Wild Ride On City’s Boom To Wherever The Future Goes
Now is the springtime of our discontent. You hear it all over town — San Francisco is going to hell. Techies, Google buses, traffic, prices. Crime is up, and civility is down. A nice San Francisco lady I met the other night put it directly: “San Francisco has lost its soul,” she said.
I think she’s wrong. San Francisco is still San Francisco, only better than ever. We’re in the middle of a huge boom, a new Gold Rush. The Bay Area is the home of dozens of amazing companies on the frontier of new ideas.
Think about it — Apple, Facebook, Uber, Salesforce.
Twitter was invented in South Park; Uber is valued at $62 billion plus, worth more than General Motors. Airbnb was founded by two guys who turned the living room of their San Francisco apartment into a bed and breakfast. Now it has 2 million listings in 4,000 cities and 190 countries. One hundred ninety countries? Such things didn’t even exist a generation ago.
Home to tech stars
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are on the cover of Time magazine. Last week, Zuckerberg was on the cover of the Economist, the British magazine, in a photo altered to make him look like a Roman emperor. He’s the founder of Facebook, the largest social media company in the universe. Zuckerberg and his wife live near Dolores Park, just up the hill from Mission High School.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, the world’s richest company, was born in San Francisco, grew up in Cupertino and introduced some of Apple’s most famous products at the Moscone Center.
A few blocks down the street, the Salesforce Tower is rising. It will be the tallest building in the Bay Area, 61 stories high, 1,076 feet above Mission Street, 200 feet taller than the Transamerica Pyramid, the symbol of another generation. BTW, as we hip guys say, Marc Benioff, the Salesforce CEO, is also a native San Franciscan.
Not far away, at 222 Second St., LinkedIn has a new headquarters, a black monolith that reflects the sky and the new towers all around.
It’s all part of a giant boom that has turned the Bay Area into an economic powerhouse. Michael Storper, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, thinks the Bay Area is the top urban region in the United States. If the Bay Area were a country, he says, its economic output would rank 22nd in the world, just behind Argentina and ahead of Sweden.
The boom started in Silicon Valley, of course, but now San Francisco is the boom town. “Information is the new currency, and that currency is gushing through the streets of San Francisco,” Alan Collenette, an executive with Colliers International real estate firm, told CNN last year.
This is where the jobs are, where the future is being developed. “Everybody wants to live in San Francisco,” Storper said.
Back in the good old days, people worked in the city and lived in the suburbs. Now, it’s shifting. This is the principle behind the tech shuttles, which take workers to the suburbs and bring them home to the city.
“We live in an urban age again,” Storper said, “The ’60s and ’70s were the suburban age.” But the suburbs don’t have the culture and the diversity the city has, and that’s the appeal to the young people who are driving the information age. “People want to be in the central city,” he said.
No going back
The other side of the coin is a huge increase in prices, in housing costs, in everything. It’s Economics 1A: Scarcity and demand drive up prices.
“If you want inexpensive, go to Detroit or Baltimore. But nobody wants to live there,” Storper said. “The Bay Area will never be inexpensive again. That’s over.”
He’s not surprised that San Francisco residents are unhappy even in boom times, and why nearly every bit of change meets resistance — not in my backyard, not in my city.
“That’s not unusual,” he said. The city is compact, only 47 square miles with water on three sides. “It’s like Manhattan,” Storper said. “Every inch is contested.”
In San Francisco it’s possible to live in the past and the future at the same time, to eat lunch at classic restaurants where the waiters wear tuxedos, and have dinner on the cutting edge of new cuisine. It’s like living in a Victorian house with a 21st century interior — two worlds in one city.
So there are two ways to look at the boom. One is to stand on the shore, like King Canute, and order the ocean to go back. The other is to ride the wave and see where it takes us.
Source : sfchronicle.com