Another day, another "elegy" for the unrelenting wasteland that is our fair city. In exactly the same vein and tone of that irritating New Yorker piece last week, the Washington Post has published a piece in the Style section all about how San Francisco has finally, irreversibly gone to hell.
It's titled "How San Francisco broke America's heart," and it's another litany of depressing facts: rents that "read like typos," IPO fever, homeless, "poop patrol," modest homes selling for millions to tech executives. I am starting to realize there's an upside to this dominant narrative coming out of the East Coast media about what a shithole San Francisco's become: fewer people will move here and maybe rents will go down!
Writer Karen Heller cites a couple of retail closures in the Mission, Lucca Ravioli and Borderlands Cafe, as evidence of these terrible times we're in. (It's a little dramatic, as many of us know, since Lucca closed after 94 years not because it was evicted, but because the family that ran it decided to cash out on its very valuable Valencia Street property — with no one in the family who wanted to continue the business elsewhere — and the humble Borderlands Cafe may have simply outlived its useful life in a neighborhood best known for $5 pour-over.)
She also speaks to several people well known for their downer attitudes on the city, like writer Rebecca Solnit and VanishingSF curator Julie Levak-Madding, the latter of whom has been managing a Facebook devoted to San Francisco's "hyper-gentrification" since 2013. But she does get a notable quote from former Supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim, who says, "I can’t tell you the number of friends who tell me how much they hate San Francisco. They say it's too homogenous." I'm guessing she said more than that, but that's the only quote that was used.
Longtime LGBT activist Cleve Jones, who began speaking out in 2016 about the need to save "gayborhoods" like the Castro, tells Heller, "I don’t hear people talking about poetry. I still love my town. I still love my neighborhood, but it is changing very rapidly. It’s quite harsh and quite brutal and it frightens me."
She also suggests that you can no longer find a hardware store, independent music club, drag bar, or lesbian bar, and only the latter is true. (And the fact that there's no longer a full-time lesbian bar in San Francisco is hardly unique to San Francisco.)
Heller may not be incorrect in suggesting that SF is "the Patient Zero of issues affecting urban areas." Indeed the density and recent downtown construction boom have pushed more homeless out into the open — and while the current opioid, heroin, and meth epidemics may be slightly different than twenty years ago, I like to remind people that the homeless population here, while currently on the rise, was actually significantly bigger in the late 1990s as the dot-com boom was in full swing. By one count, it was 15,000 people in 1999, twice the number recently released ahead of this year's homeless census.
Homelessness is a problem affecting many cities across the country, and while gentrification may be one contributing factor to some individuals' personal plights, there are often many contributing factors to why a person does not have shelter. And yes, simple capitalism is proving not to be a boon for the middle class or the poor in America's cities.
The dream of bohemian San Francisco, which largely grew out of the post-war period in the 1950s and then took on new meaning with the hippies, was already being lost in the 1990s as rents in the traditionally inexpensive Mission started skyrocketing. But have we really lost everything that's great and beautiful about the city to tech employees? Is it really that easy and quick to destroy a city and drain away its character?
Some are always going to say yes, but as I wrote on this site four years ago, change can suck, and she isn't exactly the city I married either. But I'm still not filing for divorce.