Taiwan and they won't be easy to build up again.

The evolution of Silicon Valley would be interesting to study more.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:04 AM on January 31, 2013


"If this is the best place in the entire US then the rest of the country must really be a complete shithole."

That was my reaction as well after moving here from San Diego. Santa Clara county is just a big industrial park with good schools.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right but where do you draw the line and say "Ok, from now on everyone that moves in is a gentrifier"? My point is that the whole thing is a process of people with various levels of constraints on their housing choices all making the best choice for themselves and it's dumb to put people on sides when everyone is being acted on by the same economic forces ie a sort of general refusal to allow popular areas to get more dense.

I'm not sure I see the point of drawing a bright line, because gentrification is a long-term macro trend that happens to communities, not individuals per se. But if you, exercising your housing choice, means others have fewer or less desirable housing choices, you're likely a gentrifier.

Reading the last clause of your second sentence, I think we actually agree. But absent higher density, the competition for urban housing is near zero-sum, and the dispossession of less well-off individuals and groups is a reality.
posted by downing street memo at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2013


many of them new to the region

Is this actually true? I'm new to living in California, and not from the West Coast at all, but almost everyone I've ever known who worked in high tech and lived in the Bay Area was from out that way. Maybe they were originally from Oregon or Utah something and moved to SF as the nearest big city to do their web developer thing in, but in my experience people who are from other places who want tech jobs tend to just get tech jobs where they already live. I know exactly one person who has relocated to San Francisco because he's a developer and that's where the money is -- and he was a developer for a long ass time in New York before he was basically forced to move out there for work reasons.

Silicon Valley/San Francisco doesn't seem to have nearly the pull on people that, say, Hollywood/SoCal or Wall Street/NYC have. Those are cities with very real industries wherein you must live there or you simply cannot have that job. Every city has tech jobs, and most major cities have their own little equivalent of the Silicon Valley tech/startup/developer scene.

On the other hand, San Francisco is a much smaller city, so it's probably much more easily overwhelmed by the few genuine newbies that they actually get. I guess I'm just tired of SF natives whining about all these unwashed masses of eeeeewwwwww Other People who want to move there. Especially since a tiny minority of people who do this complaining actually have deep roots in the area. It comes off as parochial and NIMBYish and whiny.
posted by Sara C. at 11:13 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Housing growth hasn't even remotely kept pace with population growth in major cities, a symptom of nimbyism and dumb anti-growth laws.

That's a lot of handwaving there. San Francisco, like a lot of other cities, has a long history of really crappy redevelopment plans that displaced where people were already living. Like:
San Francisco was not always a city where activists mattered. From the end of World War II until the 1970s, the growth of San Francisco reads like a hypothetical example made up to illustrate Molotch's (1976; 1979) growth-coalition theory. The downtown growth elites, led by some of the largest corporations in the United States, and organized as the Bay Area Council, were out to "Manhattanize" the downtown, and they succeeded. The basic plan, which followed the same script found for other cities that have been studied in any detail, was to accelerate the dispersion of industry to outlying areas, roust out nearby low-income neighborhoods, and remake the city as a financial and office center. The plan also turned the city into a convention and tourist center: the number of hotel rooms rose from 3,300 in 1959 to 9,000 in 1970 to 30,000 in 1999 (Hartman, 2002, p. 24).

[snip]

While the Redevelopment Agency was taking shape in the late 1950s, an area-wide corporate group, the Bay Area Council, of which the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association was in effect a subcommittee, was making plans for the construction of a rapid transit system that would carry employees and customers to the city from all over the Bay Area (Whitt, 1982, Chapter 2). Corporate-backed planning and construction also began on major freeways that would criss-cross the city, impacting many different neighborhoods, some of them decidedly upscale. It was here that the growth coalition began to generate some serious opposition.

A proposed leg of the freeway that would have cut through middle- and upper-middle class neighborhoods as it moved along the shore of the San Francisco Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge was halted in its tracks in 1959 by a coalition of merchants and neighborhoods (#1 on map). This victory provided activists with a permanent reminder of their success because the already built portions of that freeway, high on large cement pillars, were not dismantled. In fact, Beitel (2004, p. 57) concludes that "the neighborhood movement in San Francisco emerged in response to this proposed extension." Roughly the same coalition, with some important new additions, then stopped an extension of the freeway in 1965 that would have plowed through a predominantly black neighborhood (the Western Addition, about which more below) as well as the famous Golden Gate Park. Some of these anti-freeway activists later became involved in the more general anti-growth, pro-neighborhood struggle that slowly emerged in the late 1960s and picked up steam in the 1970s. However, the leadership of the later movement was decidedly younger and more progressive than the anti-freeway groups.
The destruction of a black neighborhood

