San Francisco has always been a city full of transients. For many years, people have flocked here for the promise of Silicon Valley gold, vegan sushi and/or yogi enlightenment.
But the debate over what qualifies residents as San Franciscan locals remains unresolved. Does a person have to live here for a minimum amount of time, vote in local elections or have family roots here? Are there degrees to how San Francisco you can be? The same quandaries probably exist for other urbanites.
If and when you ever befriend a native San Franciscan, you’re likely to think, Wow, I didn’t think anyone’s actually from here. But more than that, you might feel as though you’ve joined the club. You’re now more connected and a local, and you’ve hopped off the transplant train. Being a true San Franciscan comes with a sense of pride—and a fair amount of judgment and criticism of non-natives.
We could start enforcing an application process for San Francisco citizenship, but that probably wouldn’t be very productive at this point and could make a lot of people angry. Plus, how much time is enough time as a requirement for residency? In all seriousness, it’s my belief that anything short of three years isn’t adequate for getting to know a city, its issues and the people who run it on the ground. But proof of residency or identification on paper isn’t enough to settle the score.
Now that we’re in the midst of the tech boom, this topic is especially touchy. Arguments over the housing crisis, gentrification and homelessness have polarized many. It’s easy to lay blame on young, wealthy techies who find San Francisco a suitable playground for nurturing their careers and sleeping in bunk beds, while some longtime residents are forced to take on several jobs to support their livelihoods or, worse, are pushed out altogether. It’s an argument with no winners.
It’s time for those who live in and love this city to step up and win over the old-timers. In antiquity, Greco-Roman notions of citizenship were premised on aggressive political participation. Over time, though, we transitioned from a direct democracy to a representative democracy, and citizenship took on a more passive role.
While there are some instances of new companies dedicated to making a social impact—like providing culinary training for the homeless at their catered events—there simply aren’t enough companies making enough of an effort to affect the city and its people in a sustainable way. If the new blood want hard-core San Franciscans to stop hating, then perhaps newbies should start taking charge by participating in the city they now call home. Rather than spending your weekend waiting in line at Nopa for brunch, go out and talk to business owners, grocers and bus drivers. Contribute to local newspapers and blogs if you have an idea that needs support or an opinion to get out. If you see a better way for San Francisco to do things, take initiative and connect with neighborhood associations and the city about it. Raise money to donate to local city projects you believe in, like the Pavement to Parks initiative to build more natural spaces around urban areas. Help out on beautification days in Golden Gate Park.
If you really open your eyes, San Francisco is filled with problem areas and calls to action. After all, efforts like these are why people want to be in San Francisco. That’s partly what makes this city great and unique, and that’s a big part of what being a San Franciscan is about—being a pioneer.
In the field of psychology, when a person so closely identifies with a place and develops what is known as place dependence, he or she cannot substitute what they do in that place anywhere else. There is no replacement, and that environment is the best option for what the person likes to do. It sort of sounds like an obsession for the place. So for all those who have come to dwell in San Francisco and make a life here, consider whether you have the same place dependency on another city or town you’ve lived in before. If you identify the same way with another city, then maybe your love of San Francisco exists only because everyone also loves San Francisco right now. That’s completely fine, though if you can identify your own reasons for why you like San Francisco, you’ll naturally find a community in which you belong and can identify as a San Franciscan.
We all have a responsibility for the good and the bad of San Francisco, and this isn’t a problem unique to our city. The simple truth is, if you love San Francisco, then you’re a San Franciscan. Do something to show that you care for this city.