I decided to move to SF in 2004, after graduating UCLA. True to SF tradition, I packed up my life in a VW and cried all the way up the Interstate 5 freeway. I had no job lined up, just a room with three other girls on the corner of Haight-Ashbury. At the time, my rent was $700/month for a prime location. I still worked two jobs to make about $1000/month. I had no savings, so that didn’t last long.
Fast forward to almost a decade later, and I’m in a much better spot: I took a job at Google for a few years, saved up, and quit to become a full-time artist. This makes me a bit of a unicorn in this City, because I see both sides of the Gentrification debate. I have good friends on both sides of the heated discussion, and I am conflicted.
Full Disclosure: For all intents and purposes, on all superficial fronts, I am a full-fledged yuppie transplant. I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to be an SF native. What I do know, however, is the fact that I came here because I loved the City. I love San Francisco for its natural beauty, the fact that the fog paints the light in such a way that this City glows in a different light every single day. That, I can walk down the same streets and look at the same view every single day and see something different and inspiring. I loved the people I know and met here; people cared more about what you know versus who. I loved that people cared about touchy feely stuff, they were politically engaged– they simply, cared.
Fast forward to 2013, a time of ridiculous rents and imminent class divides in this fair city, and what I see are a brand new class of residents who simply don’t care. People like Peter Shih, (no relation I swear) who got busted saying idiotic shit at the wrong place and the wrong time and became the poster child of the assholes ruining the City. In my opinion, Peter Shih’s only crime was his total disregard for the City he hoped to cash out in. To him, and many others, SF is simply a City like NYC to live in, conquer, and move on to the next sexy city.
What I see in San Francisco is a beautiful, tolerant City who isn’t afraid to evolve. We’ve made it through earthquakes, hippies, and we will survive the tech boom. No one is mad about change. What people are angry with, I think, are entitled, young rich people who come in believing that they earned everything they have by themselves, at no expense to their communities. I’d even go as far as to say, a lot of these people really believe they’re making SF a better place simply by moving here. Newsflash: the fact that I’m paying property taxes in SF does not make me some kind of saint, it is my duty as a resident here. Going out to eat at fancy restaurants and bars doesn’t somehow contribute to trickle-down economics. No one asked me to move here.
Now, I’m not asking to resolve the differences between the haves and have-nots. There will always those, and no one denies that. But the sense of smugness, of entitlement, and lack of community concern is really troubling. I say, if you really care about this City, ask yourself why you moved here, and get involved in making that part of the City better- whether it’s through the Arts, the Environment, Education, or Mental Health. If you don’t have time, donate money. If you code, check out Code for America (SF), if you want to help the Arts, check out SOMArts.org, if you want to volunteer but you’re an Atheist, go to Glide Memorial. Use your talents, whatever it is, and give back to the colorful, vibrant, tolerant community you live in. Do it on a local level, and stop acting like you’re making neighborhoods better simply by moving there. Read about the history of your neighborhood. Chances are, it had its fair share of problems, but was just as awesome before you moved in.
And to my artist friends complaining about tech people. Make your demands. What is it that you want, that would make the City better? Patronage toward Arts organizations? Donations to the SF Food Bank? Blocking the Google bus and impersonating employees doesn’t help articulate the issue. Also, don’t just whine about the City changing, it’s going to happen. That’s the beauty of this City, no two days ever looks the same. That’s why I came. We’re just all here to make it better.