Recently my wife and I went to San Francisco for a wedding. While I was there, I needed to complete some school work and went to the Mission District in search of coffee shops to park myself for hours. I expected beautiful people with beautiful landmarks: done. Beyond this, I did not expect to encounter the large number of homeless that exists on nearly every street.
Before delving into my observation of this backwards town, I would like to note there is no scientific data behind my assumptions and arguments, rather an account of what I saw and experienced.
For a quick four day adventure supporting close friends in their marriage, the preparation for me included a tie, dress shoes, and bringing copious amounts of reading for two summer grad school classes. Knowing there might be down-time, I scoured the city for coffee shop with free WiFi that would allow me to sit for hours to work on said homework. I had minimal success at this: coffee shops abound, but wifi is scarce.
As I walked the Mission District, seemingly the largest of the less expensive areas of the city, homelessness and low-income housing abound. I never saw Section 8 housing, but I was told it exists in small portions of the city. Along side $4.87 unleaded gas and “skinny” jeaned hipsters were troves of homeless asleep in alleys or asking for support on sidewalks. The younger, upper-middle class would scoot around them and enjoyed their time in the trendy, but un-gentrified city-scape.
Included in the weekend’s wedding festivities was a four hour bus tour around the city of San Francisco that included all the scenic San Franciscan spots. Our bus driver was a native, one of the very few in the city. He’s knowledge and folksy commentary gave more insight into the city’s people and sectioned areas of the many have’s and have-not’s. As we toured the predominately gay district, The Castro District, the bus driver’s disdain for homelessness overflowed as he described some of the younger people have chosen to be homeless as if it were a posh niche in the area. Once we entered the downtown area, his inability to find the word “gentrification” for the recent rise in housing prices across the city led many of us to understand his status in the city as truly being outsider to his own city.
Most all of the time that I spent walking around the city (which was not nearly as much as I would have liked), I never felt “unsafe” and found the people to be polite and extremely welcoming. With such a large population originally not from the area, it amazed me the city functions in the manner that it does: effectively. Seemingly, most of the population settles here does so because the tech sector continues to explode. The people don’t seem to make up the city, but their money does.
The Politics of Money
As we rode in the comfortable charter bus (that had WiFi) for our tour of the city, the native bus driver described the conditions of the city government functioning at a low level due to the lack revenue being lost through various loop holes either intended or not by political leaders. As the city evolves into a “Pacific Manhattan”, the city hasn’t evolved their taxing methods, nor does their understanding of how to structure an explosion of a newly gentrified area seem evident. One of the most surprising facts of our bus driver shared with us is the small number of people that live in the city: only 850,000. With the amount of homeless, I expected the population to be double (plus some). Denver broke 600,000 in 2012. With the new (and unusual) economic boom in recreational marijuana, Denver’s population will most-likely follow. The difference between the two cities is space: San Francisco has none. This explains the extraordinary price of rent in nearly every corner of the city. A city expert bus driver proclaimed the city will have 100 more highrises in the next 20 years to meet population demands. Along with this is an extensive busing system as some commute as much as 65 miles away (one way) each day. San Francisco has a serious hyper-modern urbanization problem.
Between a young, wealthy population, few residents living on rent-control, and an unnecessarily large homeless population, San Francisco is in danger of alienating itself from a middle class. Even as I despise a liberal economic system, the exploding population of San Francisco NEEDS “ditch-diggers” of all types to continue it’s current economic pace: up. In the future it will be impossible to import non-technical/professional work on a large scale. No matter the success of the Silicon Valley, San Franciscans will cease to function as a city as they have very little sociological understanding of themselves.
Also, half of the peninsula would crumble into the Pacific Ocean with a decent sized earthquake.
The Two Put Together: Lowlights and highlights
I love San Francisco. With so many different pockets of beauty and nostalgia, it’s in serious danger of losing itself. My wife and I fell in love years ago in this city and have amazing and fond memories of our time here. The Victorian era construction is unforgettable and worth the millions each building is worth. The changing demographics of the city won’t change the feeling it produces, but the hope of continuing it’s success as a town needs serious reconsideration and direction. The various groups (immigrants, the LGBT community, the tech industry, etc.) will hopefully find a common ground and space for the traditional worker.
I’m not alone here. What little light San Francisco’s homeless receive in the context of political support is found in appalling displays of support. With titles of articles like “World Homeless Day in San Francisco Leads to 20 Arrests,” and, “Shame of the City: The kindness San Francisco extends to the homeless – welfare checks and daily handouts – has combined with political gridlock to allow the problem to persist,” do enough for me to proclaim the city of San Francisco is poor health.
My support for the “worker” and their rights within society seems to find little support in a city historically known to support the minority. Money has the ability to blind so many in positions with the ability to advocate for those who cannot. I hope San Francisco remembers it past to avert disaster in the future.