Sure, it's a massive time suck, but think of the savings!
October 17, 2015 8:41 AM   Subscribe

A few days ago, a reddit user posted a thought-experiment about living in Las Vegas and working in San Francisco, commuting four days a week by airplane. Their back-of-the-envelope calculations have them saving about $1100/month. The posting was picked up by CityLab, and is leading to some interesting discussions.

This idea of mega-commuting has been discussed before (including this New Yorker article from 2013 which was inspired by recent data from the US Census Bureau), and previously here, On. The. Blue.
posted by math (167 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
A lot of people have been commuting along the DC-Philly-NYC corridor for years. You've got your choice between bus, hourly air shuttle, or train.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2015


Wasn't this done in reverse for people working on nuclear programs out in the desert? I can't remember the details, but I swear there was some top secret thing going on out in the desert somewhere and all the employees would be flown out on daily charter flights from where they all lived in LA or wherever.

My father had a super long commute for a number of years; they lived outside Danbury, CT and he worked in the Philadelphia suburbs. They couldn't move for a variety of reasons, so he'd drive out Sunday night, stay the week in a hotel (which the company paid for, amazingly), and drive home Friday. Of course, as soon as they were able to move to Philly to be closer to his job they laid him off.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


In 2013 Sam Cookney wrote a blog post that went viral in which he calculated that it would be cheaper to live in Barcelona and commute to London 4 days a week, than to live in London. Then, this August, it turned out he had actually put it into practice. He now commutes from Barcelona to London, although not 4 days a week.
posted by memebake at 9:02 AM on October 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


My husband has a "megacommute" - 75 miles each direction, takes right about 75 minutes - but for a different reason than the articles mention: We live in a small city in downstate Illinois approximately an hour from several other small cities (Peoria, Springfield, Bloomington, Urbana, Quad Cities, etc.), and I'd say about half the couples we know have one partner doing a city-to-city commute. It's a large enough population to support a steady career advancement IF you can move among cities as jobs open up. But there's no guarantee your spouse can ALSO find one in the same metro at the same time, and most people change employers every five years or so.

When we bought our house my husband lived 3 miles from work and bike commuted ... now it's 75 miles. But we're weighing factor like the economic costs of moving, the social costs of losing our network of friends here, the emotional costs of changing the kids' schools, the environmental and physical costs of my husband's long commute. And setting that against job opportunities for him, and me. I never thought we'd have such a long commute situation for so long, but its a very complicated decision!

On the plus side its all highway driving on pretty empty highways, no traffic, and so many people do it that he's always been in a carpool, and on days he doesn't drive he knocks off all his email before he gets to the office. Some employers (State Farm) run a shuttle van, which is nice. There's no intercity train, though (except Springfield to Normal), and the buses run for the convenience of college students, not commuters. And given how many of their employees do this, I find employers in the region weirdly resistant to telecommuting.

The one thing I do find amusing is that all the Peoria to Springfield commuters know each others' cars and plates because they're the only cars on the highway. They run into each other at Costco and theyre like, "Oh, I didn't see you all week, I wondered if you were sick!" "No, took a vacation to Mexico!" "Awesome!" And them I'm like, "Who was that?" And my husband's like, "I don't know, but he drives a green Taurus, gets off at the Morton exit, and parks in the 4th street parking structure."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 AM on October 17, 2015 [181 favorites]


...takes right about 75 minutes...

Is that a really long while over there? I know the distance is but Just about everyone I know who commutes from Brooklyn to Queens (or from south Brooklyn to upper Manhattan) has a solid 75-90 mins each way.
posted by griphus at 9:09 AM on October 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


Also I've known people who had 2-hr one-way commutes from the suburbs into downtown LA but uh nothing about commuting in LA was short of psychotic so.
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


It was the bay areas's sky-high real estate back 150 years ago was the main prompting of Henry George developing his argument . . .

http://i.imgur.com/eJL5jDq.png
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


Decent inter-city passenger trains makes this sort of thing much less exceptional. Not that commuting by any means other than chauffeur-driven limo is much fun.
posted by Devonian at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is why I found the opposition to California High-Speed Rail in places like Bakersfield baffling. Anyone who owns a home there enow should be quitting their jobs and lobbying for it full time for the chance to sell their house to some Bay Area or LA commuter who decides to live there and take HSR in to work.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:17 AM on October 17, 2015 [28 favorites]


My friend's dad commuted from Los Angeles to the bay area when I was little, but quickly ended up getting a room in a small shared house in Los Gatos and living there during the week, and just flying down for the weekends to see his family. I think the temptation to grab a night here and there on friends' couches would be pretty high after a long day's work.
posted by town of cats at 9:19 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows' story suggests a world where we never leave our battlemech-style commute armor and learn to recognize each other by clan insignia and weapons scoring. There'll be a period of adjustment as the grocery stores double their footprint to make wider aisles, and there'll be some adjustment to societal mores — just because you can afford the "Springheel Jack" package on this year's Audi Decimator 3000 doesn't mean you get to use it to vault the walk-through line at the Taco Bell. Bright side, we'll all be pedestrians. Just, some of us will deal better with the occasional 50-caliber fusillade.

"Mornin' Fred."

"Mornin', Ralph. Whoa ... picked up a few dings on the right gauntlet!"

"Yeah. Forgot to reload the shoulder racks last night. Had to straight punch a guy to get him out of my parking space. It was that or a micro-winder right there in the garage. You should see him."

"Heh. Well, take it easy, there, big fella. Those gauntlets are only soft-target rated."

"I know. I just get so mad."

The only thing that can stop a bad guy in a titanium commuter mech with depleted uranium ammo and wide-spectrum targeting array is a good guy in a titanium commuter mech with depleted uranium ammo, wide-spectrum targeting array, and the new Flaming Reciprocity of Jesus 9000XL hardpoints kit, only in this year's Chevrolet.
posted by mph at 9:25 AM on October 17, 2015 [123 favorites]


I've heard the argument that North America couldn't support the European level of railroad infrastructure... but this post underscores that this is total BS when it comes to the major work centres. How can the US hope to stay competitive when there's such a cost barrier to working in the hotspots?
posted by Artful Codger at 9:27 AM on October 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


Sounds like burb claves, all right.
posted by sio42 at 9:28 AM on October 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


Interesting, although my time is worth a lot of money to me, so this wouldn't work.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:28 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


We have a lot of rail but it's used by passenger and freight and freight takes precedence which means delays frequently. And the cost is rather expensive. Because they don't have enough people who ride. Because of delays and stuff. So it goes on...
posted by sio42 at 9:29 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is yet more evidence to me that locating your business in San Francisco is basically a giant "screw you" to your employees.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:29 AM on October 17, 2015 [33 favorites]


I know a lot of people who commute weekly, flying or driving Sunday night or at a horribly early hour on Monday, staying all week, and heading home on Friday. There are all the usual reasons of modern family life -- the two body problem, child custody arrangements, caring for elderly family members, or being upside down in a house -- that make fully moving to another place difficult or impossible, and the costs of the commute and either a motel or a cheap rental aren't usually prohibitive.

To have a daily flight commute, though, you'd have to have a job that was ok with you being late whenever the plane is delayed, which on some routes can be frequent, plus the costs of getting to and from the airport at each end.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know a lot of people who commute weekly, flying or driving Sunday night or at a horribly early hour on Monday, staying all week, and heading home on Friday. There are all the usual reasons of modern family life -- the two body problem, child custody arrangements, caring for elderly family members, or being upside down in a house -- that make fully moving to another place difficult or impossible, and the costs of the commute and either a motel or a cheap rental aren't usually prohibitive.

Hello and welcome to my life. Circumstances have put me into this situation off and on for close to twenty years and I am beyond sick of it. I've been putting a lot of work into being able to change careers and hopefully I'll be in a position to do that next year sometime. It's about a four hour trip by car each way and, believe me, never being able to kick back and relax on a Sunday night because you've got to drive for hundreds of miles is horrible. Weekends are filled with dread knowing that the drive is coming up soon. Eventually, it can start to feel like you don't live anywhere.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


The only thing that can stop a bad guy in a titanium commuter mech with depleted uranium ammo and wide-spectrum targeting array is a good guy in a titanium commuter mech with depleted uranium ammo, wide-spectrum targeting array, and the new Flaming Reciprocity of Jesus 9000XL hardpoints kit, only in this year's Chevrolet.

Read by Sam Elliott
posted by all-caps relapse at 9:44 AM on October 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


This is why I predict that the advent of the robot car will destroy the popularity of neo-urbanism and cause a renaissance of suburbia and sprawl.
posted by Pembquist at 9:44 AM on October 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


For a while, I had a house and spouse in Dallas while I had a gig in Austin. We did the weekend commute thing for about 6 months before I just got too weary of it. But if there were high speed rail between the major cities, I would be all about working wherever. But rail in Texas is a sad approximation of real trains. Example, I can drive to Austin in about 4 hours if traffic is normal levels of nightmare. To take the train would be 1.5 hours in commuter rail to the main station, and then anywhere from 6 to 10 hours by rail to the main station in Austin, and then youre stuck with a really limited public transportation system.

There is no real mass transit in the south, and I'm willing to bet there are significant racial historic reasons. With no easy transit, your serfs and sharecroppers aren't going to travel to find better lives and jobs, you have a built in class of low wage workers that can't easily escape the agricultural quicksand.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have a strong sense that this presupposes that your non-work time is of no value. If that's true, and you've made that choice, fine. But if not, maybe that should cause you to look inward.
posted by mhoye at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


We have a lot of rail but it's used by passenger and freight and freight takes precedence which means delays frequently. And the cost is rather expensive. Because they don't have enough people who ride. Because of delays and stuff. So it goes on...

In other words, we have alot of inadequate trackage, still owned by railroads, who grudgingly grant limited rights to passenger services. Doesn't sound workable.

Similar to what was done in the OP, it would be interesting to analyze the effects that more efficient commuter rail could have, if it made it easier to commute. It made sense 150 years ago to grant land to RR corporations for trackage when the continent needed linking and new opportunities tapped. It's now an impediment to further growth; alot of that trackage around cities should return to government and managed like highways are.

I don't see a downside to this, but I am a confirmed train nut.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


The robot car could work for urban types, too. Especially if you never need to buy a car, which reduces the cost of living in the city. Just call for a self-driving vehicle whenever you need to go out.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is why I found the opposition to California High-Speed Rail in places like Bakersfield baffling. Anyone who owns a home there enow should be quitting their jobs and lobbying for it full time for the chance to sell their house to some Bay Area or LA commuter who decides to live there and take HSR in to work.
I think they may resist this for the same reason that other people resist gentrification: because where you see an opportunity to sell their houses and make money, they see forces that will drive them from their homes and destroy their communities.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


Or you could live in Oakland
posted by one_bean at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


mph: No, the drivers will be people who can afford semi-autonomous heavy armored vehicles. Basically a tank with an autopilot, active point defense, heavy armor, bed, fridge, kettle, and toilet. Relations between them and pedestrians will be even more fraught as 'defensive driving' comes to mean 'when approaching an intersection first hose down any suspected ATGM launch points with the 20mm coaxial cannon before proceeding'. Mutual antipathy will mean that drivers and pedestrians will only speak to each other through a mediator caste of cyclists, who are despised by both groups for the way they gunk up the treads, weave on and off sidewalks, and occasionally plant limpet mines while riding past.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:56 AM on October 17, 2015 [17 favorites]


The tech industry in the Bay Area is using geography to institute a tightly controlled quasi-guild system. The only way you can afford to live in the Bay Area is if you are invited there to work for tech industry money. the only way to get a top job in tech is to live in the Bay Area (or one of the bay area's satellite suburbs; Seattle, for example).