The original battles over urban renewal were fought in the Western Addition, not far from the downtown (#2 on map). The first part of this project started in 1962 and displaced approximately 4,000 people. There was relatively little protest because families who owned their homes were able to cash out and move to African American neighborhoods across the bay in Oakland and Richmond, while those who were renters relied on reassurances that there would be adequate relocation payments and help in finding housing of comparable cost. But by the time the second part of the project began in 1965, there was far greater resistance because it was now clear that those who were displaced would have to fend for themselves and most likely would be forced to pay higher rents in the growing black neighborhood at Hunter's Point, at the south end of the city (#3 on map). In addition, there were black and white civil rights activists who were ready to help defend the neighborhood. Moreover, they were initially supported by some union leaders, especially from those unions, like the longshoremen, that had a significant number of African American members.

However, in a microcosm of the nationwide divisions that mushroomed in the crucial years 1965 to 1967, the traditionally white unions in some labor sectors gradually sided with the growth coalition for a complicated set of reasons. Those reasons started with their desire to create more jobs for construction and hotel workers, but at the same time they involved the fact that white union members resented black activists who were demanding the integration of basically all-white unions as well as the assurance of jobs for African Americans on any redevelopment projects in their neighborhood. These deeply rooted schisms were widened by the growing union support for the Vietnam War at the same time that most African Americans were coming to oppose it in the name of greater attention to the many problems the country faced at home. (Recall that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, opposition to the war made him persona non grata with the corporate moderates who had come to support the movement for civil rights.) From that point on, most unions -- led by the building trades unions and the restaurant, hotel, and bartenders' unions -- sided with the growth coalition on urban renewal in the name of "more jobs," while becoming more and more blatant in their unwillingness to desegregate their unions, thereby further embittering the African American community. The once powerful and militant longshoremen quietly stepped to the side.

While all this was going on, and the leadership of the local Democratic Party was appointing mainstream African Americans and trade union leaders to local government positions, another 10,000 people, mostly African American, were displaced from the Western Addition. Along the way, and crucially, the area's thriving retail and entertainment district was destroyed. Rather stunningly, most of the area then laid vacant for a quarter century, leading to further alienation and decline in the African American community:

The neighborhood once touted by residents as the "Harlem of the West Coast" was a shell of its former self. Gone were the jazz clubs, the night spots, small neighborhood retail shops, and church fronts that had once crowded along Fillmore street. Nor would any redevelopment in the razed commercial corridor along Fillmore Street be forthcoming, as the six square blocks in the center of the A-2 area would remain vacant for almost 25 years. San Francisco's black population, which had grown steadily between 1940 and 1970, would subsequently decline, and with it the political clout of the city's black leadership. (Beitel, 2004, p. 47)

To the degree that there was any redevelopment in the Western Addition after most of it had been razed, it was through highrise apartments, office buildings, and a Japanese Trade and Cultural Center in honor of the gradually disappearing Japanese-American neighborhood on the edge of the Western Addition. There was virtually no affordable housing included in the project. For those who wonder why African Americans used to call urban renewal "Negro removal," the story of the 14,000 people pushed out of the Western Addition drives the point home.
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


That's a lot of handwaving there. San Francisco, like a lot of other cities, has a long history of really crappy redevelopment plans that displaced where people were already living. Like:

This is really interesting history, thanks. I knew of DC's similar history but didn't know about this.

I guess my question would be - why are the two narratives mutually exclusive? Big, Corbusian redevelopment plans generally speaking appear to be a thing of the past, at least among large, culture-heavy American cities. I think what I'm saying is that housing hasn't kept up in the past five years, which has led to these spikes.
posted by downing street memo at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2013


Santa Clara county is just a big industrial park with good schools.

... which still beats 99% of the rest of the country.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2013


what you're still ultimately saying is that safe neighborhoods are for well-to-do people, a proposition that I reject.

I don't think he was saying that at all. We live in a world where the market is backed by force, such that when there is not enough food to go around, people without money or power generally go hungry first. Observing that this is so, is not saying it ought to be.

People want food and safety enough to pay for them. If there is not enough to go around, prices go up and those with more market power are at an advantage. Increased safety makes an area pricier as long as there are alternatives that are less safe.
posted by anonymisc at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


the tech companies will gradually relocate themselves into the cities

It may be worth noting here that Google UK is spending £1bn to put facilities in central London, a city with even higher land prices than SF.
posted by bonehead at 11:38 AM on January 31, 2013


I'm not sure I see the point of drawing a bright line, because gentrification is a long-term macro trend that happens to communities, not individuals per se. But if you, exercising your housing choice, means others have fewer or less desirable housing choices, you're likely a gentrifier.

