How great that you’ll be moving to San Francisco so soon! It sounds like you landed a great job at a local tech company. Now you write asking for advice. What should you be aware of before moving to San Francisco?
Before I sat down to write this, I took a few hours to think about what parcel of wisdom would be best to share with you on this topic. Would it be more prudent for you to know that a de-humidifier is one of the first things you should buy when furnishing your new apartment, or that a Scoot membership is, surprisingly, the best way to get around? Should you know what the best places for day-drinking are before you get here, or would that be a personal matter you’re better off discovering for yourself? I anguished over this for some time.
Ultimately, I decided that the most important thing you should be aware of before moving to San Francisco is this: the city is changing, quickly. Mechanisms of gentrification have upended neighborhoods with the abruptness of lightning strikes, dividing the citizenry. This is important, because from the day you get here, you’ll find yourself in the middle of this divide, caught in anxious, awkward suspension between two worlds: one that’s losing control of its identity and one that hasn’t really figured out what its identity is yet. I should actually amend that statement: you’ll feel like you’re strung in the middle of two worlds. This will not be so.
See, the world that hasn’t figured out its identity yet is probably better known as the tech community. This community consists of people whose move to San Francisco was made possible by way of companies related at least peripherally to the technology industry. Yes, this means you. What this also means is that many of your neighbors won’t see you as a benevolent outsider caught unknowingly in the middle of what is, essentially, a class war. You have, by association, already chosen your side. And the association will be your shame. Some people will assume even before they meet you that you care only about your company’s app; that you don’t appreciate the more intrinsic aspects of your new home; and, moreover, that you don’t respect the impact that your being here is having on it—namely, accelerating the ultimate selling out of San Francisco’s soul.
For context, people are right to be angry; shit is certainly fucked up. Since 2010, rents have risen by 40%, and —two rapid changes that have had very visual consequences all across the city. Much of SoMa, for instance, looks like an elephant graveyard. Sidewalks look like the surface of the moon; alleys are littered with broken glass; and streets are strewn with sleeping persons and human shit. All of this can be observed from in the shade of the brand-new office buildings and luxury condos that now line the streets everywhere east of 4th Street.
Walking among this baffling contradiction of circumstance and wealth—along with being blamed for what it represents—will almost certainly have an impact on you. You should be prepared for this. At some point during your first few months here, you’ll be sitting on the sand at Crissy Field or the grass at Dolores Park, and you’ll be watching the sunset perforate the fog; or you’ll be looking at the skyline with the bay glistening behind it, and you’ll figure yourself blessed, and you’ll think, “How lucky am I to live in this pretty fucking magnificent place?” But then you’ll start wondering if you deserve it—the chance to live here—and if the fact that you are living here really has resulted in teachers and writers and shoemakers being evicted from their homes—or, if not that, then in the less tangible eviction of all the things that used to make San Francisco, San Francisco.
If you’re like me, all this wondering and anxiety will leave you feeling, above all else, lonely—like a child of divorced parents, perennially plagued by the anxiety of an unanswered text, kept awake by the suspicion that … this place you’re in? Yeah, you don’t belong.
My hope for you, though, dear friend, is that with the proper amount of awareness, you’ll be able to more quickly recognize that this was happening before you and would probably be happening without you—that what’s happening isn’t your fault.
This far from absolves you, though. It’s not a blessing to dismiss these problems as separate from your own. That’s the point: these are your problems now. The next step is to ascertain which aspects of your influence are in your control.
“I have nothing wrong with tech. … My problem is the culture of aloofness. It’s a culture of not caring enough about the place you’re at; it’s just a place where you work. Part of what makes us San Franciscans is that we live in the streets here. You walk around to get places. You ride your bike. You take Muni. When you opt out of that, you’re opting out of San Francisco. When you work obnoxious hours at work and then take an Uber home, and then you don’t leave your house and order something from your phone, and you walk around as a clipboard for your company, you’re opting out of the experience of being a San Franciscan.”
What he’s saying here is that those who move to San Francisco and don’t engage with the community dilute and adulterate San Francisco’s sense of character. And he would be right, dear friend, to condemn you for this if you behave this way in the future. Everyone who loves and appreciates San Francisco would be. As they also would be if you were to move here and demonstrate —because the real reason why many people dislike the tech community, you see, isn’t that they think tech employees are actually personally responsible for the gentrification of their neighborhoods (so long as such people aren’t renting apartments made available by way of landlords forcing out old tenants, in which case they would be responsible). Rather, it’s because many members of the tech community have not only failed at bettering or participating in their new community; they’ve also belittled and berated it by .
Point is, the role you will play in this city is not predetermined. If you arrive in San Francisco sympathetic to the sensitivity of its circumstances—and are aware of the stereotype you’ve unfortunately inherited—you’ll be better positioned to become part of a larger solution here, as opposed to contributing to any preexisting badness. You’ll learn that there are a number of things you can do, including but not limited to the following: 1) signing up, participating in and joining communal events, occasions and organizations; 2) actually talking to people in bars, cafes and restaurants; 3) taking public transit rather than Uber, as smelly as it can sometimes be; and 4) informing yourself. You can start on this last bit by reading up on Stuart’s campaign for mayor. He has good ideas for solving some of the city’s major problems, like the aforementioned public-defecation endemic—something current mayor Ed Lee has merely frumpled .
Ultimately, young grasshopper, what I want for you to know is that your experience living in San Francisco will only be as rewarding and fulfilling as the sincerity of the effort you put into it. The good news—as it turns out—is that when you do get involved, and when you do immerse yourself in the community, you’ll start feeling less lonely and more like you belong. The bigger picture will start to make better sense, availing itself to you from underneath the clouds of frustration and confusion. I know from experience.
Anyway, I’m excited to spend some time with you here. San Francisco is an amazing place, and I hope you’ll grow to love it as much as I do.
Let me know once you’re done moving all your shit into that shoebox you’re paying too much for. I won’t be available to help, but I’d be happy to get those beers with you after.
Welcome to San Francisco!