Monday, December 23, 2013

The Google Bus thing...

There's an old saying in real-estate: Drive until you qualify. The idea is you're supposed to start looking for housing close to work, and drive away from the office until you can afford to buy housing. Something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with that concept in San Francisco and Silicon Valley...or perhaps, it isn't so wrong: People are working in the tech companies in the Valley and choosing to live in San Francisco, 30+ miles away.

These well-paid employees are driving rents in San Francisco and even Oakland through the roof, and the companies are employing private shuttle service down the peninsula to the offices to make it more attractive. People are getting kicked out of their homes. A friend of mine shared this article about a bus that was held up by protesters today, and a window was smashed. It has links to other articles about similar incidents, and this is clearly escalating in a fashion that makes the Somerville Kill a Yuppie sentiment seem really minor. As far as I know, nobody has smashed windows on the private Alewife Shuttle that services my office park on 128 in suburban Boston.

So...you'll get no contest from me on the idea that it's not right that the shuttles use the MUNI stops for free. You'll get no arguments that gentrification doesn't almost always have a huge downside or that the companies that do move their offices into downtown San Francisco don't create massive dead zones if they don't play nice with their neighbors. You certainly won't get me complaining about the unwashed masses like this guy did.

However, it is what it is: Silicon Valley is the center of the tech industry, which is exceptionally big business right now. It follows that that puts a lot of pressure on housing costs. It follows from there that people will be priced out of places they'd like to live, and perhaps even have been living. The bigger question is what should be done?

It seems to me that too much of the focus has been on how to get rid of These People and keep them and their private yuppie buses out of the city instead of trying to figure out how to get it to work. At the end of the day, the 'techies' (the term I keep seeing in the media for those of us Who Are Those People) are citizens that are just trying to do their jobs, live their lives, and do both in the best way possible. I don't get why the employees, instead of the employers and the involved municipalities (or the landlords), are taking any of the blame. I never thought I'd see the day where a very liberal population is waging war on mass transit, but that's what's happening here. For decades, we've lamented the death of our inner cities, and now that money is pouring into (some of) them, we don't like that.

Sure, I don't live in San Francisco. I live on the opposite coast, but really...even if they are the self-centered autistic robots the detractors are saying they are, it shouldn't really matter: cities are dynamic places that should be able to adjust to and accommodate all types of people, as long as the city itelf can adjust and grow.

San Francisco was famously overrun by the counterculture in the 1960s, pushing out a lot of people. New development happened elsewhere; life went on. The story of changing demographics in cities and the winners and losers is as old as cities. The problem always seems to be the worst when there is nowhere for people to grow to, which can only happen--aside from lags as it takes a lot more time to build than for economies to change--when natural growth is repressed.

If the influx of these nerdy rich white and Asian men who aren't really that into granola OR family life is a problem, it seems to me that the only solution here is to begin allowing denser development in the region and investing more in transit so that the city can grow and adjust. Even if there was more land to build sprawl on, these new residents don't want it. San Francisco itself is physically tiny and already very dense. It's smaller and denser than Boston! You're not going to cool housing demand without increasing housing supply. Why isn't that the conversation? Perhaps if the Valley was more like San Francisco, more people would want to live there instead of the doing the 30 mile hump down the peninsula every day to work. However, then the entrenched interests in the cul-du-sacs of the Valley would be upset instead.



Huge side-track about why I think tech workers and the suburbs are not great partners after the jump.