Tuesday 6 December 2016

'Shameful', 'A rant' or 'spot on' - Adrian Weckler's much-shared column on how the tech industry ruined San Francisco has provoked strong reactions

Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor

Published 28/09/2015 | 17:06

Column on how San Francisco is becoming a rich, boring suburb of Silcon Valley provoked a large reaction
Column on how San Francisco is becoming a rich, boring suburb of Silcon Valley provoked a large reaction

LAST Sunday, I wrote a column about how the tech industry has dulled San Francisco.

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The piece argued that rich young tech workers were displacing artists and lower-income residents, making ever-larger parts of San Francisco resemble a rich, boring suburb of Silicon Valley.

Reaction to the column was considerable: it has become one of the most-shared articles we have published in some time.

While many agreed with the article -- and some compared the situation to other cities, including London and Dublin -- quite a number of people felt that the article was little more than a “rant”, written by an “outsider”.

Read more: Tech overkill destroyed the loveliest, liveliest city on the West Coast

Here are some of the letters you have written either agreeing or disagreeing with the basic thrust of the piece: that rich young tech workers are turning the West Coast’s most enthralling city into a meek. cookie-cutter yuppie club.

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It's way beyond boring. And Oakland too. Went to a concert the other night. Grace Jones. Basically I had to leave after being violently yelled at for moving. Yep, dancing not okay with these people. It's like something out of Footloose. And don't get me started on their attitudes toward minorities or poor people. And guess what? They're not from here! (The hipsters.) They've made it theirs for sure.

- DJ

 

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Glad you really got to know the City. What a joke - you come for a visit and you have the nerve to call us "dull as a dishwasher"? Shameful. And you just discredited your journalistic integrity for writing something you clearly don't know anything about.

- Bill Hemenger

 

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I read your spot-on description of the dulling of the city by the techies. I felt a shiver of self-loathing. You were charitable really -- it's probably even worse than you say. I take issue with just one point. I really don't think anyone is actually listening to Hootie and the Blowfish.

- Elizabeth W

 

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Just read your story about the fall of the greatest city -- San Francisco. I could not agree with you more. It brings me great sadness that the city I grew up in, with its diverse neighborhoods like cultural sanctuaries, has become a melting pot of baby geniuses with zero swagger and zero interest in fortifying the infrastructure. They live in million dollar condos with IKEA furniture -- a trend that's all but destroyed the design market. My hope is that either Twitter/Uber/Square fold up and send their minions back to wherever they came from, or we get another earthquake (like in '89) that sends them scattering!

- Brandon Neff

 

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Try Detroit. It’s very interesting for pale young men.

- David Heckman

 

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I just finished reading your article and I couldn't agree with you more. Tech has ruined the culture of San Francisco. I moved out to the Bay Area almost three years ago to pursue a career in acting. Since, I became a commercial and film producer and have seen the invasion of the tech communities, slow working their way into San Francisco. It's gotten more and more difficult to live out here due to the increases in rent, parking fees and tickets, tolls, gas, and everything else. And when it comes to money, there's not much they are sharing with the freelance economy (actors, crew, producers, ME!) when it comes to creative content.

- Cameron Mark Lewis

 

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It’s very popular to blame tech for everything that is wrong with San Francisco and spew hatred about tech workers. The tech bubble issue is a part of the problem, but in reality the type of growth we have had here is more driven by local politicians, developers, planning policies and a history of migration to the city (including, but not limited to, tech workers). People have been coming here in droves for decades. Real estate has always been out of whack here because of that. The gentrification that is happening here has been going on for years, and all big cities experience this in different neighborhoods at different times. It’s a down side to progress, and while I sympathise with the people who are being displaced, there is way too much blame and vitriol being directed at tech workers from people who hate change. And the locals who are bitching the loudest are mostly transplants themselves. It’s almost like a new form of bigotry. San Francisco is still great place to visit and yes, it is changing, and it’s not fair to everyone but that happens everywhere and it is not because the technology industry is evil. As far as SF losing its liveliness and arts culture, I would say perhaps you just don’t know where to look for it. By the way, I have no connection to the tech industry. I am retired and disabled, in a rent controlled apartment and potentially one more person who could be displaced by growth. But I would not blame the techies.

