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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Best San Francisco Gentrification Literature 2013

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 9:50 AM


Back in February, San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius began a piece about the changes taking place in San Francisco with the following two sentences: "Gentrification," he wrote. "It's happening with surprisingly little grumbling."

Which raises the question: Just which Internet is Chuck Nevius reading?

For months prior to his column, in publications from the highfalutin pages of the London Review of Books to the midfaultin pages of this very paper, residents of the city of St. Francis saw fit to grumble quite a bit indeed about the G-word (either "Gentrification" or "Google bus," take your pick). And as expected in these argumentative and content-hungry times, their complaints prompted a fair number of responses.

We survey the growing genre of Gentrification Lit in this week's print issue. Here, though, we've compiled a mini-anthology of the key pieces in the genre, including articles from the New Republic, The New Yorker, and PandoDaily that represent the the various perspectives on the issue: Against, Not-Against, and one view that isn't quite either. (More on that here.)

Eloquent Letter From a Longtime Resident

Rebecca Solnit's "Diary," from the London Review of Books (Feb. 7, 2013)

Viewpoint: Against.

In sum: A sad tale of residents losing their homes, and a withering indictment of the techie scourge.

Sample quote: "This is a culture that has created many new ways for us to contact one another and atrophied most of the old ones, notably speaking to the people around you. All these youngish people are on the Google Bus because they want to live in San Francisco, city of promenading and mingling, but they seem as likely to rub these things out as to participate in them."

Bruising Report From the Frontlines of Change

David Talbot's "How Much Tech Can One City Take?" from San Francisco (Oct. 2, 2012)

Viewpoint: Against.

In sum: A thoroughly reported warning about the high-tech powers changing San Francisco.

Sample quote: "Many of those who have lived in San Francisco the longest and care for it the most are worried that their charmed oasis is becoming a dangerously one-dimensional company town -- a techie's Los Angeles, a VC's D.C. If San Francisco is swallowed whole by the digital elite, many city lovers fear, the once-lush urban landscape will become as flat as a computer screen."

What Hideous Future Will Careless Young Billionaires Build?

Ellen Cushing's "The Bacon-Wrapped Economy," from the East Bay Express (March 20, 2013)

Viewpoint: Against.

In sum: A look into the excessive, entitled, and sometimes hapless lifestyles of young, well-off techies.

Sample quote: "Old money is being replaced by new, but it's a new kind of new, one that has different values, different habits, and different interests than the previous generation. They very rich have always, to a greater or lesser degree, been guilty of excess, but what's changed is that the Bay Area's new wealth doesn't necessarily have the perspective, the experience, or the commitments of the group it's replacing."

Techie's Retort: Be More Like New York

Farhad Manjoo's "San Francisco Can Become a World Capital. First It Needs to Get Over Itself" from PandoDaily (Dec. 1, 2012)

Viewpoint: Not-Against.

In sum: A prescription for easing the pain of change: Just build more housing, you sillies.

Sample quote: "If it accepts its fate as a large metropolis, San Francisco could become the next New York, Hong Kong, or Paris -- a city that's dense with people and businesses, and all of the urban services, cultural values, and environmental virtues that density accommodates."

If Tech Has Made S.F. a Playground for the Rich, How Will it Fix the World?

George Packer's "Change the World," from The New Yorker, May 27, 2013

Viewpoint: Neither totally Against nor totally Not-Against; somewhat optimistic.

In sum: A 10,000-word treatise on the dissonance between Silicon Valley's utopian ideals and insular reality.

Sample quote: "It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, because that's who thinks them up."

It's Not Gentrification at All, You Bourgeois Whiners

Ilan Greenberg's "I Left My Home in San Francisco," from the New Republic (April 12, 2013)

Viewpoint: Gentrifi-skeptical.

In sum: An outsider pooh-poohs the issue dividing San Francisco as older, middle-class gentrifiers whining about younger upper-middle class gentrifiers, and accuses both of ignoring the poor.

Sample quote: "In San Francisco, anti-gentrification is a progressive cause to save financially viable people ... from losing their lease on a rental property in an already gentrified neighborhood. In the best of times, it's hard to envision a lot of people shaking the rafters for this one."

All the Truly Hip Have Moved to Oakland Already

Steven T. Jones and Yael Chanoff's "Is Oakland Cooler Than San Francisco?" from the San Francisco Bay Guardian (April 11, 2012)

Viewpoint: Against, but yaaaay Oakland.

In sum: A very wonky argument that high prices are driving the cool kids to Oakland, where lower rents and abundant space make the creative lifestyle easier.

Sample quote: "San Francisco is increasingly losing its working and creative classes to the East Bay and other jurisdictions -- and with them, much of the city's diversity -- largely because of policy decisions that favor expensive, market-rate housing over the city's own affordable housing goals."

Bring on the Change -- at Least the Junkies Are Gone

C.W. Nevius' "Gentrification no longer a dirty word," from San Francisco Chronicle (Feb. 23, 2013)

Viewpoint:Not Against.

In sum: Talk to neighborhood activists, small business owners, and real estate agents, and -- surprise! -- many of them are happy to see young people arriving with lots of money to spend.

Sample quote: "The difference this time is that the push is coming from the bottom up. Rather than fat-cat developers promoting ugly skyscrapers, the demand is coming from young techies who work here or in the Silicon Valley and want to preserve the feel of unique neighborhoods. Their presence is being felt not only in the Mission, where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg now has a home, also in areas that were once considered downtrodden."

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Ian S. Port


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