Reading the last clause of your second sentence, I think we actually agree. But absent higher density, the competition for urban housing is near zero-sum, and the dispossession of less well-off individuals and groups is a reality.


I think we do agree. I just don't think individuals should worry about whether they are "gentrifiers" or "gentrification victims" because it's largely an impossible distinction to make, but they should be aware of the process of gentrification and how it's related to policy. People talk about "gentrifiers" as if it's a thing that one group of people is doing to another, but everyone is involved with it. If you move into an area with a growing population, even if it's into an affluent neighborhood that has been in-demand for decades, you're doing your part to constrain people's choices down the line.
posted by ghharr at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2013


someone else has to live in the suburbs the new city-dwellers were raised in

YES EVERYONE GO LIVE IN MODESTO I DARE YOU
posted by psoas at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


But if you, exercising your housing choice, means others have fewer or less desirable housing choices, you're likely a gentrifier.

To state the obvious, this is inevitable unless you're homeless. If you move to the suburbs, you're removing a home from the suburban housing stock. If you move to the city, same deal.

To my mind, there are two valid criticisms of gentrification. The first is that the support structures in place for low-income and immigrant communities are currently located in cities, and that they aren't easy to move to the suburbs. This would imply that urban neighborhoods have value to low-income people that the market doesn't capture. The second is that, for a variety of reasons including zoning, status quo bias, and public policy, we're producing way more suburban spaces than urban ones. We therefore have a nearly fixed supply of cities with abundant service sector jobs, and we expect those jobs to be filled by lower-income people. Driving up prices in urban places denies service sector employees the opportunity to live near their jobs and forces them to spend a ton of money on transportation, while driving up congestion and pollution.

I agree with those arguments, but I don't think they imply that reasonably well-off people are morally obligated to move to the suburbs or to already-wealthy urban enclaves. That would be nuts, and too many anti-gentrification advocates end up making this case. One's moral obligation as an urban gentrifier, in my opinion, is to not advocate for policies that would put your preferred style of living out of reach for others. Or better, to actively advocate for the opposite. Don't be a NIMBY, basically.
posted by hal incandenza at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


If the tech giants move into San Francisco, it won't be because most of their employees do, or want to, live in San Francisco (they aren't and don't), it will be for the same reason that big enterprises usually like to be in the core business district of region -- being at the region's core opens you up to commuting from all suburbs, while being at the periphery limits you to that subset of the region. In other words, Apple won't move to Montgomery Street to appease single 20-something engineers who think that Palo Alto is boring, it will move their so that it can appeal to a married 40-year-old who lives in Walnut Creek and (as a bonus) will only need to pay him the upper middle class Walnut Creek salary vs. the Palo Alto salary which is probably double.
posted by MattD at 11:41 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my experience, once San Francisco starts to seem ridiculous to you, the right thing to do is to move to Chicago. The best value proposition in the country, bar none.

Don't kid yourself; Chicago, like other cities, is a shell of its former self. The traffic exploded in the 90s and never got better, the rents did too (I looked at, and rejected, a 3-bedroom in a decent neighborhood for $600 a month, and three years later it was renting at $1800), and so many people have come in and ignored the local customs that the mayor had to start getting on television to explain the long-standing tradition of saving shoveled-out parking spaces with chairs and tables so that people would stop taking those spaces and getting their cars vandalized in retaliation.

Ultimately, this is the price we pay for a certain amount of re-urbanization; for a while, cities were toxic and emptying out, but now the value of these dense urban spaces is being realized again, and we're suffering for it in tons of ways. Which is great for the health of the cities, of course, but not always great for residents, especially those who never left and so took advantage of their significantly undervalued benefits. If the cities had never emptied out, the rents would never have been as cheap as they were.
posted by davejay at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking of relocating to Chicago from Seattle in the next couple of years or so.

This article is helping me solidify my decision.

(I'm also extremely lucky to be sharing a house for only $720 a month in Columbia City, partially because my landlord, who is also my roommate, hasn't raised my rent at all. I'm staying here for as long as I can. Moving to a more 'desirable' neighborhood, which doesn't have Light Rail yet, and I'm looking at a $400-500 jump a month in rent for something that isn't a moldy hole.)
posted by spinifex23 at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2013


The bottom line about gentrification is that it's just not a useful thing to talk about at the micro level.

I've been a "gentrifier". In fact, right now, being one of only a few white people living in East LA, and looking at residential trends here in the LA area, I'm probably a very early-adopting East LA gentrifier.