- Jeffrey Seegers

 

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I work as a tenant advocate in San Francisco. I am a born and raised San Franciscan, whose family has called the city home for 5 generations. You articulated what a great many people in San Francisco are feeling. The tech industry has run roughshod over this city, influencing city government and has been a major cause of a severe eviction crisis that has seen long term tenants in rent controlled buildings be evicted by greedy landlords and real estate speculators looking to cash in on all of this tech money.

 

Some of these evictions have lead to the death of elders. The Mission District--a working class Latino neighborhood--has seen an eviction induced exodus of more than 8,000 Latino families in the past 10 years. We have seen our African American population drop from 24% to less than 4%. The influx of capital from overseas, as well as the tech money that has flooded the city has had dire consequences for families, people of color and working class people.

- Tony Robles

 

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I'm no longer a San Francisco native, but I did grow up there. I think your article speaks to a couple points that are affecting the rest of the world as well. Even in my small town of Crested Butte, CO. where the population annually sits below 2000 people we are being gentrified in the same way as San Francisco. Not to tech boomers necessarily, but to VRBO, Airbnb, etc. And our town is becoming blah.

- Cody Buchholz

 

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While it is popular to blame San Francisco's woes on reverse commuting tech workers, the percentage of reverse commuters (people working outside the city they live in) in San Francisco is, if anything, unusually low at 23%, less than half of San Jose at 49%. Even growth within San Francisco is probably largely due to more traditional San Francisco occupations for the wealthy and the upper middle class: banking, law, and media. Of course, those are peripherally related to tech, since that's where the money fueling them comes from, but none of those are tech industries. San Francisco has gotten expensive not due to tech, but due to the same factors that have caused other cities to become expensive. In fact, San Francisco housing is still not particularly expensive even compared to Silicon Valley.

 

What are those causes of sky-rocketing prices? A general move back to the cities due to a combination of factors: smaller families, government subsidies, an aging population, more white collar work, stiff environmental regulations. The people driving up the cost of living in San Francisco most are probably primarily the elderly, people who used to think that Grateful Dead were cool and are now chatting about their hip replacements and heart conditions over $10 lattes. Now that they are rich, due to retirement investments and careers, they have simply transitioned from being the guests at Radical Chic parties to throwing them. The same thing has happened all over the country; in Santa Barbara, the orgy-filled hot tubs next to unkempt homes now stand surrounded by immaculate lawns and perfect suburban homes.

 

(Of course, looking back from a couple of generations, the veneration for the Grateful Dead -- incidentally, a product of the heart of Silicon Valley -- and the 1960's "counterculture" seem bizarre anyway; the whole generation and their social engagement seem like little more than the adolescent drug-addled antics of offspring of a nouveau riche middle class.)

 

In San Francisco, these general trends are compounded by high taxes, political gridlock, incompetent city management, and Chinese money searching for a safe haven, which all serve to further drive up prices and the cost of living.

 

The real reason San Francisco has become so boring is rather different. San Francisco used to be a place where people like myself went, people nobody else wanted to have around: immigrants, gay men, people into leather and motorcycles, people who needed a cheap place to live where our neighbours didn't get out the pitchforks. That's what brought about all those edgy bars, weird looking pedestrians and inexpensive restaurants serving excellent ethnic cuisine. Considerations of "loveliness" and "liveliness" didn't enter the picture much. But with growing acceptance in society, as well as far better communications, we don't need San Francisco anymore. But even the hangers-on, artists, journalists, writers, drug users, have become more mobile than they used to be and have spread out across the country.

 

As for techies (another group I'm a member of), we mostly want garages, cheap space to keep our gadgets, yards and easy shopping in high tech specialty shops. And for that Silicon Valley is a much better choice than San Francisco, but next day delivery makes location increasingly irrelevant. I think part of the problem with reporting on what happened to SF is that "people like you" (your words) delude themselves as being "in tech"; you're a journalist, an intellectual -- you're not "in tech" in any meaningful way. You could be reporting on the music industry just as much as you do on the tech industry. You share few of the interests or preferences that techies actually have. So, you're right that "people like you" are responsible for making San Francisco boring, "people like you" just aren't techies.

 

I used to live in San Francisco until 2004; now I go up there a couple of times a year, mostly for a cup of coffee with friends. My job still keeps me in Silicon Valley. But as soon as I can, I'm moving to greener pastures (literally), probably Idaho. Many other actual techies feel the same way.

- John Brannigan

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