Doctors have managed to drive up their salaries through using certification processes and credentialing organizations to limit
supply; the tech industry doesn't have those institutional apparatuses in place, and so it uses control over territory instead.

One thing that's interesting about this process is that it highlights how geography is a key component of social/economic/political systems, because geography can be pressed into service to help establish and maintain social hierarchies. Bay Area rents aren't stratospheric just because of high market demand. they're in large part stratospheric because occupying space in the Bay Area doesn't just mean having shelter, it means having a de facto license to practice tech. This is deeply unfortunate for everyone here who isn't in the tech industry, because the licensing/credentialing aspect of their living space is meaningless to them.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:00 AM on October 17, 2015 [72 favorites]


$1,120 on four round-trip flights a week (working remotely on the fifth day), and $276 in ground transportation via BART once you land at SFO.

1400/4 is $350, which means that staying in a nearby hotel room for four week nights for much less gives you five working days in SFO, with weekends and holidays in your LV house. The real question then becomes where to store your stuff over the weekend.
posted by Brian B. at 10:03 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The tech industry in the Bay Area is using geography to institute a tightly controlled quasi-guild system. The only way you can afford to live in the Bay Area is if you are invited there to work for tech industry money. the only way to get a top job in tech is to live in the Bay Area (or one of the bay area's satellite suburbs; Seattle, for example).

Of course! That's why all of my old neighbours in Santa Clara are Indian, Chinese, and Japanese and we're renting our condo to a Brazillian couple.
posted by Talez at 10:04 AM on October 17, 2015


I have an idea: once everyone has their own robot car let's figure out some way to join all of them together in a really long chain to standardize the movement in a safe and efficient way, oh wait...

(Actually we could do some kind of temporary tether for long commutes, micro-trains that "magnetize" off and on during the routes, write it down if nobody has yet..)
posted by bird internet at 10:05 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


the more practical solution to this problem — I know a number of people who have implemented this — is to live in an rv instead.

I also know people who pay a few hundred bucks to pitch tents in backyards. ymmv wrt whether or not this is more miserable than having an air commute.

Unfortunately these solutions are much more difficult for people with families than for the young single men. This is one way that the use of geography to maintain social hierarchies can result in miserable living situations for most humans.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm starting to suspect that only reason this seems even remotely economically plausible is because the price of gas is so artificially low. You won't see this discussion happening when we're back to $4/gal.
posted by phooky at 10:10 AM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


before the 2008 crash, something like 60% of America's venture capital money was in the Bay Area. After the crash, something like 80% of America's venture capital money was here.

This is a gigantic pile of money. the presence of so much money in such a small space, so much effective demand concentrated, can drive rents actually arbitrarily high, even before you take into account the feedback process that results once global finance capital recognizes how valuable this space has become and starts using it as a safe place to stash surplus capital.

So my point here is that no matter how expensive gas gets, Bay Area rents can always get more expensive than that.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:16 AM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've heard the argument that North America couldn't support the European level of railroad infrastructure...
High speed rail is indeed a game changer. HSR commuters are common in Europe, Japan and China. It's not always due to high rent prices in large cities or better quality of life in the countryside. In France, for instance, lots of Paris-based teachers who work in provincial universities are daily TGV users ("navetteurs" or "shuttlers").
posted by elgilito at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


tl;dr: these aren't just straightforward market processes. This is a turf war, and we're losing it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think [the residents of Bakersfield] may resist [high-speed rail] for the same reason that other people resist gentrification: because where you see an opportunity to sell their houses and make money, they see forces that will drive them from their homes and destroy their communities.

Of course this pressure would occur, but I think this sort of situation is a bit different from gentrification: the presence of HSR could mean that residents of Bakersfield have easier access to meaningful and good-paying work, so they and their offspring wouldn't have to leave the community. I think that high-speed rail would be a net positive.

The tech industry in the Bay Area is using geography to institute a tightly controlled quasi-guild system.

I'm in tech, and yes we moved to a large city for better opportunities (27 years ago)... but I think it's obvious that tech is (theoretically) much less subject to geographic limitations. Bay-area costs (and salaries) are mainly because of the companies wanting to be in close proximity to other companies ("synergy") and also proximity of talent. If more effective inter-city transportation was in place, there would be a much wider area for tech people to live and companies to locate in.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or you could live in Oakland

If any part of this discussion is relevant to you, don't live in Oakland.

San Francisco is over; it's an insanely expensive, bland, nerd-white shadow of its former self, largely because nerds are just the worst.

Don't do that to Oakland. Oakland deserves better than to be gentrified by the whitest and least interesting people on the planet.
posted by mhoye at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2015 [38 favorites]


I shudder to think how high rents will get in Tracy if BART makes it out there.
posted by Talez at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2015


Bay-area costs (and salaries) are mainly because of the companies wanting to be in close proximity to other companies ("synergy") and also proximity of talent.

I think maybe we're saying the same thing, just from slightly different angles. there is no "theoretical" reason why tech should be geographically constrained. You're saying that tech has chosen geographical constraint because of the synergistic power produced through having a bunch of hackers living close to each other. I am saying that one of these synergistic effects is that it lets people on the inside make their position on the inside more valuable, by ensuring (through leveraging money power to achieve effective control over turf — in this case, the physical space of the Bay Area) that positions on the inside remain tightly limited.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:28 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


anyone who thinks Oakland is the answer hasn't looked at Oakland rents lately. Sometime last year they passed Seattle rents, and they just keep going up. Oakland, like Silicon Valley and San Francisco, is a piece of turf that has been seized by tech. The only reason any resistance still exists here at all is because of rent control. If it weren't for that, Oakland would have turned into an exclusive bedroom community for tech workers as fast as EPA did.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:31 AM on October 17, 2015 [27 favorites]


Wasn't this done in reverse for people working on nuclear programs out in the desert? I can't remember the details, but I swear there was some top secret thing going on out in the desert somewhere and all the employees would be flown out on daily charter flights from where they all lived in LA or wherever.


Area 51. You're thinking of the Janet flights from Las Vegas to Area 51. Still in operation. Not kidding.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:34 AM on October 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


My wife has a car-based megacommute of about 50 miles each way. Her shift starts at 5 am so she heads out by 4. Happily, that puts both out and inbound drives well outside of rush hour. This is an improvement over her prior 75-mile commute which hit three successive rush hours both ways.

Back in the dot-com era I myself had an air-based megacommute from Seattle to Scotts Valley, CA, flying in and out of San Jose every other day with a driver to and from the airport over the hills to the Borland building. It was beyond awful. The travel time plus work day meant the workdays were about 18 hours long, so I just took the non-travel days off. I'm still not sure what the point was or why I wasn't just booked in Seattle and San Jose on alternate weeks.

That's a longer flight than the Vegas-Bay Area flight though, so who knows. I hated it.
posted by mwhybark at 10:37 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: Interesting, although my time is worth a lot of money to me, so this wouldn't work.

I met up with a fellow MeFite this week who works from home, which has really redefined his notion of commuting. Family time starts as soon as his work hours end, so he said that even an 8 minute commute would require some significant compensation, and I had a co-worker take a pay cut to work closer to home, cutting his commute from an hour plus each way to maybe 20 minutes total.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:37 AM on October 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


You're saying that tech has chosen geographical constraint because of the synergistic power produced through having a bunch of hackers living close to each other.

I'm saying that this geographical constraint is a limitation they're bumping up against, not something chosen, and not a benefit or useful factor in most cases. Absence of better transportation infrastructure limits the radius within which they can have those synergistic benefits.

positions on the inside remain tightly limited

Really? My understanding is that the Bay area companies are clamouring for more workers. I know people commuting there from Canada, ffs. I would think that Bay area companies would be foursquare behind high-speed rail.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2015


I'm starting to suspect that only reason this seems even remotely economically plausible is because the price of gas is so artificially low. You won't see this discussion happening when we're back to $4/gal.

They found the magic spell that turns water into carbon fuel, and it works pretty much everywhere. And fracking is still in its infancy; I don't know that gas prices *are* going to shoot up again.
posted by gerryblog at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


tl;dr: these aren't just straightforward market processes. This is a turf war, and we're losing it.


Who is "we"?

Everything you describe sounds exactly like straightforward market processes.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is yet more evidence to me that locating your business in San Francisco is basically a giant "screw you" to your employees.

It's where the venture capitalists hang out and mingle. If your startup wants funding, you need to hang your shingle in SF.

It's a kind of feedback loop that also keeps tech labor in one place. Programmers are in short enough supply, though, that some startups are allow workers to telecommute, or they open satellite offices in Seattle or other "tech suburbs" where living costs are better, while keeping the headquarters in SF.

I'm starting to suspect that only reason this seems even remotely economically plausible is because the price of gas is so artificially low. You won't see this discussion happening when we're back to $4/gal.

It may even be worse, because airlines buy fuel years ahead of time, and they have not lowered ticket prices, even though fuel costs are currently very low. Because the market has allowed them to largely untie ticket prices and fuel costs, once fuel goes back up, they will add another surcharge to maintain the profit margins they are all now currently enjoying.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:44 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Really? My understanding is that the Bay area companies are clamouring for more workers. I know people commuting there from Canada, ffs.

Maybe I'm misreading you, but I still think we're arguing the same things from different angles. Tech industry employers are clamoring for specifically employees who can meet the credentialing requirement of being able to (by hook or by crook) get to the Bay Area. I'm not saying this is some sinister conspiracy or whatever; I'm saying it's a side effect of concentrated money power in a field with nebulous credentialing requirements and no inherent geographical limitations. "no limitations" is typically interpreted to mean that it can happen anywhere; in practice, it means that it's possible to concentrate it all in one tiny space.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:46 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember Tom Joyner's daily Dallas/Chicago commute? 'Hello, Dallas, Hello, Chicago, It's Tom Joyner Here, Live and in Person': "This is a tale of two cities, a tale of a disc jockey named Tom Joyner who does a morning radio show in Dallas and an afternoon one in Chicago. It's the best of gigs (two concurrent $1 million-plus contracts, running six and five years respectively). It's the worst of gigs (when Joyner's not on the air, he's in the air, flying 8,000 miles a week). In Dallas, where he lives with his wife and two sons, Joyner has the 5:30 to 9 a.m. slot on KKDA-FM (K104). In Chicago it's the 2 to 6 p.m. slot on WGCI-FM. Both stations play urban contemporary music. [...] Joyner was offered the lucrative Chicago job while already working in Dallas. "I got to thinking," he says. "Dallas and Chicago are in the same time zone. There was plenty of time between the morning and afternoon shows, so...." So, he did a little research. He discovered that there are almost hourly flights between the cities. In 1984 bad weather made the journey impossible on only three occasions. A travel agent found Joyner a $30,000 fare that would guarantee him a round-trip seat for five years. Joyner's doctor told him the schedule wouldn't be physically damaging, assuming the work wasn't too stressful. Joyner then saw a nutritionist who advised him that frequent air travel led to dehydration so he should drink plenty of liquids."