I have never moved to a neighborhood because I wanted to displace less privileged people, or because I believe in gentrification as a thing. I move to neighborhoods because they are places I can afford to live. In other words, the same reason anyone else lives in a neighborhood.

Short of guaranteeing every American the right to safe, affordable, and convenient housing and then enacting a bunch of laws to make it so, people are always going to move to neighborhoods they can afford.

I'm not saying gentrification isn't a problem, or that housing market forces in urban areas aren't a problem, or that this isn't a symptom of a much larger concern.

But you can't really deal with any of those problems on the level of "I'm a human and I need shelter". Any criticism needs to start at the institutional level, whether that's looking at real estate developers, looking at infrastructure, looking at poverty, looking at racism, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with those arguments, but I don't think they imply that reasonably well-off people are morally obligated to move to the suburbs or to already-wealthy urban enclaves. That would be nuts, and too many anti-gentrification advocates end up making this case. One's moral obligation as an urban gentrifier, in my opinion, is to not advocate for policies that would put your preferred style of living out of reach for others. Or better, to actively advocate for the opposite. Don't be a NIMBY, basically.

Right, I definitely agree with this. I would also add that gentrifiers should have some respect for the culture they move into. Someone upthread posted about a DC chicken joint, which may have been an eyesore for them, but was almost certainly (if it was like any other DC chicken joints) a focal gathering point for the community.

And I guess there's the biggest rub for me. We have the society we have and the privileged sons and daughters of suburbia are not going to respect the chicken joints of the world. So part of me wonders whether raising density might not displace the residents of a place, but it would displace the culture.

The giant elephant of the room is climate change and I think the idea of cutting carbon emissions by re-urbanization trumps the loss of the corner Popeye's. But still, there's something inequitable in that.
posted by downing street memo at 11:47 AM on January 31, 2013


Well, if you guys get tired of insane rents, come live in the middle of the country. Some of us live in places with lots to do and reasonably urbane living possibilities and still have low rents. I think my mortgage is less than a quarter of what some of you guys are paying for rent in SF and I live in a halfway walkable neighborhood.
posted by wierdo at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2013


The "notable documentary filmmaker" being Ellis-Act-evicted whom Solnit mentions in a blind-item fashion is David Weissman, director of The Cockettes and We Were Here. Here's his open letter about it and proposed SF legislation which would make it easier to convert Tenancies-in-common (TICs - multi-unit dwellings in which owner-residents share one mortgage) into condominiums, changing the current process which limits such conversions.
posted by larrybob at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've lived in Oakland, and I love lots of things about Oakland, but overall ... it kinda sucks. Everything is spread out and far and too dark and too quiet, and everybody goes over to SF to do anything. It is like living on the moon.

When was the last time you were here? Go out on a First Friday and I guarantee you you won't think it's like living on the moon.
posted by asterix at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2013


Actually, for the time being at least, it means someone else has to live in the suburbs the new city-dwellers were raised in. In other words, we started an experiment, decided we didn't like it, and are beginning to force others to live with the results.

From the linked article:

“Much of suburbia,” he argues, “will seek to reinvent itself in a newly urbanized mode.”

I've been in DC since '98 - while this is happening (even in apex sprawl like Tysons Corner), most of the city's new residents are working just as hard to reinvent the city as a walkable version of the bland, numbing suburbs they grew up in.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:58 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess my question would be - why are the two narratives mutually exclusive? Big, Corbusian redevelopment plans generally speaking appear to be a thing of the past, at least among large, culture-heavy American cities. I think what I'm saying is that housing hasn't kept up in the past five years, which has led to these spikes.

Five years is an incredibly short period of time, and in that period we had one of the biggest economic downturns in history. Developers likely had a hard time getting loans, even if they were trying (and they might not have been trying very hard). Seismic and environmental assessments take time and money. Rezoning takes time and money. San Francisco doesn't have swathes of open land where you can just plop down housing - a lot of the unoccupied-by-housing land is in former/current industrial zones, and it takes forever to make sure that whatever's been leaching into the soil for the last fifty years isn't going to give future residents cancer. And there are all kinds of good reasons why you can't just knock down an already existing bunch of buildings where people already live in order to build buildings where different people will live.

