SF Forgot how to Love
As a city of free love and acceptance, San Francisco once welcomed people from all walks of life. It was a place so beautiful and culturally diverse, a community of thinkers, makers, idealists, and artists coming together to fight for justice for all. Now, at the center of tech economy 2.0 and the disparity of wealth that comes with it, long-time residents of the metropolis have forgotten what it means to love thy neighbor.
With mainstream media and the blogosphere writing daily “news” about tech companies invading the city, fueling the misguided hate towards the people of tech and generalizing on the type of workers who choose to live in SF (never mind those long-time residents and those who were born here). The glassholes, techies, engineers, and, lowly workers who make less than any BART Employee are now even bigger targets of undeserved hatred spewing from pseudo-news articles and comment forums all across the web, trickling down to an uncomfortable society divided in its quest for a place in what used to be one of the friendliest cities in America.
Last winter, a group of activists protested a Google Shuttle on 24th and Mission with a bruising showcase of the growing battle. They called it “theater” posed as reality, portraying tech workers who ride the shiny white buses of luxury as giant a-holes while an “actor” (later learned to be an activist from Oakland) shouted at faux protesters: “I can pay my rent. Can you pay your rent? You know what? Why don’t you go to a city where you can afford it? ... This is a city for the right people who can afford it. ... If you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave.” The act was hailed as heroic by many, drawing attention to the issue of shuttles using city amenities without paying fees. Unfortunately, more people believed it was real and started a wave of hate toward anyone who works in the tech industry. They painted San Francisco residents who pursued a career in tech as affluent jerks, and, though misleading, it caught on like wildfire.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Google is leasing its third San Francisco satellite office, a 35,000-square-foot warehouse that formerly housed a print shop, in the Mission on 16th and Alabama to be used for engineers from the conglomerate’s latest acquisitions. Another wave of outrage resulted. People attached the destruction of the Mission and its culture to this lease, which is actually in a predominantly commercially zoned area of the neighborhood, a row of repurposed brick buildings turned into large rental storage units with no soul or contribution to the city’s flair.
Have we lost that much of our core values as San Franciscans (compassion, progressiveness, and wholesomeness) that we must succumb to the mob mentality against our own people in order to get our points across? Are we really going to allow San Francisco to lose its "rainbow"?
In no part do I suggest that tech giants are in the right here or that their lack of conversation in this evolving issue of class warfare is conscionable. But I remain aware that the bigger issue here lies in city-official oversight and their clear disregard for the ramifications of their policies in the last few decades. The sentiment of preservation, aimed to help the city remain a wonderful place to live, also hurts its ability to meet the demands of a new world. Had our city government put weight in the countless studies and growth forecasts and started opening up opportunities—building a fair program for affordable housing and investing in the rehabilitation of degrading neighborhoods—we would not be in the same predicament we find ourselves in today. At the very least, cost of living would have grown steadily instead of skyrocketing to the absurdly inflated pricing that landlords are now taking advantage of and profiting from. An article from The Atlantic’s Gabriel Metcalf puts this perfectly in perspective:
“San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the ‘character’ that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change. Unfortunately, it worked: the city was largely ‘protected’ from change. But in so doing, we put out fire with gasoline. Over the past two decades, San Francisco has produced an average of 1,500 new housing units per year. Compare this with Seattle (another 19th century industrial city that now has a tech economy), which has produced about 3,000 units per year over the same time period (and remember it’s starting from a smaller overall population base). While Seattle decided to embrace infill development as a way to save open space at the edge of its region and put more people in neighborhoods where they could walk, San Francisco decided to push regional population growth somewhere else.”
Yes, the techies have raised the cost of living in the city, a trend that isn’t only happening here in San Francisco, but also in most metropolitan cities with a tech boom but this city isn’t a virgin to subcultures takeovers. Before this, the sentiment toward people in finance was just as heated.
There must be a better way to fight for San Francisco’s soul than to carry pitchforks and set fire to the city that birthed a sea of change for the entire country not so many decades ago. We can do it with compassion and open communication. We can do it with art and education. We can love the newbies and welcome them to our home. Encourage them to experience the beauty of San Francisco in its full glory. Protest—hit the streets if you must! Walk hand in hand as artists, working-class citizens, and techies, and demand that the corporations and the city government take action for all people. Champion change in the hearts and minds of every citizen instead of alienating the lucky ones. Promote camaraderie, and show your ability to love and accept, as you have shown many others before. Promoting hatred does not make a community thrive. This disregard for others in the same community only creates a bigger divide and does not tackle the real issues.
We have fantastic organizations that already work toward this goal, those who understand that food drives and subsidies will only go so far to help the underprivileged. Organizations like La Cocina and Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center go as far as providing a way for the populace to lift themselves from poverty and thrive alongside the rest of the city. What we need is for more corporations to start organizations within our 49-square-mile home. Encourage the tech industry to take an active part in the community it has dramatically changed and to pay it forward by aiding others and raise spirits. As it is, Google tops the list on philanthropic causes, donating over $60 million to Bay Area nonprofits in 2013 alone. That’s a staggering number, considering it’s coming from those “invaders.” Facebook’s Zuckerberg personally starts projects to aid in causes ranging from education to social injustice. As a community, you can encourage corporate generosity to fund ailing small businesses via grants and support housing initiatives or many of our successful non-profit programs to reach even more people.
Instead of the misguided hatred towards people working hard to make a better life for themselves, create change where it will actually make a difference without alienating people—not corporations. Go to your district supervisors. Demand change in taxation for tech companies. End tax credits for those companies who obviously don’t need them. Create subsidies to aid those who cannot afford to live here; use the money collected with the taxes on tech to do it. Encourage tech giants to not only drive their buses around town and take up empty brick buildings in the city, but to join in all our causes to help the homeless, the underprivileged, and the middle class. Have them help with grants for the arts, nonprofits, and both existing and new organizations to keep San Francisco the loving, accepting, and progressive city that it is.
I believe this can work. We have to make it work. Because all the ranting and bitching people do on social media about these causes only gives more money to the same companies they hate. There has to be a better way. Instead of reading and sharing negative articles on the tech boom and the waves of changes it has brought, start a dialogue on how you as a San Franciscan can sway this for everyone's benefit, online and off. It’s not too late. The same people who are passionate about writing hate on their walls can also dream up new ways for us to work together instead of just throwing rocks and alienating those who only came here to be part of something special. Let’s all show them the San Francisco we are trying so hard to preserve.
Learn to love again, San Francisco, and your roads will be paved with gold once again for everyone to walk on. Stop your whining, and create solutions together.
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