Update from Wikipedia: "Instead of choosing between the two, Joyner chose to take both jobs, and for eight years, he commuted daily by plane between the two cities, earning the nicknames "The Fly Jock" and "The Hardest Working Man in Radio".[8] He later told Radio Ink magazine that he racked up 7 million frequent flyer miles over the course of his employment at both stations."
posted by bentley at 10:46 AM on October 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


Don't do that to Oakland.

Lol.

That attitude, from San Francisco that got us into this mess by stopping new construction for the past couple decades.

Back to the article though, the inclusion of the plane flight sometimes helps to underscore ridiculous conditions.

Back in 2013, it was cheaper to fly to the US from Australia, buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop, and fly back, than to buy Photoshop in Australia. [News.com.au]

Or fly to India, vacation for a month, have heart surgery, fly back, and still save a pile of money. [Blomberg, 2013]

Jet travel's made the world smaller, cheaper jet travel incredibly so. Hopefully the internet will eventually make the world so small that mega-commutes are a thing of the past. Like child labor or poor houses.
posted by fragmede at 10:47 AM on October 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


Who is "we"?

People without big money.

Everything you describe sounds exactly like straightforward market processes.
posted by 2N2222


Correct, this is one of the ways that the market disciplines space. it's miserable, and that's why we must somehow revolutionize our power structures to privilege democratic allocation of space rather than market-based allocation of space.

"It's just market processes" is what people say when they want to refuse to acknowledge that market processes inevitably result in a hyperconcentration of wealth and power in a few hands, and who refuse to acknowledge that this hyperconcentration of wealth and power is just as inimicable to human life as systems that produced and justified hyperconcentration through declaring the divine right of kings.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:50 AM on October 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


Ironically, the reverse of this was actually done back in the 90's for Comdex shows.

Comdex computer dealer shows used to be one of the biggest conventions in Vegas. Some years, every hotel room in town, and for miles around, was booked. And of course, the Vegas hotels took full advantage of this and jacked up the room rates sky-high. Because if you were in the computer industry, you HAD to go...

As the the industry got bigger in the '90's, the Comdex show got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It took over every inch of convention space in Vegas, and helped drive the expansion of the main Convention center and the Sands convention center. (This growth also greatly profited Sheldon Adelson, Republican donor.) Booths for some of the big companies displaying at Comdex were larger than most houses. And the staffing for these booths also went up and up.

So now you had a 'must be there' show, through-the-roof hotel rates, and a need to staff the booths. And some big booths had over 100 people working them (in shifts).

Finally, in the late '90's, a couple of the big companies (HP was one) figured out that they could lease the use of a 737 for a week, and fly their people back and forth daily from San Jose to Las Vegas and back for less than the cost of paying to put them up in Vegas hotels for Comdex week. I suspect that some of the smaller companies were doing the same thing on commercial flights.

It was this level of expense, combined with the growth of Internet advertising and marketing, that eventually killed Comdex.
posted by jckobz at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know, I think you can also take a view like Piketty and see "market forces" for what they are, and consider how to work with the situation as it is.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2015


I met up with a fellow MeFite this week who works from home, which has really redefined his notion of commuting.

Yep! I have a half hour commute (5 minute walk, 15 minute train, 10 minute walk) and don't mind it at all, but having done longer commutes, never again.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:57 AM on October 17, 2015


We have a lot of rail but it's used by passenger and freight and freight takes precedence which means delays frequently.

This is a common misconception. By the rules, passenger trains are higher priority than freight. Most of the time, the railroads actually follow this rule, ensuring that freight trans pull over to let passengers trains by when they would cause a delay.

The problem is that the railroads don't always plan things correctly, and small errors can lead to very long delays. Another problem is that the FRA is toothless about enforcing consequences for railroads that negligently let freight trains block shit.

Some railroads are better than others. BNSF is actually pretty awesome along the commuter line it owns in Chicago, which is heavily used by both freight and passenger service. They are also pretty good with the Amtrak Southwest Chief, which runs along the "Southern Transcon" route between Chicago and LA. That route is the busiest intermodal route in the country, but when Amtrak rolls by, shit moves out of the way. This is especially impressive because Amtrak has a higher average speed than intermodal freight trains, so even trains going the same way need to pull to the side in time.

Other railroads are worse. CN is particularly bad, IIRC.

And the cost is rather expensive. Because they don't have enough people who ride. Because of delays and stuff.

Well, that's only part of the reason. It's also true that long haul passenger rail is just really expensive, compared, in most situations, to equivalent travel by bus. Greyhound is typically about 60% the price of Amtrak, and operates with no public subsidy (except a small one in the form of underpriced roads). Even in heavily used systems that run mostly along freight lines, like Metra in Chicago, ticket revenue rarely covers even half of operating expenses—and tickets aren't cheap.
posted by andrewpcone at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


it means that it's possible to concentrate it all in one tiny space.

Yes we're pretty close to agreement; I guess my main point is that the 'tiny space' would be bigger if the commuting situation was better. I can see how a SF-based VC firm likes their supplicants all coming to their doorstep; I don't think the majority of tech industry thinks the current Bay area hyperconcentration is a plus.

I suspect you'd agree with me that that the government should mandate better commuter rail service.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


"It's just market processes" is what people say

It seems like letting market forces work things out is one potentially productive way to fix problems like this, though. If people were allowed to build more housing in places like SF and Silicon Valley in order to meet the very high demand for housing that is obvious to everyone, and if 'high density' were not viewed in the U.S. as the literal 10th circle of hell and something to be avoided at all costs, we'd soon see a whole lot of far more affordable housing appear in places like this where it is clearly needed.

What stops this seems to be many of the same factors that stop the other obvious and logical solution, building greatly improved public transportation systems.

And this spoken as someone who isn't very prone to making the argument that the "free market" can solve our problems. But this is surely indeed a situation where letting the market work more freely would allow for far more affordable housing for many, and the current regulatory framework is pretty screwed up.
posted by flug at 11:02 AM on October 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


My wife and I both work in tech and periodically someone will ask me if I ever thought about moving to the Bay Area and I just laugh. Our $200K house would cost over a million out there and it's not like they're going to pay 5x what we make now.
posted by octothorpe at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


flug:

Right, thanks for pointing this out. The lack of housing construction in the Bay Area is a massive interference in the market that transfers boatloads wealth from younger, poorer people (renters and first time buyers) to older, richer people.

It is tempting to think that market=pro-rich-people and regulation=protect-poor-people, but in the case of Bay Area housing, anti-density restrictions are more about very rich people extracting even more money form everyone else, causing displacement, sprawl, and all the shitty things that go along with that.

That their propaganda has convinced a sizable number of younger/poorer people that developers who would increase density are the boogeyman is sad and disgusting.
posted by andrewpcone at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


long thread, lots of talk of long commutes, market forces, real estate prices etc ... no mention of the environment, what these long commutes (the ones via car and/or plane) are doing to the air we breathe etc. That's the real madness.

I live near a place (Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC) where, up until the recent collapse in oil prices etc, people would routinely fly in and out the next province over (Alberta -- at least five hundred miles) because the economics of it just made sense. It's the economics that are mad.
posted by philip-random at 11:10 AM on October 17, 2015 [18 favorites]


This is a common misconception. By the rules, passenger trains are higher priority than freight.

Not everywhere. Here in Toronto, it took a while for commuter rail to get the priority and infrastructure required.

More important, because most trackage is still privately owned by rr companies whose main business is freight, they have little incentive to upgrade trackage for more fast and efficient passenger service.

It's also true that long haul passenger rail is just really expensive, compared, in most situations, to equivalent travel by bus.

Agreed - but what we're talking about in the context of this OP is short-haul; trips of 2 hours or less, along populated corridors. Routes that are much more economically feasible, as this thread suggests.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:12 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The carbon footprint and other environmental downsides of flying are significant. Would mega-commuting costs go way up if we had to pay the true costs for flying?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:14 AM on October 17, 2015 [20 favorites]


"Is that a really long while over there? I know the distance is "

Yeah, the time isn't terrible (I mean, also not great ...). I just wanted to be clear that 75 miles sounds GIGANTIC for Chicago or DC but he's on empty interstate at 75 mph most of the way so its a manageable 75 miles. (Ridiculously empty: It's a pork project interstate extension that has no reason to exist beyond pork politics ... It's a few dozen intercity commuters and every wide-load truck in the region using the least trafficked interstate. You always see weird, gigantic industrial equipment, my kids love it.)

We definitely have plenty of friends in Chicago with hour-plus commutes. Although one does not move downstate expecting hour-plus commutes. Also the gas cost is pretty brutal.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


“‘It’s just market processes’ is what people say when they want to refuse to acknowledge that market processes inevitably result in a hyperconcentration of wealth and power in a few hands, and who refuse to acknowledge that this hyperconcentration of wealth and power is just as inimicable to human life as systems that produced and justified hyperconcentration through declaring the divine right of kings,” is what people say when they don’t like what a particular market is doing.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Correct. And the market is for shit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2015


...is what people say when they don’t like what a particular market is doing.

What is this even supposed to imply? The fact that a market is doing something does not mean that that thing is justified or should be tolerated.
posted by bracems at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


“‘It’s just market processes’ is what people say when they want to refuse to acknowledge that market processes inevitably result in a hyperconcentration of wealth and power in a few hands, and who refuse to acknowledge that this hyperconcentration of wealth and power is just as inimicable to human life as systems that produced and justified hyperconcentration through declaring the divine right of kings,” is what people say when they don’t like what a particular market is doing.

"It's God's will."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


Wasn't this done in reverse for people working on nuclear programs out in the desert? I can't remember the details, but I swear there was some top secret thing going on out in the desert somewhere and all the employees would be flown out on daily charter flights from where they all lived in LA or wherever.


Area 51. You're thinking of the Janet flights from Las Vegas to Area 51. Still in operation. Not kidding.


Jalopnik did a longform writeup on Janet flights across the US.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:49 AM on October 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


It used to be Boise was the cheapest in and out in the west. The Boise air commute might be worthwhile.
posted by Oyéah at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2015


The carbon footprint and other environmental downsides of flying are significant. Would mega-commuting costs go way up if we had to pay the true costs for flying?

My thoughts exactly. If this saves money, it's only because we're subsidizing the carbon consumption by borrowing from ourselves now and in the future.
posted by Miko at 11:53 AM on October 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


anyone who thinks Oakland is the answer hasn't looked at Oakland rents lately. Sometime last year they passed Seattle rents, and they just keep going up. Oakland, like Silicon Valley and San Francisco, is a piece of turf that has been seized by tech. The only reason any resistance still exists here at all is because of rent control. If it weren't for that, Oakland would have turned into an exclusive bedroom community for tech workers as fast as EPA did.