San Francisco is adding housing. It can't keep up. I'm not sure any city with the geographic restrictions it faces could.
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2013


A note of clarification may be helpful here. Gentrification refers to a specific pattern of neighborhood change where long-term residents are forced out by economic circumstances and replaced by more affluent people. There are examples of neighborhoods that have experienced quality of life improvements, increased property values, and/or changing demographics that don't fall under the definition of gentrification due to not involving a displacement of long-term residents. (Though yes, this involves very careful planning and forward thinking policies both on development and provision of services for residents, so is much less common than gentrification.)
posted by eviemath at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any time people talk about razing parts of the city to build awful, boxy highrises, part of me shudders in disgust. Do you really want to turn the whole city into Mission Bay/China Basin? That will not solve our housing shortage or make rents more affordable. It will merely create high-priced condo units for the one group hipsters and yuppies despise the most : other hipsters and yuppies.

Create a bus rapid transit system to link SF and Oakland during the hours BART isn't running. Have it stop at every BART station between 24th St. and Rockridge along the Pittsburg / Bay Point line. Make the buses come every 15 minutes, regardless of ridership. Keep it cheap so that people can afford it. Guaranteed this would solve a fair chunk of the housing problem, and make both cities more fun in the process.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2013


Well, if you guys get tired of insane rents, come live in the middle of the country. Some of us live in places with lots to do and reasonably urbane living possibilities and still have low rents. I think my mortgage is less than a quarter of what some of you guys are paying for rent in SF and I live in a halfway walkable neighborhood.

Where is it and what sort of work can we find there? My mortgage in Louisville might be 25-50% of what it is here, but my compensation is going to hit as well. Plus, how segregated is your town? I find most of America to be extremely segregated racially. The Bay Area is far from perfect, but much more integrated than most places. Also, do you have legal medical marijuana?

Go out on a First Friday and I guarantee you you won't think it's like living on the moon.

Sure. I might say the thing about First Sunday at the Alameda flea market ... the rest of the week is like the moon. Go out at 10pm on a Sunday night and 95% of Oakland will feel like the moon (to be fair, that applies to more than 50% of SF and 95% of the Bay Area.)

Take the last BART train from SF (12:30-1) back to an unknown neighborhood in East Oakland, and yes, it will feel awfully dark and uninhabited. That doesn't happen (as much) in San Francisco, as small-town as it sometimes feels.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2013


Oakland is becoming the most polarizing city on Metafilter.
posted by GuyZero at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Create a bus rapid transit system to link SF and Oakland during the hours BART isn't running. Have it stop at every BART station between 24th St. and Rockridge along the Pittsburg / Bay Point line. Make the buses come every 15 minutes, regardless of ridership.

No way. First off, there is a bus system that links SF and Oakland during the hours BART isn't running. It's called AC Transit, and I take it a LOT after BART closes. It comes once an hour and I am almost always the only person on it. Occasionally there will be 1-2 other passengers. It's fast for me cuz I'm on the Richmond line, but yeah, if you live in Fruitvale it sucks. (transfer to the 851?)

Have it stop at every BART station between 24th St. and Rockridge along the Pittsburg / Bay Point line.

Curious, why PB/BP?! And why stop at Rockridge? The late AC Transit line goes from Van Ness - Civic Center - Powell - Montgomery, then over to East Bay towards Berkeley (assuming I guess that Berkeley kids use it most ... ravers?).

Anyway, there's no late-night ridership (at all) to support that sort of extremely expensive proposition. A far better investment, imo, would be to extend the bicycle/pedestrian path on the Bay Bridge to cover the whole 8 miles. I would ride my bike home all the time if I could.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:35 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


@rtha: I don't know why you think this. Why do you think this? I live in the Mission. Gang activity, including shootings, is still a not-uncommon occurrence.

I said on the way out or gone, not gone completely. There are still gang-related shootings, but less than say, 10 years ago, and on a smaller territory. Gang activity is pretty much completely gone from Noe (and anywhere west of Guerrero/San Jose further south), and that's relatively new (Day St anyone?). Same for north Portrero, and west of Mission. The financial district pretty much stretches all the way to 5th south of market, and 11th St is firmly in the hand of the hipsters. Yes, Capp is still Capp, and it can get uncomfortable around 17th and van Ness, and yes, not much gentrifying going on in the projects on 25th. But the trend is clear, and it's the right direction.
posted by dlg at 12:39 PM on January 31, 2013


No way. First off, there is a bus system that links SF and Oakland during the hours BART isn't running. It's called AC Transit, and I take it a LOT after BART closes. It comes once an hour and I am almost always the only person on it. Occasionally there will be 1-2 other passengers. It's fast for me cuz I'm on the Richmond line, but yeah, if you live in Fruitvale it sucks. (transfer to the 851?)

Emphasis mine.

Curious, why PB/BP?! And why stop at Rockridge?

Sort of an arbitrary choice. Mostly thinking "link the fun parts of Oakland to the fun parts of SF". I wasn't really considering Berkeley as part of this propopsition.

