There’s been no shortage of published laments on the changing nature of San Francisco over the past several weeks, so I’m loath to add another complaint to the list. And yet … I keep coming across instances where the tech sector flocks to the city and talks of community yet isolates itself from the urban experience it presumably couldn’t wait to be a part of. The other week, for example, I had an appointment at Hills Plaza, a waterfront complex that quietly houses an ever expanding Google outpost. A year or so ago there was a Starbucks at street level, and while that in itself is of course not unusual, there weren’t any other cafes in the neighborhood, so I’d often walk the two blocks from my office to get coffee there. It was a nice excuse to take a walk and interact with the world outside my work space.
Today, that Starbucks is gone. So is the popular brewery that was next door to it. The sandwich shop across the plaza is closed, as is the salad bar. It’s not that any of these businesses were particularly distinctive or delicious, but they provided a valuable service — lunch — and also some social connection among the building’s tenants and people in the immediate neighborhood.
Gone also is any sign of life the plaza ever had. Google leased as much of the complex as it could get its hands on — and the correspondingly skyrocketing rents accelerated the closing of all the ground-floor businesses, even a short-lived outpost of The Melt (a franchise that serves uniformly grilled sandwiches made with a high-tech — and tech-industry-financed — piece of machinery). In place of Starbucks there is now something called the Mozilla Community Space — that isn’t open to the community. You need to be a registered “Mozillian” (whatever that is) to gain access.
Interesting observations. The Hills Brothers complex includes condominiums, office space, and, originally, restaurants, a very popular brew pub, and coffee joints. It is now pretty much office space and condos. And the condo residents have to leave the complex if they want to eat or slurp java.
However, there are still many options within a couple blocks of hoofing it. What Google did at Hills was remove the on-site amenities for the condo dwellers, and replace them with on-site amenities for their employees.
As for Twitter – well, that area – mid-market – (also known as Lower Tenderloin, or armpit of the city) – has been a festering sore as long as I’ve lived in SF – more than 30 years now. Tens of millions of dollars in redevelopment funds have been poured down the rathole of “revitalizing” it, all to no avail for one simple reason: The neighborhood was populated by the scum of the earth, and special interests fought like hell to keep them right there.
Twitter has changed all that. Its presence has forced up property costs so much that the scum, even with welfare, can no longer afford to live there. Huge new apartment and condo complexes are rising there as well, and eventually these will be filled with bright and shiny dotcom serfs, who will patronize soon-to-be local eateries, coffee-dumps, and so on. And this once dead-end neighborhood will bloom.
San Francisco is filled with bleeding heart liberals who love the notion of lots of poor people in The City, in the name of diversity. Just as long as they don’t have to live next to, travel with, or otherwise interact with these folks.
And before you judge them too harshly, I suggest that you try living next door to, or inside, a welfare-class neighborhood. Still, the influx of deep-pockets dotcoms is only accelerating a process that has been ongoing for a good while: San Francisco is becoming too expensive for any but the upper middle and upper classes, and subsidized welfare recipients. And even with the subsidies, the welfare class is being priced out of the mix.
Hands will be wrung, and tears will be shed over this, but the process will continue. And, frankly, I can’t get too upset about it. If you choose to embrace living on somebody else’s dime, why should you expect to live as well as they do?