You're right, the only logical thing to do if you work in SF is move to Las Vegas and have the TSA examine your junk eight times a week.
posted by one_bean at 11:56 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


NoxAeternum, I was just about to link that! Good read.

Commute length is a huge factor for me, though I can tolerate an hour on a train better than 30 minutes driving in traffic. Here in Honolulu, some people commute inter-island on puddle jumpers, mostly weekly. I could get behind that since the flights are only about 45-60 minutes and they use a separate terminal, but using a regular airport on a domestic carrier? No fucking way.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2015


...is what people say when they don’t like what a particular market is doing.

What is this even supposed to imply? The fact that a market is doing something does not mean that that thing is justified or should be tolerated.


Oh, nothing, really, and it could probably be struck as unhelpful. I just find blithe comments that suggest that markets are universally the worst to be tiresome, when it seems like this is one particular instance of the market having a lot of issues. But yes, a nothing comment.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is why I predict that the advent of the robot car will destroy the popularity of neo-urbanism and cause a renaissance of suburbia and sprawl.

That's assuming most people don't want the benefits of neo-urbanism (walkable/bikeable cities, activities/events/culture within reach) and would be satisfied with living in a McMansion on a quarter acre block, the nearest shopping mall a 15-minute drive away, and nothing to do but watch television, joylessly masturbate like a caged chimp, or order more stuff online to fill the space in their McMansion.
posted by acb at 11:59 AM on October 17, 2015 [15 favorites]


I mean, this isn't a nice friendly process, it's one with winners and losers. it is high time for the old winners to lose and the new winners to win.

One reason why market development isn't the answer is given in market development advocates' response to moderate measures like linkage fees charged on new market-rate development in order to find sub-market development. the argument goes as follows:
  • Developers are competing on a global market for loans for market rate development.
  • Lenders will only lend to the most absolutely profitable projects
  • Moderate non-market amelioration measures , by making market development slightly less profitable, will result in a total collapse of all development as lenders withdraw from the market in favor of other ones, thus perversely reducing total development drastically.
What people making this argument fail to acknowledge is the fact that increased development can itself reduce the profitability of new developments, because as supply moves closer to meeting demand, profitability falls. Right now San Francisco would need to immediately build 100,000 new market-rate units in order to halt the rise of rents. not to reduce rents, simply to halt the rise. Under these conditions real demand will never be met, since as housing supply increases, profitability decreases, thus suppressing the interest of lenders in the area.

This is why I am in favor of massive investments in non-market and sub-market-rate housing, and also in favor of muncipal banks established to lend for sub-market-rate developments. we have to seize control of not only our land, but also our finance systems.

That said: On the one hand, the claim of turf by the tech industry is what drove this crisis. On the other hand, it is a tremendous opportunity if we can organize against them. It is difficult for them to pick up sticks and move somewhere else, because they have so thoroughly concentrated in this area. as a result of that, they are vulnerable. Should we manage to gain control of our democratic institutions, we can extract a ton of money from them that we can use for affordable housing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't like long commutes or long commuters.
posted by pracowity at 12:05 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.


That doesn't say anything positive about America.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:10 PM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


Back in 2013, it was cheaper to fly to the US from Australia, buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop, and fly back, than to buy Photoshop in Australia.

Or fly to India, vacation for a month, have heart surgery, fly back, and still save a pile of money.


I heard it claimed some years ago by a South African coworker in London that, with the poor bandwidth and high prices of South Africa's telco monopoly, if someone there wants to download a gigabyte of data, it's cheaper for them to fly to Hong Kong, do it at an internet café, burn it to a DVD-ROM and fly back with it than to do it locally.

On a more mundane level, apparently flying from the UK to Hungary or Poland to get dental work done used to be a thing.
posted by acb at 12:13 PM on October 17, 2015


That's assuming most people don't want the benefits of neo-urbanism (walkable/bikeable cities, activities/events/culture within reach) and would be satisfied with living in a McMansion on a quarter acre block, the nearest shopping mall a 15-minute drive away, and nothing to do but watch television, joylessly masturbate like a caged chimp, or order more stuff online to fill the space in their McMansion.

Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.

That doesn't say anything positive about America.

Sort of? It says that it remains just as easy today as it ever was to sneer at people living outside of cities, which is -indeed- something pretty ugly about America. It also seems weirdly dismissive of the realities of wealth and power. When your principal weapon against the spread of McMansions is to mock the people who live in them as having empty, meaningless lives, then you’re kind of low on substance.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.

I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, which is why I avoid suburbia like the plague. And so I'm paying through the nose to rent a tiny flat above a kebab shop, which happens to be within cycling distance and/or night-bus routes of interesting things.

Later, my dad lived in another outer suburb of Melbourne (Ringwood); there was a commuter rail junction, a major arterial road (always heavily trafficked) and some shops there, but other than that, miles of sprawl in suburban culs-de-sac. When I visited him, for a while, the house next door was rented by someone who was in a symphonic heavy metal band and would rehearse classical figures on electric guitar (which my dad detested). Many years later, I read in a paper that Ringwood was found to be the epicentre of swingers' sex parties in greater Melbourne; which makes a bleak sort of sense.
posted by acb at 12:17 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My husband and I count ourselves very fortunate to be able to live in a city where we can afford a decently sized house, ditch being full time car owners (for me, that's a first in my entire adult life), and afford train or bus tickets to scratch the big city culture itch every now and again. There's no commute to and from our jobs that takes longer than 15 minutes. Again, very fortunate. I grew up in the suburbs, most of my family still lives in the suburbs, but I would never want that for myself.
posted by Kitteh at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Incidentially, I'm only posting sporadically in this thread because I'm at an anti-gentrification conference in West Oakland, where over a thousand Oakland residents are scheming to (among other things) put together an electoral slate in favor of public housing for the next municipal elections.

If anyone wants to come by, it's at and outside the youth center at 33rd and Market. we're recessed for lunch right now -- if anyone wants free food, to meet their neighbors, and to listen to Coup tracks played hella loud, come on by.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:29 PM on October 17, 2015 [22 favorites]


Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.

and folks are wondering why the ice caps are melting

r. When your principal weapon against the spread of McMansions is to mock the people who live in them as having empty, meaningless lives, then you’re kind of low on substance.

you would prefer armed insurrection in the name of some Green Ideal? Mockery's been one of the best weapons of nonviolence humanity's had since at least Voltaire, and likely all the way back to paleolithic times.
posted by philip-random at 12:31 PM on October 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, as someone who grew up in suburbia with not that much access to culture, it's oppressive. People often don't mind it because they don't know better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:34 PM on October 17, 2015 [16 favorites]


and folks are wondering why the ice caps are melting

And why we need so many sops for alienation and depression, from medications to overconsumption and 24-7 entertainment.
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


That's assuming most people don't want the benefits of neo-urbanism (walkable/bikeable cities, activities/events/culture within reach) and would be satisfied with living in a McMansion on a quarter acre block,...

I don't know where you live but where I live, something like 80% of the metro area population lives out in the suburbs away from walkable neighborhoods in the city. So it seems at at least in big chunks of the US, most people don't want the benefits of urbanism, neo- or otherwise. I don't understand it quite myself and love living in the city but I can't deny that lots and lots of people don't.
posted by octothorpe at 1:04 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, as someone who grew up in suburbia with not that much access to culture, it's oppressive. People often don't mind it because they don't know better.

“People often don’t mind it because they don’t know better” basically reads as “people are too dumb to realize they should be unhappy.” Which is a case one might make - broader experiences certainly change one’s sense of the world.

you would prefer armed insurrection in the name of some Green Ideal? Mockery's been one of the best weapons of nonviolence humanity's had since at least Voltaire, and likely all the way back to paleolithic times.

Mockery’s a fine tool, but I’d prefer it were directed at the carbon footprint itself and not suburbanites and how they choose to spend their time. Pretending that people choose to live in the suburbs or in McMansions in order to be unhappy, or that there's something wrong with them for wanting that kind of distance from a community comes across as just very insensitive to what (I tend to presume) are complicated reasons that relate to balancing work, life, costs, and personal preferences. Cities might be active, bustling places, but it’s not like they possess magical properties that make someone less lonely, less inclined to engage in consumerism, or less prone to “joylessly masturbate like a caged chimp.”
posted by Going To Maine at 1:06 PM on October 17, 2015 [21 favorites]


I work at a development shop that sends it's people to work with clients, no matter where they are. Currently I fly from San Antonio to Houston every Monday morning, and then back on Thursday night. If this guy was willing to do that, he could almost certainly find a way to make a deal w/ a SF hotel chain that would give him a discount if they were guaranteed somebody filling a room three nights a week. This would almost certainly be cheaper than round trips every day.

That can be hard, esp. if you have a family, but Residence Inn is cheap and provides you with enough amenities that you can live okay.

An additional bonus to this lifestyle is the absurd number of airline miles and hotel points you acquire. I fly first-class pretty much all the time for the price of economy, and last year I took my family on trips overseas equalling about a month and the only cost I had was food and souvenirs. So that can be considered additional income if you plan on doing any vacation traveling at all.
posted by nushustu at 1:07 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Exactly. I live 30 miles outside Dallas because it's the only way I could buy a house not controlled by an HOA...an entity in Texas which can take your property if you don't follow their often arbitrary rules.

I live this far out because I could buy a house on a couple of acres, which I'm slowly returning to its prairie grassland roots. I live this far out because there's no light pollution and I can see stars at night. I live this far out because I love hearing the coyotes, and watching the predator birds, and hearing the roosters from the farm down the way. I'm crushed that realtors discovered us, and 500 homes are going in less than a mile from me, because there's only so much farther out I can go if I still want access to doctors and theatre and opera.

But it has nothing to do with a joyless existence of Amazon delivered materiality. I would be way less joyful trapped in a city, even a city like London, which I adore visiting. I couldn't live without stars for the rest of my nights.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:16 PM on October 17, 2015 [39 favorites]


They way you know that no one wants to live in walkable cities is that it costs way way more to live in a shitty apartment in a big walkable city than it does to live in a big house out in the suburbs. It costs so much because no one wants to do it.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:21 PM on October 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


If this guy was willing to do that, he could almost certainly find a way to make a deal w/ a SF hotel chain that would give him a discount if they were guaranteed somebody filling a room three nights a week. This would almost certainly be cheaper than round trips every day.

A studio room with a queen bed at the only Residence Inn even near the city (and it's down near the airport and not close to good public transit) currently goes for $319 on a weeknight.

And you don't have any IDEA how many people have their firms already booking up hotel rooms for them at the big chain hotels in the city every week. It's an industry.

It must be nice flying around the world first class with your family, but I'm guessing you don't really know what it's like for us run-of-the-mill employees here in SF that are the grist for the mill of whatever it is you do.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


How Suburban Are Big American Cities?: Nationally, 26 percent of Americans described where they live as urban, 53 percent said suburban and 21 percent said rural.

So only 1/4 of the country actually lives in an urban area.
posted by octothorpe at 1:35 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


i am, in fact, working from home as a programmer for a yay area startup (as a consultant). my commute would be about 1500 miles, so it isn't an option. rent is cheap though.
posted by lescour at 1:39 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


They way you know that no one wants to live in walkable cities is that it costs way way more to live in a shitty apartment in a big walkable city than it does to live in a big house out in the suburbs. It costs so much because no one wants to do it.