Anyway, there's no late-night ridership (at all) to support that sort of extremely expensive proposition.

Nobody wants to ride the sketchy late night bus that runs once an hour. But if we were to build a bus rapid transit system like I suggest, I think there would be ridership. Hell, if such a plan came to fruition and I were the speculating type, I'd strongly consider investing in Oakland real estate.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:42 PM on January 31, 2013


I'm always surprised how much hate on the Tech Giant Busses get here. Yeah, they are a bit imposing, but in the long run they are removing congestion, removing congestion, require less parking spaces, and are allowing people to live car free lives. This is a good thing. Would you prefer everyone on that bus was driving to work? Because that's a worse for everyone.

To people not from around here: commuting from SF to the South Bay is a horrible experience. Commuting from the East Bay to South Bay is even worse. CalTrain is shit. SanTrans is shit. The freeways are parking lots. It's a really hard problem to fix, especially considering how many different communities are involved (Five+ counties that span a huge range of needs)

And this author's hate for tech workers is annoyingly high school. There's a conversation that needs to be had about how SF is getting so expensive people can't afford to live here unless they have upper middle class jobs, but this article sure as hell isn't that conversation.
posted by aspo at 12:42 PM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


@shmod: This is not The Gentrification Article. It's the We're Literally Running Out Of Room Here article.

It certainly had the distinctive tone of The Gentrification Article, and it unfortunately lacked all the sensible reasoning I would have expected in the We're Literally Running Out Of Room Here article.
posted by dlg at 12:48 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm always surprised how much hate on the Tech Giant Busses get here.

IMO, as usual, it's because the haters aren't on those buses. I'm a pretty low-ambition guy, but even I admit feeling a bit jealous when I see the Googlers pouring out of their fancy bus after eating their fancy meal at their free cafe or whatever.

However, when I was running a private Bauer bus to/fro SF-RWC we would occasionally get the big Google-style bus with a driver who would ALWAYS watch Songs Remains the Same on the TV. You cannot beat that!

And other guy pulled us over on the shoulder of 101 b/c we put Orgazmo in the DVD player and he thought it was a porno. Apparently, Bauer is a Mormon company and they don't even let you drink on board. We had to drink from paper bags like hobos. TRUE STORY.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:52 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


> > It comes once an hour and I am almost always the only person on it.
> Emphasis mine.


The PATH train between Jersey City/Hoboken and NYC runs 24h, but only comes every 30+ minutes in the wee hours -- still, it's usually packed. Late night service, even within NYC, only runs every 20 minutes on, e.g., the L or the J. So I suspect shooting for buses leaving Oakland every 15 minutes would be unrealistic. I agree that once an hour's so sparse that it probably diminishes the demand (big, big difference between worst-case of 30m and worst-case of 1h).
posted by en forme de poire at 1:05 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know exactly one person who has relocated to San Francisco because he's a developer and that's where the money is

Weird. I'm a developer in Seattle and I know 7-10 people who've moved there in the last two years. Maybe you don't tend to meet them?
posted by jacalata at 5:56 PM on January 31, 2013


jacalata, it's as I said. Probably the people who relocate to SF to work in the tech sector are actually not from that far afield, but from other areas on the west coast/PNW/mountain west. It's not a huge rush of outsiders who are OMG TOTALLY NOT EVEN FROM AROUND HERE!!! It's people who are from the same basic region, but didn't happen to already live in San Francisco specifically. Which is the same kind of migration that happens in any city where people actually want to live. For example you'll run into a ton of Ohioans and Bostonians who now live in New York, plenty of Houstonites who live in New Orleans and vice versa, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 6:03 PM on January 31, 2013


I recommend San Leandro, just south of Oakland. Fantastic place to live! Close to so many wonderful things to do and see. Well, I lived in SF for 14 months 1994-1995, and became unemployed; and then lived in San Leandro for 14 months 1995-1997. It was a good decision! Perhaps it still has these advantages today.
posted by Galadhwen at 6:39 PM on January 31, 2013


I told you guys. Forget the City. Build Night City.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:44 PM on January 31, 2013


Actually, four of the ones I mentioned are Australian, two are Canadian, one is Russian (although four of those were in Seattle for some period of time before moving to California). I moved to Seattle from Australia myself.
posted by jacalata at 7:45 PM on January 31, 2013


and none of them moved there because 'ooh San Francisco is great'. They moved because they got offered jobs there.
posted by jacalata at 7:46 PM on January 31, 2013


Sara C.: Probably the people who relocate to SF to work in the tech sector are actually not from that far afield, but from other areas on the west coast/PNW/mountain west. It's not a huge rush of outsiders who are OMG TOTALLY NOT EVEN FROM AROUND HERE!!! It's people who are from the same basic region, but didn't happen to already live in San Francisco specifically.

