Monday, January 21, 2019

Will Your City Become San Francisco?

Hello Everyone:

It is a blustery start to the week.  We have some quick news updates: First, the storm over competing videos depicting the confrontation between Omaha elder Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic high school student Nick Sandmann gathers strength. The initial video showed Mr. Sandmann standing quite close to Mr. Phillips, who continues to play his drum and sing his song. The video made it seem like Mr. Sandmann instigated the confrontation but additional video say otherwise.  Attorneys for Mr. Sandmann released a statement saying he tried to diffuse the situation. Regardless, the MAGA and smirk on Nick Sandmann's face strain credibility. Next, online news service. Buzzfeed published an explosive article saying that the president directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.  This brought a rare commique from the Special Counsel Office's stating the article was not accurate.  Perhaps but if he article was not accurate, why would the president's attorneys reach out to the SCO over the weekend?  Finally California Senator Kamala Harris (D) announced her presidential campaign. More on the growing field of challengers on Wednesday. Now on to today's subject. 

San Francisco has gotten a bad reputation over the past ten years. What is wrong with city that was home to the Beat movement in the fifties, the brick-sized Mission burrito, and the Summer of Love?  Sky-high rents, homeless encampments, and the growing schism between them is what is wrong. San Francisco's reputation is so bad that the city of Seattle, which like San Francisco is home to the tech industry, pondering if it will suffer the same fate (; July, 28, 2016;; May 16, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). 

San Francisco's trouble have only gotten worse, so much so that it has become an example of cities' worst nightmares.  Portland, Oregon (; May, 8, 2015; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), Oakland (; Aug. 23, 2016; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), and Sacremento (; Sept. 19, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) residents and commentators have expressed growing dread that their city is on the path to being the next San Francisco, where the middle class is vanishing. 

San Francisco, too, is growing concerned about becoming (; Jan. 30, 2015; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)--wait for it--Manhattan, New York.  This fear has been haunting every proposed skyscraper development for decades (Ibid).  As we speak, cranes now dot the San Francisco downtown skyline. At the center of firment is the Salesforce Tower, standing at 1,070 feet tall, intruding on every urban vista (; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019).

Emily Badger writes in The New York Times, "Happy New Year! May Your City Never Become San Francisco, New York, or Seattle," "Surely there is nothing left to feat in New York, a place that already had tall buildings and high rents" (; Dec. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). However, the coming of Amazon in Long Island City, Vice succinctly put it that residents are on edge about "becoming Seattle on steroids," (; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019).  Seattle on steroids conjures up images of stratospheric rents, high rises, and tech bros.

Anxieties over future "Portlandification, Brooklynification, Manhattanification" (; Dec. 26, 2018) is shared by other cities as well. This comparison is not intended to be a compliment. Manhattan? Too dense.  Portland?  How precious?  Boston?  Cannot afford it. Seattle?  Too tech.  Houston?  You have to drive everywhere.  Los Angeles? Too congested (yeah well). Las Vegas?  Mind numbing. Chicago? Too indebted. 

San Francisco has come to signify a unique urban horror show. "It is the place where extreme poverty and tech wealth occupy the same block, while schoolteachers and firefighters all live two hours away" (Ibid). 

Consider the nuances: "Portlandification can be Brooklynification, as happens when ambitious media-savvy types commercialize twee [; Aug. 9, 2011; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019]. Manhattanization has evolved over time. It once meant building up. Now it increasingly refers to building only for the rich [; Oct. 23, 2013; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019].

Seattle-ification (; May 7, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019), meanwhile, comes with its own set of symptoms: high tech wealth combined with skyrocketing housing cost have remade the city with alarming speed. 

The city of Denver, Colorado was minding its own business until it became the object The Kansas City Star's editorial board's concern in an op-Ed piece, "Stop the Denverization of Kansas City.  Troost doesn't need to be hipster-friendly" (; Nov. 27, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019). The screaming headline alerted the confused good citizens of Denver (; Dec. 5, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) that their Mile High city was now synonymous with gentrification, at least with cities not yet that expensive to worry about gentrification. 

Truth be told, the cities that have come to signify the evils of gentrification do have desirable qualities.  Emily Badger describes,

Denver has one of the country's fastest-growing tech labor forces [; Sept. 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019], with minorities and women relatively well represented [; Nov. 9, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019] in those jobs.  Seattle and Portland have among the fastest all-around job growth [; Mar. 29, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019].  New York has some of the fastest-growing wages [; Oct. 30, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019]. San Francsico has unemployment well below the national average [; Jan. 3, 2019; date accessed Jan 21, 2019] and the household incomes among the highest in the country. (; Dec. 26, 2018)

Be that as it may, San Francisco-ization or whatever-ifcation does not refer to how these enviable qualities are acquired. Rather, "those terms capture the deepening suspicions of many communities that cost of urban prosperity outweigh the benefits" (Ibid). Mayor Eric Garcetti pay attention, all those tech jobs and high wages you hope to generate mean absolutely nothing if it results in more congestion, denser development, or soaring housing costs. 

Amazon's search for HQ2, during 2018, laid bare this conundrum for many cities. Yes, HQ2would brings tens of thousands of new, well-paying job in tech and construction but protestors in Chicago (; Apr. 10, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) and Pittsburgh (; Apr. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)--as well as the winning areas of New York (; Dec. 12, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) and Washington D.C. (; Mar. 28, 2018; date accessed Jan 21, 2019)--decided they did not want to be the next Seattle.  

An army of writers in Seattle (; Feb. 26, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) warned that the protestors were absolutely right (; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019) to oppose this prospect. 

Rooted in these fears is something more slippery: "Once you let tech giants in the door, you have ahomelesscrisis.  Once you allow more density, you're surrounded by skyscrapers. Once housing cost begin to rise, the logistical conclusion is San Francisco" (; Dec. 26, 2018). 

Tim Logan, a reporter for the Boston Globe who covers development, tweeted, 

Bostonians: Do you worry more about Manhattanization?  Or San Francisco-ization? (; Aug. 22, 2018; date accessed Jan. 21, 2019)

In Mr. Logan's opinion, San Francisco and Manhattan are different means to the same end: urban gated communities for the rich.

Manhattan built its way to that result, luxury residential developments affordable to the obscenely wealthy.  San Francisco is equally accessible to the obscenely wealthy because it did not build its way there for decades.

Really, there are multiple models for creating this kind of urban dystopia.  Even harder is finding cities that got it all right--"growth without congestion, the tech jobs without the homeless crisis [; Dec. 26, 2018], the affordable housing without the sprawl" [Ibid; Sept. 4, 2017]. 

Maybe we can call it Minneapolization? (Ibid; Dec. 13, 2018)

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