What? This is the opposite of true. Supply and demand.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:01 PM on October 17, 2015


What? This is the opposite of true. Supply and demand.

thatsthejoke.gif, I think?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:03 PM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Acb, you've just described every bedroom community from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Loads of people are perfectly content with that idea.

According to actual research, about 1/3 of the U.S. population is quite content in suburban McMansions with approx. 10 automobiles per person easily available, 1/3 prefers dense walkable neighborhoods/cities, and 1/3 could swing either way.

This suggests that somewhere between say 1/2 and 2/3 of housing could be built along the dense urban walkable lines.

But in the U.S. today, various factor conspire to ensure that 90% of actual housing stock caters to the suburban sensibility.

It's a real example of complete market failure in the greatest 'free market' society in the world . . .
posted by flug at 2:10 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


acb: That's assuming most people don't want the benefits of neo-urbanism (walkable/bikeable cities, activities/events/culture within reach) and would be satisfied with living in a McMansion on a quarter acre block, the nearest shopping mall a 15-minute drive away, and nothing to do but watch television, joylessly masturbate like a caged chimp, or order more stuff online to fill the space in their McMansion.

I live with family (aunt/uncle) in the woods, maybe a 20-30 minute drive from downtown Orlando. Basically the nearest rural space available. I can see the stars at night, because I'm away from the light pollution. We have a pond. I do not hear car horns, ever, but I can hear the crickets chirping at night. I can sit by the pond and read. There's space in our yard for projects. If I want to go to restaurants or whatever, I can drive into the city. I like the woods.
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:22 PM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


1400/4 is $350, which means that staying in a nearby hotel room for four week nights for much less gives you five working days in SFO

Good point.
posted by w0mbat at 2:42 PM on October 17, 2015


octothorpe: My wife and I both work in tech and periodically someone will ask me if I ever thought about moving to the Bay Area and I just laugh. Our $200K house would cost over a million out there and it's not like they're going to pay 5x what we make now.

Yes, but this goes the other way too. I could move to the midwest or the south and have vastly cheaper housing. But my pay would go down proportionally (or even more so, based on some research I did on this a while back when I was actually considering it). And while housing is cheaper, a lot of other stuff isn't. A car or a computer or a cell phone is going to cost me the same no matter where I live. A vacation is going to cost the same (actually it may cost more if I have to travel from a smaller airport). My retirement account will grow more slowly. I very carefully did the math and I found that I come out ahead by living in a more expensive area (not the Bay Area) and getting paid more vs. going somewhere with cheaper houses and taking a huge pay cut. YMMV.
posted by primethyme at 2:47 PM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


when it seems like this is one particular instance of the market having a lot of issues.

our fundamental misapprehension is that land is capital like other natural resources.

we have defined it that way, but in reality it is a separate class of wealth.

one that cannot ever exist in a well-functioning "market", since land cannot be manufactured, imported, or even moved. And its employment *as* wealth -- aka real estate -- is only changeable on the scale of decades, not years. And increasing this wealth via usage tends to destroy the value of what was there in the first place, as in Don Henley's "you call some place 'paradise' [is] kissing it goodbye . . ." lyric . . .

"Monopoly" was more than a game, it was a simulation, and as a game or simulation it never ends well.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 3:08 PM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


You know, a lot of this would have been alleviated if the South and East Bay had their freaking zoning laws allowed for 1) commercial and housing developments to be in the same zone 3) if it could be higher than 3 stories. This is a Bay Area problem, not just a San Francisco and tech industry problem. But low density housing is a priority here that communities are not willing to give up.
posted by yueliang at 3:12 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


yeah, land is in a lot of ways like authentic original photos of Billy the Kid. Just because they fetch a high value doesn't mean that the market is going to start producing more of them.

I believe one way to understand the difference between land and other things bought and sold is that land is not exactly a commodity. when we tend to think of market operations within industrialized capitalism, we tend to think in terms of commodities, and as a result we tend to get confused when talking about markets in things other than commodities.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don't do that to Oakland. Oakland deserves better than to be gentrified by the whitest and least interesting people on the planet.

Too late, I already live in Oakland :)
posted by atoxyl at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


METAFILTER: gentrified by the whitest and least interesting people on the planet.
posted by philip-random at 3:19 PM on October 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


my Dream is that we fill the bay, btw.

If & when all the ice melts sea level will be lapping the deck of the GGB.

Turn it into a dam and we could *drain* the bay and do land improvement on the scale of the Netherlands . . .

Lotsa land there, just sitting unused . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


But low density housing is a priority here that communities are not willing to give up

aka "Last One In!" (and literally NIMBY) dynamics. To vote for the politicians who make these zoning decisons, you must first live in their districts.

This is a bug in the system. But also understandable. If I had a house I wouldn't want MFH anywhere near it, and if I had a condo in SF I wouldn't want a bigger condo blocking my sweet views.

The evil Mori Corporation built this monstrosity in central Tokyo, taking things to their basic conclusion as Tokyo already has AFAICT rather fast & loose zoning regs.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2015


The evil Mori Corporation built this monstrosity in central Tokyo, taking things to their basic conclusion as Tokyo already has AFAICT rather fast & loose zoning regs.

Aw man that looks AMAZING. Why is it a monstrosity?
posted by Going To Maine at 3:50 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


A few years ago, Menards (Home Depot equivalent) had to fly workers in to staff their western North Dakota facility because the oil boom made the housing and employment markets so tight that there were no free units at any price and no unemployed people to fill the jobs anyway. And the Nantucket Safeway did the same, via Cape Air, during the summer tourist season as did some of the construction companies. Plenty of airline employees commute by plane, although it's substantially easier when the airport itself is your workplace.
posted by carmicha at 3:51 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


(I mean it’s gigantic, yes, but is that the entire beef, or is there more stuff there?)
posted by Going To Maine at 3:51 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


bird internet: "(Actually we could do some kind of temporary tether for long commutes, micro-trains that "magnetize" off and on during the routes, write it down if nobody has yet..)"
That's called the RUF, invented in the late 80's. Sadly nobody's bought the idea yet.
posted by brokkr at 3:53 PM on October 17, 2015


Octothorpe, I am pretty impressed with myself that just based on the stated price of your home and the fact that you work in tech, I was able to correctly guess where you live. Thus city is basically turning into "I could live in SF, but why?" Man, who'd'a thunk that two decades ago?
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:04 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


acb: That's assuming most people don't want the benefits of neo-urbanism (walkable/bikeable cities, activities/events/culture within reach) and would be satisfied with living in a McMansion on a quarter acre block, the nearest shopping mall a 15-minute drive away, and nothing to do but watch television, joylessly masturbate like a caged chimp, or order more stuff online to fill the space in their McMansion.

Suburban life doesn't have to be empty and awful. Good planning (or good historical circumstances) can make a huge difference in terms of creating a fulfilling suburban experience. Here in Massachusetts (one of the most densely populated states in the U.S., where you'd think it would be nothing but asphalt as far as the eye could see) most towns maintain significant reserves of conservation land (about 35% of total land area, in my town) with walking trails that wind through forests, over hills, and around ponds and bogs. Town centers remain important hubs for commercial, civic, and social activities. Larger homes and tracts provide residents with space to pursue activities that would be difficult to do in a city. (Thinking about taking up furniture-making? Maybe you want to host a 40-person family Christmas party? Good luck doing it in your one-bedroom, fourth-floor flat, but a 3-bed/2.5-bath house with a full kitchen, living room, dining room, deck, yard, shed, and basement will handle those activities no problem and you won't even bother the neighbors.) For that matter, some of us just like a deal more space around us than others, and find it psychologically taxing to be perpetually surrounded by the noise and crowd of a city.

My local big city is an easy drive away, as are lots of other regional activities—in the last month I've been to a food festival, a renaissance faire, camping twice, and also celebrated a wedding with friends who live in a city where I used to reside. I frequently have to pass on invitations to fun social events due to a lack of space in my calendar. There are lots of excellent dining options within easy reach (even without going up to Boston) and more every year. I can finish my day's work and, if the tides are right, go kayaking afterward and have my dinner over a campfire. I spend social time with my family and/or friends almost every day. Needing to have a car is a problem, but then so are high crime rates, poor air quality, noise and light pollution, and lack of access to natural environments—all issues that tend to be found more in cities than suburbs. Anyway, some of us have jobs where we would need a car regardless; I myself am a carpenter by trade, and need a vehicle to transport my tools if nothing else.

I've lived in cities and I've lived in suburbs, and on balance I'll take a good suburb any day. I feel less isolated here (my friends and family live nearby) and more in tune with things that matter to me, fulfill me, and nourish my spirit. I realize that suburbs are not and should not be the solution for everyone—there are just too many of us for that, and some people like the crowds and vibrancy of cities, the feeling of being a participant in a great cultural center where new ideas and experiences are constantly arising, and that's great for them—but it's honestly pretty ignorant, insulting, and frankly boorish to blithely characterize all suburbanites as a bunch of compulsively-masturbating apes squatting in our identical McMansions atop our hordes of meaningless junk. That kind of thoughtless urban elitism is really tiresome and provincial and it kind of pisses me off how common it is both in our general culture and here on MetaFilter in particular. I could say a lot more on this subject (and I could say it a lot more forcefully as well, believe you me) but this has been enough of a derail already. I apologize for going off-topic, but I see the above sentiment expressed all too often around here, and I couldn't quite let it pass.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:55 PM on October 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


soren_lorensen: "Octothorpe, I am pretty impressed with myself that just based on the stated price of your home and the fact that you work in tech, I was able to correctly guess where you live. Th[i]s city is basically turning into "I could live in SF, but why?" Man, who'd'a thunk that two decades ago?"

Hah. I moved here 26 years ago when it was still a dying ghost town. East Liberty was a war zone, Carson Street was boarded up and Lawrenceville was old man bars, a cemetery and not a single hipster in sight. Squirrel Hill smelled like burning tires whenever the LTV coke plant in Hazelwood farted and I bought a six bedroom 3000 square foot edwardian four-square in Friendship for $40K.
posted by octothorpe at 5:36 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


philip-random: "I live near a place (Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC) where, up until the recent collapse in oil prices etc, people would routinely fly in and out the next province over (Alberta -- at least five hundred miles) because the economics of it just made sense. It's the economics that are mad."

Those people aren't doing it daily though (a two week in - two week out schedule or 3/1 or 2/1 is typical). And usually they are living at the remote location in either employer supplied camps or LOA.
posted by Mitheral at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2015


This thread is just depressing. My girlfriend and I moved to Oakland over the summer because it was the only place we could afford, and even then it was a stretch. We don't work in tech, so we don't make loads of money, but we're still directly participating in the gentrification process just by paying the rent we have to pay for a tiny little apartment. Someone catcalled my SO and said she looked cute on her way to her Google job, and we were in part furious that they were catcalling her, and in part miserable that this is how people see us, and that we can't really blame them because fas far as rent it concerned we're not any different from the techbros. I know people who have seen rents triple in the past 5 years, so I guess we're just lucky not to be paying MORE than we are.