Not true at all. I went to a college with an excellent CS department that is squarely in the middle of the country, and every time I walk around the Google campus, it's old home week. (That includes me and my husband. We are from Not Around Here. It's even more dramatic for MIT people.)

Afroblanco: But their other option is a sad, lonely life in a boring (and still expensive!) suburb.

Come now, it's not so bad as that. I live in a basically fog-free town that's not on a stupid hill, and I walk to do almost all my errands. Plus, parking isn't a blood sport.
posted by purpleclover at 8:30 PM on January 31, 2013


They moved because they got offered jobs there.

Well, yes and no. Most of them could have also got a job in New York or Chicago or Seattle, but wanted to come to San Francisco because the city is a destination in and of itself. It has been for, well, forever. The modern San Francisco zeitgeist isn't hippies or Harvey Milk-esque gays anymore, but the modern tech startup yuppie.
posted by GuyZero at 8:33 PM on January 31, 2013


It's not a huge rush of outsiders who are OMG TOTALLY NOT EVEN FROM AROUND HERE!!!

The SF Bay Area is something like the 5th or 6th biggest Canadian city based on the number of Canadians who live here. Around Google, locals are very definitely not the majority.
posted by GuyZero at 8:35 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weeell, maybe a little, but I really think it was more about the job. I think almost all of them fell directly under one of "I want to work for Google/Facebook on their main campus", or "I want to found a startup and my investors want me to be in SF" or "I am joining my friends startup and they are in SF". Sure, you can call that 'moving for the city' but that's because the city is the jobs, and maybe better weather than Seattle.

Basically I think Sara is flat wrong that "people who are from other places who want tech jobs tend to just get tech jobs where they already live." Of course, I live in Seattle, where I moved from Australia in order to work (and had never considered doing so before getting the job offer), and where I know people from dozens of countries who work with me and moved here for the same reason, and I know only about three people who are actually from Seattle. So she's not just wrong about why people move to SF, she's wrong in general about how willing people are to move for tech jobs.
posted by jacalata at 10:11 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


But their other option is a sad, lonely life in a boring (and still expensive!) suburb.

Sure, if you pick where you live by throwing a dart at a map of the south bay, you'll likely end up in a boring soul-less suburb, but not everything is bad down here.

Downtown Mountain View is pretty nice. There's a fantastic farmer's market, an express Caltrain station, and a walkability score of about 85. There's bike access to the bay trail or Shoreline uninterrupted by any road crossings via the Stevens Creek trail. For the price of a closet in SF I live in a house with a small yard with my friends and am a 5 minute walk away from everything I need. I really think you might be drawing a little too thick with your anti-suburb brush.

I also don't understand the flak Caltrain always seems to get. The schedule is infrequent and it doesn't quite hit the right places in SF, but for a commuter it's a godsend. For many commuters, speed and on-time performance are more important than frequency since we're on a schedule anyway. If Caltrain had 3 times as many trains I would still take the exact same one every day, and their bullet trains are about the same speed as cars without traffic, and much faster during rush hour traffic. In my experience their published ~95% on-time by 5 minutes figure is accurate, and my monthly pass costs less than gas, let alone car maintenance. I can take a bike on the train to make the last mile of my commute, and rarely spend any more than 3 minutes waiting at the station.

Caltrain does all of this with so little funding, it's incredible compared to the insane expense of building custom gauge, mandatory grade-separated Bart track out into east bay suburbs. Unfortunately the rest of the public transit and general density is so poor in the south bay that it doesn't get any network benefits and has to rely on bike cars and employer shuttles, but I believe that Caltrain is pulling their own weight in this battle.

And since someone mentioned Clipper card, I have to throw in my two cents: great idea, awful implementation.
posted by ilikemefi at 12:45 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, yes and no. Most of them could have also got a job in New York or Chicago or Seattle, but wanted to come to San Francisco because the city is a destination in and of itself.

This is pretty much me. Nobody made me move here -- there's no shortage of well-paying tech jobs in NYC, especially if you want to sell your soul work in finance. But I was bored with my life and looking for a new job, plus I'd always been curious about SF. (even as far back as my teens, people would tell me that I "seemed like more of a west coast person", which probably meant vastly different things in STL)

The modern San Francisco zeitgeist isn't hippies or Harvey Milk-esque gays anymore, but the modern tech startup yuppie.

