San Francisco’s Digital Tides

People looking at San Francisco skyline from Twin Peaks
Recalling Jane Jacobs, The New Yorker recently had an article on San Francisco, by Nathan Heller, that suggested, not the life and death, but the life and tides of a great American City. Not so long ago, it seems, San Francisco was host to the beat generation, and they weren’t an especially upscale lot. Now, Heller notes, prosperous techies are dominating the San Francisco scene. The city has become an extension of the South Bay Silicon Valley area.

That’s got plusses and some decided minuses. San Francisco is becoming gentrified and residents who don’t qualify to stick around are being bought out or evicted. The city now has the second highest median income in the U.S.

In keeping with the “tides” metaphor, Erin McElroy, a housing protest leader, noted “It seems ironic that a city that has, historically, been hospitable toward marginal communities is suddenly evicting them.”

Cities have always been in some phase of rise or decline; urban “stability” can indicate a lack of enterprise, and may not last long. Neighborhoods are either being improved or deteriorating. But in San Francisco, such trends are being heightened by the tech industry’s overpowering energy.

“In San Francisco,” Heller writes, “just about everyone speaks the language of progressive ideals; it is the common ground between the people who are getting evicted and the ones who are motivating the evicting. Is this a problem for liberal thought? It’s certainly one for digital-era culture.”

It all makes the question of what’s fair in “the city by the bay” a tumultuous one without a clear present answer. Fairness typically requires creativity and, certainly, continuing regard for others, many of whom, in San Francisco, aren’t adept at manipulating ones and zeroes.

The scene in San Francisco isn’t heartless, it’s just superheated – and not necessarily a great setting for fairness.