I read recently that more and more snake people are moving to the suburbs, because that's the only affordable place to be if you want to have a family, or Jesus, just more than 500 sq ft. I know everyone looks at the suburbs as a place for plastic people with no imaginations and no interest in culture, but fuck it, I guess I could learn to put up with that for a little more stability (if we could even get it there). Meanwhile, my SO's mother has been giving us a hard time for not trying hard enough to buy a house, because Lord Knows she had one at our age.

What a miserable fucking generation to be in.
posted by teponaztli at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Aw man that looks AMAZING. Why is it a monstrosity?

Looks like a nice place to live, but I wouldn't have wanted to have it built next to my nice condo. This area's condo blocks used to be a top-5 "exclusive" neighborhood in all of Tokyo, maybe it still is but this tower certainly impinged on that, both esthetically and its sun- and privacy robbing envelope.

here's a google street view of it from the ground . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 5:55 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


snake people?
posted by mwhybark at 6:02 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's just a 30-story apartment block, isn't it? It doesn't fit, but in a city with 13 million people, it's not fair that the richest can avoid even having to look at higher-density housing.
posted by gingerest at 6:04 PM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


Snake people are the people whom we no longer call Millennials, because anything with the world "millennial" in it is guaranteed to be annoying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:04 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sorry, bad joke - "snake people" = "millennials" = people in their 20's and 30's, as far as I can tell.
posted by teponaztli at 6:04 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Snake people.
posted by gingerest at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hah. I moved here 26 years ago when it was still a dying ghost town. East Liberty was a war zone, Carson Street was boarded up and Lawrenceville was old man bars, a cemetery and not a single hipster in sight. Squirrel Hill smelled like burning tires whenever the LTV coke plant in Hazelwood farted and I bought a six bedroom 3000 square foot edwardian four-square in Friendship for $40K.

My family moved here in the mid-70s--I remember that time well! I've been a classic boomerang but never was able to stay away more than a few years before running back. I always knew that our time would come and have been back for 8 years this time with no plans to leave ever again if I can help it. It warms my heart to hear my preschooler rattle off the names of the neighborhoods as we drive around.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:46 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry if my comment about robot cars antagonized anyone, it was meant as a value neutral observation of the great wheel. Before there was neo urbanism, after all, there was still urban and all the urbanites who fled cities for suburbia had there reasons and will again. Than in another 50 years neo-neo urbanism will be hot and its back to whatever the contemporary loft will be. Masturbating caged chimps makes me think somebody doth protest too much.
posted by Pembquist at 6:59 PM on October 17, 2015


Snake people are the people whom we no longer call Millennials, because anything with the world "millennial" in it is guaranteed to be annoying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:04 PM on October 17 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

Sorry, bad joke - "snake people" = "millennials" = people in their 20's and 30's, as far as I can tell.
posted by teponaztli at 6:04 PM on October 17 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

Snake people.
posted by gingerest at 6:05 PM on October 17 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


You have all witnessed the exact moment I became old, having ceased to keep track of online language trends due to insufficient fucks.
posted by mwhybark at 7:02 PM on October 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


Pittsburgh's actually an interesting example of what happens when the tech companies hit the limits of what they can draw from the Valley ecosystem. The pool of tech talent that comes here to study at the universities, combined with the (comparatively) dirt cheap real estate market, provide fertile ground for the companies to open an office here and get the students embedded into their companies before they even graduate. I came here for my university job having studied elsewhere, but a lot of the people we hire are Pitt/CMU students who do internships with us and never leave, because even if we can only pay 70% or whatever of what they can get in the Valley, the difference is more than made up for by the cheaper cost of living, the easier commutes, etc.

Of course it's not like the economic growth opportunities are being spread around the city very much. East Liberty home values have skyrocketed with Google and a few other companies located there, which makes me wonder what's going on this recently announced effort to "revitalize" the area. There are of course parts of East Liberty and the surrounding neighborhoods that could use a little sprucing up, but if I had to rank Pittsburgh neighborhoods in terms of need right now, I think East Liberty and most of the East End would be low on the list. This city's far from becoming the next San Francisco, but I also think the politicians need to be careful about making sure that all this new money doesn't create new problems even as it solves old ones.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:13 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


We don't work in tech, so we don't make loads of money...someone cat called my SO...on her way to her Google job

I think maybe one of you works in tech?
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:28 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think maybe one of you works in tech?

The way I read that is the catcaller assumed she did?
posted by atoxyl at 7:56 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, phrased that badly. What he yelled was "you look cute on your way to your Google job." She does not work at Google, or in tech at all.
posted by teponaztli at 7:59 PM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


all the urbanites who fled cities for suburbia had there reasons and will again

Okay, yeah, but we've got to look a little bit harder at that narrative. The suburbs were not only created, and that by profit-seeking development corporations in close linkage with government and banking entities, they were also heavily marketed as aspirational because there was money to be made convincing people they wanted to move to them. Also, there were financial incentives available for financing new construction that were not made available for updating/retrofitting urban neighborhoods or building new urban infill. Suburbanization wasn't some simple function of a massive gallop of popular taste out the fringes of society - it was a planned, investment-driven, and (not tangentially) racially and ethnically limited set of profitable development projects agreed upon by manufacturers from aerospace industries looking for new markets now that war was downscaling to cold, landowners whose farms were becoming less profitable in the face of industrial agricultural upscaling, building contractors working in tandem with newly established (and racist) government homeloan programs, etc. In other words, the suburbs aren't a pure reflection of human yearning - they were manufactured and marketed to a particular audience with a great deal of public subsidy - an effort to shape American residential patterns in particular, presumably profitable and socially desired, ways. Suburbs didn't just magic their way into being, and there is no reason we should assume their necessary existence. It's a mistake to think of them as a desire phenomenon or neutral event that "just happened." Much more was at work and at stake. There was not a great deal of long-term planning and forecasting associated with this effort, which is one of the reasons why transportation infrastructure was so quickly and completely outmatched by settlement patterns that cars became a requirement for middle-class living.

An excellent source on all this is Kenneth T. Jackson's Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United STates. Definitely a must-read for anyone into planning, but even more so for suburban apologists who think this all happened because quality of life.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on October 17, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yeah, the entire demographic model of the 20th century city and its suburbs is incredibly and deliberately racist. How can we break that as renters? As far as I can tell, affordable housing either entails participation in gentrification, or it means moving to the suburbs. I'm honestly unclear about what we're supposed to do that won't just further entrench the horrible status quo.
posted by teponaztli at 8:53 PM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


At the consumer level there's not much but if you get into housing activism there are so many interesting models for developing mixed-income, mixed-social group urban communities.
posted by Miko at 8:58 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Client was in KL, gf + flat in Singapore. Used to fly all the time, used to pay S$20 if the client didn't pay. Was fun for the first six months, but life began taking a toll after that. Friends stop dropping by; you're in a rush all the time, and your most endearing memories end up being epic taxi rides where you reach the airport in the nick of time. You're constantly on the move; there's always something that needs to be done.

Eventually gave it up; not worth the lifestyle.
posted by the cydonian at 9:15 PM on October 17, 2015


Honestly, city living is overrated sometimes. I have lived in the city of Seattle for almost 8 years now and we will probably be moving to the suburbs within 2-3 years.

The city infrastructure is falling apart, making it annoying if not dangerous to walk or bike around. Buses don't have the most convenient routes or schedules if you need to navigate across Lake Union or, god forbid, cross over I-5 going east-west.

The housing in the city that is within walking distance of a full grocery store or place to buy other affordable non-bespoke stuff is way expensive, and there really aren't that many grocery and home-goods stores for normal people anyway. Everything is local/handmade/organic (read:expensive). You pretty much have to go to the suburbs anyway to get things (yay Target), and given how terrible public transit is, it can take upwards of an hour each way by bus. Might as well live in the suburbs at that point, where you can pick up your groceries quicker AND save some money on rent.

People will continue to leave cities until we make cities livable places for normal people.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:21 PM on October 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


People will continue to leave cities until we make cities livable places for normal people.

I totally agree (well, except for thinking of urban people as not normal), but it's not like that's an impossibility. it's a matter of investment, community activism, popular and political will. The infrastructure doesn't have to degrade. We don't have to have an absence of major groceries downtown. These are choices - things people can control through civic measures. The more people choose to invest in resource-intensive suburbs, the less they will work to improve city living experience, and they'll end up ceding the city to those with the least available power, time and money to do so themselves.

Also, I think people overestimate suburban infrastructure. Here in the Northeast, the outlying suburbs are the hardest hit and the last to get their power restored after a flood or an ice storm, because a string of seven houses on one cul-de-sac street has a lot lower priority than a downtown building with 30 units in it, or a transportation hub. Near suburbs are seeing services decline as tax bases leave their municipalities, once set up to avoid city costs but now finding they can not subsist on their own nor command investment because of their unattractive, older development. Their older water, sewer, gas and power systems more readily fail. Speaking as someone whose family has endured a couple of the more cataclysmic terroristic and climatic events of the past few years in the near suburbs of NYC, I have seen firsthand how urbanization helps people surive, and how suburbanization can be traumatically isolating and even life-threatening in the event of widespread system shutdown. The suburbs are more fragile than the cities in many ways.
posted by Miko at 9:28 PM on October 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think my point was misunderstood, Miko. I mean that Seattle, like San Francisco, has become a city for the wealthy. That's not "normal people" in that the majority of Americans are not wealthy. My husband and I make very comfortable tech salaries, yet we do not really consider Seattle to be affordable to even us anymore. If we can't afford this city, I can't even imagine how the people who do middle-class jobs can.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:42 PM on October 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


I frequently take rideshares between two major Canadian cities, and it never ceases to astound me how many of the drivers are supercommuters. Having come from the place I rideshare to, I can almost understand why, rent-wise, someone might live here during the week and work where I used to live. Nonetheless, the 2 hour commute daily, or a-few-times-a-weekly remains a shock.
posted by constantinescharity at 10:20 PM on October 17, 2015


Nonetheless, the 2 hour commute daily, or a-few-times-a-weekly remains a shock.

A two hour commute in Toronto means about 30 miles.*

*Only half-joking. The worst traffic in north america.
posted by el io at 11:11 PM on October 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is yet more evidence to me that locating your business in San Francisco is basically a giant "screw you" to your employees.

I know it's a ways up the page, but I've been a part of a tech-type company that tried to start up in Other Than San Francisco. One of many problems we had was that people didn't want to move to Small Town Nowhere because if we went under, they wouldn't have any other jobs, because we basically were the tech industry in this town. Even if we paid relocation. Even if houses were $100,000 for a really nice house. Even if you could get a massive apartment for what you'd pay for a bathroom stall in SF. Mine was so big I put a decent free weight gym in the living room because it was just dang huge.