I wouldn't be so sure. As much as I liked NYC, I like SF more, and it's almost entirely because of the social climate. I think if Solnit had actually talked to the techies she was so bent on demonizing, she may have found that some of us really like it here, and maybe aren't as uncool as the stereotype would dictate.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:28 AM on February 1, 2013


But their other option is a sad, lonely life in a boring (and still expensive!) suburb.

Sure, if you pick where you live by throwing a dart at a map of the south bay, you'll likely end up in a boring soul-less suburb, but not everything is bad down here.


Yeah, but to a city boy, all suburbs are equally rotten. It's just not a lifestyle that I (and many young people) find acceptable.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:35 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


People kvetching about Caltrain have no idea how bad VTA lightrail is in comparison. It's also better than BART, though nowhere as frequent.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:55 AM on February 1, 2013


It's a matter of scale. Mountain View is great compared to 95% of the country. There's a third of a mile of Castro Street that attracts a lot of pedestrians, and another half mile that's not bad, and a reasonable residential grid around it.

But take Castro and Villa, by all accounts the busiest pedestrian intersection in Mountain View, with 608 pedestrian crossings in 2 hours. There are (by my calculation) 158 intersections in San Francisco that attract more people than it does. It's the difference between a place where you can happily spend 12 minutes walking around and place where you can spend days, and if you are a person who really likes walking around, the choice is obvious, even if it means suffering a long journey to work.

The big question in my mind is whether places like Mountain View, or for that matter outer San Francisco, can ever grow into great walking places. The very existence of San Francisco makes it difficult, because people who want walkability make the somewhat rational choice to move where it already exists rather than staying where they are and doing the slow, uncertain work to try to make it happen there.

It's the fallout of several aspects of the "big sort" caused by the possibility of mobility. Because the computer industry already exists in the Bay Area, people who want to do things with computers have incentive to move to the Bay Area instead of trying to make it happen where they are. Because walkability already exists in San Francisco, people who want walkability have incentive to move to San Francisco instead of trying to make it happen where they are. Because daily mobility of tens of miles is possible, people can live in places they like and work where there are employers instead of having to prioritize one or the other. Everything inevitably becomes a more concentrated, more homogeneous version of what it happened to start out as and became identified with. I don't know how the cycle can ever end as long as mobility (both daily and migratory) continues to be possible.
posted by enf at 10:03 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


From way up thread . . .

building codes in SF are very restrictive. It is illegal to tear down a building to build a larger one (the original facade must be maintained, and you cannot add stories).

Not true. Just look at the provisions in the Market / Octavia plan which allow for completely tearing down old buildings and replacing them with structures up to 8 stories tall. And there are literally around a dozen of these projects happening right now.
posted by quadog at 9:34 PM on February 1, 2013


>But their other option is a sad, lonely life in a boring (and still expensive!) suburb.

>>Sure, if you pick where you live by throwing a dart at a map of the south bay, you'll likely end up in a boring soul-less suburb, but not everything is bad down here.

>>>Yeah, but to a city boy, all suburbs are equally rotten. It's just not a lifestyle that I (and many young people) find acceptable.


Dude, I don't want any space in your precious city. But here's the thing: I am basically a young person. And I was definitely a young person when I moved to the Peninsula (we both always worked down here; I hate commuting more than I like smugness). I have always lived in perfectly walkable places where I could do my (delicious) eating out, drinking expensive cocktails, going to movies, running almost all errands without a car. This attitude that one can only have a cool, acceptable, walkable life within the city limits of San Francisco is causing more and more nerds* to outbid everyone else for apartments in the Mission. Maybe consider the idea that a person can have an absolutely lovely life outside of the 94410? Because the contempt for people who don't prioritize city living above all else is really working against your desire for not-exorbitant rents.

*my beloved husband and his coworkers
posted by purpleclover at 7:37 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Smugness? Contempt? Really? You'll notice I'm not saying anything bad about people who live in suburbs. Just the suburbs themselves : as a geographical location, a pattern of land use, and yes, a lifestyle. It's just a lifestyle that I -- and many others -- don't desire. People vote with their feet.

You enjoy your suburbs and I'll enjoy my city, and that will be that.

Fuck do you care about rents in the Mission, anyhow?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2013


It will be interesting to observe the impact of another 2000-like tech collapse on the soft-tech (web stuff) job market and corresponding migration to SF.

Because .. that's probably coming.
posted by rr at 12:07 PM on February 3, 2013


It will be interesting to observe the impact of another 2000-like tech collapse on the soft-tech (web stuff) job market and corresponding migration to SF.

Brings to mind this WSJ article from this past Friday: Sycamore Networks: From $45 Billion to Zilch.
posted by ericb at 1:10 PM on February 3, 2013


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