But people didn't want to move for a variety of reasons. So these tech hubs become self-perpetuating feedback cycles, where everybody lives there because that's where everyone lives and works, so the industry starts centering there, so the support networks like VC and startup incubators and all that start centering there, and in tech a lot of job hunting is down to who you know, so you want to stay where your network is, so you stay in San Francisco.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:19 AM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


90 minutes is really considered a "megacommute"? I always thought of it as a distance thing only, not a time thing. My "commute" to high school on the bus every day took 80-90 minutes(and sometimes more!) but was "only" 8.5 miles as the car drove. At 4am, yea, you could do it in 20 minutes... but only at 4am. And shit, basically any commute in my city takes at least an hour! That's like, the Standard Time Unit for transporting yourself anywhere either in traffic or via transit unless you're on a very specific route that lets you shortcut some part of that equation.

The housing in the city that is within walking distance of a full grocery store or place to buy other affordable non-bespoke stuff is way expensive, and there really aren't that many grocery and home-goods stores for normal people anyway. Everything is local/handmade/organic (read:expensive). You pretty much have to go to the suburbs anyway to get things (yay Target), and given how terrible public transit is, it can take upwards of an hour each way by bus. Might as well live in the suburbs at that point, where you can pick up your groceries quicker AND save some money on rent.

I've heard 100% of the same things from my friends who live in the bay.

What i don't understand, especially after visiting my friends in brooklyn and staying there for a while... is how we fucked this up so damn bad? Rent is obscene there, and yet somehow you can walk a block to a bodega and buy pretty much anything you need dirt cheap, and easily walk or take transit fast and directly to anything else. And transit is really the secondary issue here, it's businesses that aren't fartisanal seafood shops/organic co-ops being densely gridded into the city. I mean they have those too, but for fucks sake i'm tired of having to plan my day around looping out to a grocery store that doesn't charge 3x the price for the exact same thing. The weird thing is there used to be plenty of grocery stores and bodegas here. But the cheap ones closed to reopen as expensive ones... or more often, just closed. And then all the minimarts started closing. Then the fast food places.

And yea, housing. Everyone i know who still lives in town is either doing ye olde SF routine of cramming more people than official-city-records "bedrooms" into a place or holding on to a place with below market rate rent. And as i watch rents rise, i realize that unless i get an unrealistically large boost in income(and really, in household income not just my own) then i'm basically priced out. Pretty soon people are going to realize that you won't get shot and robbed if you move south of jackson street and we'll all have to commute from the moon. It's already starting to happen, but i predict that pretty soon there will be a massive inrush.

Also on my mind as all this goes down, and i really haven't seen many an article touch on this about the bay(barring the poop tracker that got some honestly nasty-toned writeups)... but at least in seattle as all this is happening the homeless situation has gotten WAY worse. For the first time in my entire life of living in the city, i've actually regularly been harassed/threatened/followed/etc to the point of feeling unsafe multiple times a week and seen absolutely insane stuff go down on a nearly daily basis. Fights, assaults, property destruction, open drug use, severe harassment/catcalling. I recently saw a guy laying on a gigantic beanbag chair almost naked covered in used syringes screaming at every woman who walked past about their vaginas and threatening people... two blocks from the police station. All day.

I don't really know what to make of it... but it's strange. The entire middle of the income spectrum gets booted and all that remain are fairly wealthy people and hobos.
posted by emptythought at 2:48 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


“mega-commuters”—defined as people who commute more than 90 minutes


I had no idea I had been mega-commuting for years. It's the norm around here. But, I do so love my new 35 minute door-to-door. So, am I just a commuter? Or, a micro-commuter?
posted by Gotanda at 4:47 AM on October 18, 2015


I guess that I should stop whining when my 25 minute commute takes half-an-hour instead.

It is sort of annoying that even though I both work and live in the middle of the city, I drive to work instead of taking transit. I could take the subway -> bus but a bus pass costs $100 a month and the ride takes almost an hour. Driving takes less than half the time and my little Honda Fit only costs about $30 a month in gas. Yeah that's not factoring the cost of owning the car but I already own it and it's long paid for so I'm not giving it up. Even in a walkable urban neighborhood, it's a pain to get by without a car and even thinking hard, I can only think of two people I know (one of whom is a mefite) who don't own a car in this city.
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 AM on October 18, 2015


So, am I just a commuter? Or, a micro-commuter?

Depending on the electronic devices that you use during your commute, you might be a laptop commuter or even a handheld commuter.
posted by sour cream at 5:51 AM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


fartisanal seafood shops/organic co-ops

That is now my new favourite word. Thanks emptythought!
posted by cynical pinnacle at 5:55 AM on October 18, 2015


“ ‘It’s just market processes’ is what people say when they want to refuse to acknowledge that market processes inevitably result in a hyperconcentration of wealth and power in a few hands, and who refuse to acknowledge that this hyperconcentration of wealth and power is just as inimicable to human life as systems that produced and justified hyperconcentration through declaring the divine right of kings,” is what people say when they don’t like what a particular market is doing. "It's God's will."

then if you want to follow the 'great chain of [monetary] being' higher...
"Getting to Denmark" entails more attention to the quality of public services and not just their existence or funding level: How did Denmark get to be so awesome? Taxes. Denmark does it with really high taxes... The flip side is that if you actually live in Denmark, then things like child care, college tuition, and health care are all much cheaper than they are in the United States. In total, Danes and Americans consume a similar quantity of taxes and services. But because of high levels of taxation and spending, the nature of the consumption is quite different. People enjoy more social and personal care services, and fewer cars and other consumer goods. The upper middle class has less, and the poor and the working class have more. But on the whole, Denmark's high taxes have not prevented it from being a wealthy, happy society.
posted by kliuless at 6:00 AM on October 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


The notion that all these office jobs must be done at one central location seems to be central here.
posted by humanfont at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2015


There are serious advantages to concentrating all these office jobs in one central location, as Ghostride the Whip and others documented above. "The Internet will make geography not matter" is one of those ideas that's simple, easy, obvious, and wrong.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:55 AM on October 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why do programmers not telecommute more?
posted by pracowity at 1:05 PM on October 18, 2015


Why do programmers not telecommute more?

Because our bosses don't let us?
posted by the_blizz at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


pracowity: "Why do programmers not telecommute more?"

Scrum
posted by octothorpe at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also because everyone i know who has worked remotely(either as an employee or a contractor) Vs working in person has been passed over for promotions in favor of people working locally.

My friend who did almost all remote work(but was prolifically good) moved into a 100% in-person role at a primary office after doing a split or home and working at a satellite office and was instantly promoted like twice within a few months.

From what i've seen and heard, you're basically always leaving future money on the table at that job and others by telecommuting.
posted by emptythought at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


But low density housing is a priority here that communities are not willing to give up

I'm in Alameda (off the coast of Oakland) & we've got a big ol' parcel of mostly underdeveloped land, courtesy of the U.S. Navy pulling out. Sure, it's going to require massive environmental remediation, but that hasn't stopped developers from promising all manner of low-density housing developments for the past however many years.

Why doesn't anyone pitch high-density housing? Because the minute someone does, the question, "Who will pay for the schools, cops, firefighters and city services a bigger population requires?" comes up. So does the question, "How will our small island -- which is all of six miles long and a mile-and-a-half wide -- absorb extra traffic around commuting time? Where will the money come from to keep things from becoming a traffic nightmare?"

I would love it if we had more high-density housing. I would love it because I loved the funky mix of people here, and we're all getting priced out, and more housing stock means saner rents and entry-level housing. But I want increased public transit to serve all my would-be new neighbors, and I want a few more schools so that every kid on this island continues to have access to a decent educational experience, and I want to make sure we have enough fire department posts and parks employees to handle the increased population. And I want to make sure I'm not footing 100% of the bill while a developer skips off with millions in their coffers.

And developers? All they want to do is build single-family homes with huge profit margins. They hate it when citizen groups ask, "Why should we let you build here without contributing to the infrastructure your development will require?"

The sheer amount of public-private partnership and work required for high-density housing to work here? I can't imagine any developer deciding it's worth their time when they can just build another series of crappy mcmansions in a dried-out pasture 2 hours from the SF Bay Area, then advertise "affordable Bay living" on a few billboards around town.
posted by sobell at 5:03 PM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


emptythought: "Also because everyone i know who has worked remotely(either as an employee or a contractor) Vs working in person has been passed over for promotions in favor of people working locally."

What I wonder about locally -- and again, this is in central IL with people having city-to-city megacommutes where they're not sitting in traffic but have two adults with jobs in two different cities an hour apart -- is why they aren't more flexible about encouraging employees to telecommute one day a week. Even employers who officially have telecommuting-friendly policies routinely turn down workgroups who've come up with a schedule they want to use for telecommuting. These are typically lawyers and accountants and six-sigma people and whatnot, who spend a lot of time preparing large documents and can do all of their work remotely, so working from home lets them have a day two hours shorter (no commute) where they can focus all day on a longer document with minimal interruptions.

(I will also say, there's some gossip from the hospital employees about an internal study that showed an incredible number of accidents by megacommuting nurses at the big regional medical center, who are more likely to be the "trailing" spouse who has to take on the long commute, or the spouse who changes jobs more often (because nursing is so mobile), who are driving an hour home after 12-hour shifts at weird hours, and that this is obviously not problem that telecommuting can solve and seems like a big one!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:26 PM on October 18, 2015


an internal study that showed an incredible number of accidents by megacommuting nurses

My spouse's employer is a large national insurance company that has been restructuring on an ongoing basis into nationally centralized phone-oriented service centers, which is why her shift starts so early - she preps management info on a daily basis regarding the prior 24h cycle for a subset of the center's management teams, whose shift starts an hour later than hers and whose oversight-responsibility employees start an hour after that, servicing the East Coast while we live on the West.

The company is built on stats. The work practice implies people dying on the way to work.
posted by mwhybark at 8:10 PM on October 18, 2015


So telecommuting doesn't happen because management sabotages it. Either they don't offer it at all or they don't promote people who nonetheless find way to do it. Thanks for the pollution, traffic jams, and billions of wasted dollars, all you old-fashioned managers.
posted by pracowity at 8:19 AM on October 19, 2015


So telecommuting doesn't happen because management sabotages it. Either they don't offer it at all or they don't promote people who nonetheless find way to do it. Thanks for the pollution, traffic jams, and billions of wasted dollars, all you old-fashioned managers.

Ehh... is the idea of telecommuting really so popular that it would save billions of dollars? I telecommute a fair amount, but I also find myself craving the social environment that an office can provide; it really does seem easier to work with others and focus on the job in person, regardless of the various form of videoconferencing and IRC-for-work that are becoming normalized. Surely more access to telecommuting would cause people to choose to do it more often, but how frequently in aggregate?

More critically, what percent of jobs in the Bay area (or anywhere with traffic jams, really) can be done by telecommuters? Would it actually take everyone off the freeways? If so - great! But it just seems like a bit of a stretch.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2015


Personally I don't like to tele-comute and in general, wouldn't want to work on a software development team where any team members weren't on-site for at least three or four days a week. In theory you should be able to communicate effectively when not co-located but it never seems to work all that well.
posted by octothorpe at 8:44 AM on October 19, 2015


More critically, what percent of jobs in the Bay area (or anywhere with traffic jams, really) can be done by telecommuters?

Despite all the hysteria, probably not a high one.

Even with all the focus on tech workers, I have a bunch of friends here in SF who work in retail and services (I'd wager there are more bartenders than network analysts in the City) and as public schoolteachers. In my heavily public-facing government agency--and even in a capitalist wonderland like this, there is still a public sector!--we've been on a hiring spree recently, and particularly of returned Peace Corps volunteers. What we pay our entry-level workers seems obscenely low to me* and we do have candidates decline offers, but we've had plenty of new hires who've made it work within a reasonable commuting distance, so hope is not yet lost.

*(although on reflection, I was actually doing all right making half of that while working in the private sector and living in Oakland in the early 2000s - ah, how times change)
posted by psoas at 10:45 AM on October 19, 2015


Local co-working space can provide an excellent alternative to pure telecommuting from home. The relationships you can build with other people at the space can lead to a lot more professional opportunities than what you get inside a company.
posted by humanfont at 11:49 AM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Their back-of-the-envelope calculations have them saving about $1100/month."

Based on "average" costs I would consider irresponsible behavior... way too high. The truth is, people have a fair amount of flexibility to pay less for their cost of living, even in San Francisco.

I live in a 2 br rent controlled apartment in S.F., which costs less than $2000, which includes water and garbage. I don't have to commute... and the idea of other costs of living being higher entirely depends upon how and where you choose to spend your money.

Lately, my partner and I have been focused on saving, so we rarely go to restaurants without some sort of a discount. Instead, we do a lot of the cooking, most of which is healthy vegan. As a real challenge, we have been budgeting $25-a-week each on groceries -- just a little over $1 a meal each.

It's *very* doable... and I suspect it's actually far cheaper to eat like this in San Francisco than in Vegas, due to access to discount produce, much of which is either local or even organic.

In an average week, I go shopping about 2-3 times... but where I go shopping makes all the difference.

For produce, I hit the produce stands on either Stockton Street in Chinatown or in the Mission. I pay a lot of attention on price per lb., and try to get most of my foods at 50¢ / lb. or less, when possible. On the Mission, that means things like 25¢/ lb. bananas, 50¢ / lb. apples, 33¢ / lb. tomatoes, 50¢ avocados, 50¢ / lb. pears, and big restaurant-sized bags of spinach or salad greens for $2. It's a solid place to find good prices on fruits, but when it comes to vegetables, I usually prefer Chinatown. Some of my favorites there are 50¢ / lb. kabocha squash, 65¢ / lb. baby bok choi, four-for-a-dollar green onions, 40¢ / lb. yams, 50¢ / lb. green beans, 50¢ / lb. zucchini... and I usually end my trips in Chinatown by visiting Wo Chong. They've been making fresh tofu in S.F. since the 1930s, and they sell it behind the counter for an amazing 20¢ a piece. (Refrigerate fresh tofu in water once home.)

If I get a good discount on veggies or fruit that are only going to be fresh a little while longer, I'll freeze them. I even freeze spotty bananas and blend them up for desserts. It also helps to have paper bags around, for ripening fruits and avocados.

I also buy my staple foods in bulk. Most people's idea of cheap staples nowadays is Costco, but you don't need to buy a membership to buy in bulk. I go to Cash & Carry. (There's one in Oakland too.)

Want to get big bags of high quality Japanese rice? Brown rice? Pancake mix? Want to make your own pizzas, with a simple "just add water" mix? Need flour of basically any sort -- wheat or otherwise -- for baking or making pasta? How about big bags of oatmeal, for probably about a half to a third of what you might pay at the grocery stores? No problem. The trick, of course, is being able and equipped to cook. The less "prepared" the food you buy is, the better the price, and the healthier it will tend to be. In addition to this, I occasionally buy any good bulk discounts I see online. You can probably do bulk shopping quite well on Amazon Prime.

I only tend to hit traditional grocery stores occasionally, for the few things they have that I can't get elsewhere for less. For these trips, I usually go to FoodsCo, an inexpensive offshoot of Kroegers. I go to Trader Joes occasionally for their inexpensive Irish Breakfast tea, and their roasted sunflower seeds, which I blend with a few glugs of sunflower seed oil to make sunflower seed butter. It's better than any peanut butter, which I've become allergic to, and it costs only $2 a lb., as compared to about $7 a lb. to buy prepared sunflower seed butter which isn't nearly as good. My partner also occasionally stops by Target near her work, as they have the best price on almond milk.

So yeah... you can totally live in S.F. on a Vegas budget. You just need to not be a ridiculously irresponsible consumer. The whole theoretical Vegas commute is best left that way... that said, once the high speed rail is finally built, I could totally see people commuting routinely to S.F. from places like Fresno and Sacramento and saving money, without having a horrific commute.
posted by markkraft at 1:47 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


...not that I would choose to commute in to S.F., even on a bullet train. If you don't live in S.F., you don't get the experience of actually living in S.F., and that's worth the expense for most locals. My lifestyle is pedestrian, and not only do I greatly prefer it that way, it's also healthier for me.

Oh, and there are, of course, more things to do here than anywhere else nearby... and it's not incredibly hot every day, too, so you'll actually want to go out and do things, rather than hopping from air conditioned building to air conditioned building. (By the way, if you live in Vegas, plan on spending an extra $200 a month for A/C during the summers.
posted by markkraft at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2015


I live in a 2 br rent controlled apartment in S.F., which costs less than $2000, which includes water and garbage.

What percent of apartments in San Francisco meet this qualification?
posted by Going To Maine at 7:41 PM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Local co-working space can provide an excellent alternative to pure telecommuting from home. The relationships you can build with other people at the space can lead to a lot more professional opportunities than what you get inside a company.

A few developers I know who work remotely, in a different city from the headquarters of a growing start-up based in SF, are actually considering setting this up informally between themselves, at least until something more formal is arranged by HQ.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:21 PM on October 20, 2015


"What percent of apartments in San Francisco meet this qualification?"

A low percentage of what is currently on the market, because it's based, in part, on rent control and having been here a few years. That said, there are quite a few listings in S.F. to rent a bedroom in a house or multi-room apartment for $1000 or less. You can pay even less if you rent in the Sunset or near UCSF.

There are local laws requiring anyone who has a rent-controlled unit to not sublet for more than a fair share of the rent at that time... which means that if they've got a deal, they basically are supposed to pass it on, or face the consequences. In many cases, it's possible to get on the lease too, if that is desired.

The thing is though, people routinely search for and find whatever kind of rental suits their needs. For example, not only is my rent very affordable, the place also allows pets without charging extra.
posted by markkraft at 7:20 PM on October 21, 2015


The thing is though, people routinely search for and find whatever kind of rental suits their needs. For example, not only is my rent very affordable, the place also allows pets without charging extra.

The issues with even suggesting this as a possibility are manifold

1. People are pressured in to accepting more bullshit than they would with the average place from neighbors, their landlord(or who they're subleasing from, or both), the building itself/maintenance or lack thereof, and personal safety concerns like an ex/stalker/malicious acquaintance/that one creepy person who follows them down the street perpetually harassing them there(and for the sake of this, lets assume the landlord and police were no help because that happens way too often)

2. Chaining off of 1, you're not just pressured to stay in the space, you have very little actual mobility. Moving is a very deliberate act that requires months of research/planning/searching. You can't just move in to the first market rate place that meets your basic requirements and accepts you.

3. Depending on how wide or linked in to housing your support network is, it might be very hard or impossible to find spaces like that. Lets say you had to move to town to take care of an ailing family member and you're not making 150k a year or whatever. I'm assuming "low income housing" there has a wait to even get on the waiting list if it does in seattle. Now if you find a place, you're getting exploited the hardest on points 1/2.

Another one, and i couldn't figure out which bullet point to stuff this under, but i've lived at places that were well below market rate and the landlord knew it and was a completely lying exploitive scumbag because it was like "what are you gonna do, move?" since the house was literally at a bare minimum, over a thousand dollars less than anything comparable in size or within even 20 minutes of the location.

"You can find a cheap sweet hidden spot" is not as good of an argument for "it can still be affordable!" as you think. Like, good on you for sticking it out. Shits hard out there. I got a cheap place too in a very expensive area of a city that will probably catch up to or eclipse SF within a year, or at most two. But it's not something you can really suggest as an option.
posted by emptythought at 1:36 PM on October 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The issues with even suggesting this as a possibility are manifold"

Yes and no. San Francisco's housing market is basically nuts. If you live anywhere else in the Bay Area... it's completely different. The demand can be insane. Places disappear, in some cases, before they are even shown. None of the rental places bother calling back, most of the time... because they simply do not need to.

What that meant to me when I moved here from outside S.F. was a longer, more expensive process than I ever faced before. Had I known then what I know now, I would've dealt with it differently.

My advice to moving to S.F. is:

1> Find somewhere affordable relatively few minutes away, and make that your nearby crashpad, if you can. Could be a friend's couch, could be somewhere in Oakland near a BART, could be one of the local hostels. Thirty miles outside of S.F. is like commuting 80 minutes into the city and 80 minutes out, on those days when you need to see a place, so to the extent you can be nearby more often, that's good.

2> Oftentimes, apartment rental places that fit your needs and costs only have occasional openings. That means you need to be prepared to act immediately, if you see one that you like.

"People are pressured in to accepting more bullshit than they would with the average place"
Potentially, but not necessarily. That leads me to the next step:

3> Plan for a long search, to find a place that is right for you. Expect to see several places which are great, only to get them snatched by others first. Save ahead of time. Be ready to pay and sign immediately, once your criteria is met. Get pre-approved by a few of the most likely apartment agencies for you, so that you can act immediately. Call them up -- or better yet, drop by -- regularly, saying you are pre-approved, and do you have anything opening up that isn't listed yet, etc.

"you're not just pressured to stay in the space, you have very little actual mobility."
True. If you find a place in San Francisco that is imperfect, but meets your needs, and it has rent control... you probably want to stay, and find ways to make it work better for you.

"Depending on how wide or linked in to housing your support network is, it might be very hard or impossible to find spaces like that."

I had basically zero specialized information or a network in S.F. to speak of, before moving here. I found what I was looking for on Craigslist. And, indeed, you still can. My advice would be to check out Craigslist, but also pay attention to the various colleges, and find out where and how students locate affordable rentals. There are also communities on Facebook and other places, where you can find people posting about housing openings, or possibly find someone to go in with on an apartment or house rental.


"Lets say you had to move to town to take care of an ailing family member and you're not making 150k a year or whatever. I'm assuming "low income housing" there has a wait"
You don't need to make $150K a year to find a place. I certainly didn't. You probably don't need low-income housing, either. You should try to find a rent-controlled place if possible, or a place where the owner is willing to give you a reasonable deal on the rent, without jacking it up each year. Every place built before 1979 is rent controlled... and that's a lot. That means that even if your initial rent is a bit high, they can only raise your rent a few percent a year, so long as you stay there.

I've lived at places that were well below market rate and the landlord knew it and was a completely lying exploitive scumbag

It happens, but S.F. has very active renters groups who do wonders to protect people's rights. There are a lot of requirements for landlords, and those who run afoul of them can have real problems.

Really,there are no guarantees, but the pessimism you put forth makes it sound hopeless, as if your only option is to be exploited at market rate. All I can say is, no, that's not the case.
posted by markkraft at 4:39 PM on October 24, 2015


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